November 1, 2010

Et Erigens Se Iungit Manus

My three years as a parish priest convinced me of many things. One of them is that extraordinary spiritual phenomena are not as rare as we often think. Many people have experiences akin to visions, locutions, the voice of God giving consolation or direction in dreams, among many other sorts of things. Folks just don't talk about such things that much, either because we have been taught to disbelieve them, or because we don't want to be made fun of or labeled. On the positive side, such experiences represent a kind of intimacy with God, and intimacies are always secret in one way or another.

Extraordinary experiences can be a great encouragement or consolation, but they can also be the occasion of certain temptations and dangers.

Here's one that has arisen in my own life in recent months: when I receive the Host at Mass, I often bring my joined hands to my face for the moment of meditation (per the older rubric). Sometimes, just for a instant, I notice on my fingers the smell of the Sacred Chrism. Of course the anointing of my hands from my ordination is long washed away--on the natural level--but once in a while, there's the smell.

Why should this happen? The anointing is still there on the spiritual level. As I once heard in a humorous but perhaps helpful analogy, the anointings with Sacred Chrism which we receive in Baptism, Confirmation, and priestly ordination penetrate the surface and end up on the bones, as in the case of Wolverine's adamantium-bonded skeleton. (Perhaps it seem silly, but this is an image young people can get.) Sacraments are outward signs of interior grace, after all, but the interior and exterior are mysteriously joined in the mystery of the Incarnation itself. Why am I given this little gift of seeming to notice, on the natural level, the supernatural grace of the sacrament signified through the anointing of my hands? Perhaps it's an encouragement.

But we can't let such encouragements turn into distractions. I can't be thinking about all this during Mass, apart from momentary interior acts of faith or gratitude. Most of all, I can't look forward to such a thing or become disappointed if I don't get it. Grace, when grabbed for, disappears. God refuses to be a commodity, and resists any way that we try to come at the spiritual life with a consumer mentality.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad you posted this. The hardest thing I have ever had to deal with has been so-called psychic experiences - receiving information directly, without natural causes. I am grateful to an anonymous Franciscan who, many years ago, counseled me with much the same as what you wrote today, helping me realize I wasn't alone. Thank you for posting this!

Greg said...

As you note, the mysteries are real and very present. But, as you also note, we remain mostly silent, not only for fear of ridicule but also to not bring confusion to those for whom such would be real or easy to embrace.

This makes the path of spiritual formation within the parish a challenge.

I am acutely aware of not knowing who I would dare speak with about such matters, including the priests, at the parish level. So silence prevails.

Meanwhile, Bonaventure's work, The Soul's Journey Into God, sits on my desk, posing a silent question: When will it be time for this wisdom to emerge into the mainstream?

for narnia said...

very insightful post, Fr. C! thanks for sharing it. on occasion, i have experienced God in my dreams (whether it be Him consoling me or directing me - i definitely do experience this.) but, i have never talked about it with anyone. as you mention, i never ask or pray to God to speak to me in my dreams, He only seems to do so at the times when i need it the most. i look for God in the little, everyday experiences of daily life and am often amazed at just how much He is truly present to us all the time. we just have to remain OPEN and let the Holy Spirit in - He will come to us in many surprising ways!
~tara t~

Greg said...

That should read "not be real"... I was expressing concern for those for whom expressions of spiritual gifts might be too unbelievable.

Which leads to the question of how a priest or spiritual director assesses the ability of a parishioner to hear certain messages. Wonder if we "dumb down" to meet the understanding level of those with tender sensibilities?