I was praying about how my moods and emotional states still have too much of an effect on my discernment and where I imagine myself to be with God. Whether I feel good or lousy on the emotional level, either way, interferes with the clarity of my prayer. I can even start to mistake these states for my spiritual condition. I prayed for a greater sense of faith, as something that I stand upon, or that grounds, or is behind or above--pick whichever metaphor works for you--all of that.
What came to mind was a set of events in my life: my baptism, my religious profession, my priestly ordination, and how, in God, these moments held within themselves everything that came after them for me, much of which I never would of imagined. On that tired old Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1992, when Deacon Ron poured water on my head and invoked the Blessed Trinity, everything that has come of my Christianity was contained in that brief moment of water and word: the twists and turns the journey has taken me on, the fellowship, the loneliness, the sensations of being lost and then found, or found and then lost, the joys and regrets, the friendships made and the friends lost. There were present all the prayers I would ever say, and the few of them that have been truly prayerful. Even all the sins I have committed since that moment were present in my baptism in a certain way. For, as I'll never forget, I once asked a spiritual director where God was when I was sinning. And he looked at me like I was the sad, ignorant case that I am and said, "He's on the Cross, suffering with you."
In the double-moment of my religious profession, first on a Saturday Morning in Yonkers, New York, and then, four years later, on another one in Middletown, Connecticut, my whole life as a Capuchin friar was present, my joy at receiving the mercy of this vocation and the salvation God has worked for me through it, my struggles to know how to observe the Rule I have promised, the burning desire for obedience, poverty, and chastity God has put in me set against the shallowness of my efforts to put them into practice. In that moment were all the joys and consolation I have had from brothers who have been true brother to me, as well as the injuries I bear from those who have hurt me. And there are all of my meager attempts to be brother to the brothers the Lord has given me, and all my failures to live up that simple title. And there is so much more, all of it every way that my whole experiment of finding myself in this journey of Christianity has come to be inextricably woven together with the example and words of St. Francis of Assisi.
In my ordination to the priesthood, in that moment when Seán O'Malley laid his hands on my head, anointed my hands, and prayed over me the prayer of consecration, everything my priesthood has been was present. There were the infinite graces of each Mass I have ever offered, there was whatever truth and encouragement the Holy Spirit was ever able to give to God's people through my small efforts at being a diligent preacher, there was the privilege of hearing every confession I've ever heard, as well as the awesome, saving healing of every absolution I have ever given, the forgiveness of God--stronger than sin and death--given from Jesus Christ to St. Peter and then passed down through the hands of so many and finally into the unworthy, dingy vessel of my voice.
I realize that I stand on those moments, and that whatever else should become of me as a Christian, as a religious, and as a priest, from right now, on this rainy Sunday afternoon until I should die, sooner or later, flows from them and, in a sense, is those moments. And I think this is what we mean when we talk about things as sacraments.
I arrived at such a confession through recalling a reflection on faith I used to have from time to time when I was working in the parish. A certain collection of circumstances led me to have, during the middle set of my three springs and summers as a parish priest, a lot of weddings. I think there was a spell of fourteen weeks, if I remember rightly, during which I had at least one every weekend. So that meant a weekly rhythm of rehearsals and wedding liturgies themselves, not to mention many last-minute phone calls from anxious brides and a few near-misses with paperwork arriving from other dioceses. So during this time, as a result of reflecting on what I could say for wedding homilies, shtick for rehearsals, and little catecheses for meetings, I had a lot of opportunity to reflect on what marriage might mean as an act of worship and faith. And it was just this that began to strike me, that a marriage was an expression of faith. In giving themselves to each other precisely as sacrament, what the couple were proclaiming to the Church and to the world was their faith that what they had found in each other was going to be stronger, more important, and more durable than a future that they didn't and couldn't know. It was to say that the goodness of the Creator had come to be reflected in their union, that they had found in each other the original blessing--a blessing not forfeited by original sin nor washed away by the flood, as one of the nuptial blessings puts it--that was the gaze of God upon his creation when he knew it to be good. God is love, and so to be in love always touches upon God and his eternity, which is why lovers always say, 'forever',whether they know what they are saying or not. The experience itself demands the closest imitation we have of God's eternity, our total self-giving, our unqualified 'forever.'
So in my own reflection for myself today, I find something similar. If I really believe in sacrament and it what the Church means by public vows, I too have to know that there was more faithfulness present in my baptism, religious profession, and ordination than a 'faith' that I could have been aware of in my own subjective desire or fervor or relative lack thereof at those moments. This is because our 'faith' isn't about how we feel or even how we think, in the sense of the depth of our intellectual assent to the articles of the faith, but about our willingness to let the faithfulness of Jesus Christ make a home within us, both for our own salvation and for that of others as it may please the Holy Spirit to work it through us.
May you attain full knowledge of God's will through perfect wisdom and spiritual insight. Then you will lead a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way. You will multiply good works of every sort and grow in the knowledge of God. By the might of his glory you will be endowed with the strength needed to stand fast, even to endure joyfully whatever may come. (Colossians 1:9b-11, reading for Evening Prayer, Monday of Week I)
*"Mauds" is the name I give to the liturgy that results from combining Morning Prayer with Mass, as a portmanteau of 'Mass' and 'Lauds.' For more information see my post, "On the Various Forms of Prass."