It took me a long time deciding whether or not to use such an uncompromising word, but frankly I have no choice. If we really believe in God and what he has planned to do for us, has already done for us, and is doing for us now to put his plan into operation, to unite our destiny with his, then there is only one way to respond. He has chosen to give us his all, how can we do less than give our all for him. The trouble is we have grown up in a Christian world where nominal, or part-time Christians abound, and the truth is we are probably numbered amongst them. Nominal or part time Christians were all but unknown amongst the first generations of Christians. It was not just that they were continually aware that their ‘Brother Jesus’ was close to them at every moment of their lives, but at every moment of their death too, most especially when they were asked to give their lives for their belief in him. Indeed you would not become a Christian unless you had counted the cost, and that cost might mean losing all your property, all your wealth, and your health too, in terrible prison conditions. Here torture was to be expected, followed by the most hideous forms of death imaginable at the end of it. In short, no one became a Christian without deciding to abandon their lives to God totally, no matter what the cost. This was why they were able to achieve what seemed to be the impossible, transforming a pagan into a Christian Empire in no time at all. In comparison we achieve so little, yet there are so many more of us. The trouble is as the Apocalypse puts it - ‘You are neither hot nor cold, that’s why I would vomit you out of my mouth’(3:16).
Do we need the threat of Armageddon before we are brought to our senses?
I can still remember how faith deepened during the Second World War, then how it suddenly faltered the moment it was over and the wheels of industry began to turn once more, jobs returned and people suddenly had more money in their pockets to spend on luxuries they had never had before. Do we really need our lives to be devastated by wars, disasters or the threat of impending Armageddon before we are brought to our senses? If the love of God is going to be the guiding principle in our lives, and not just fear, then now is the time to begin anew, inspired by our Christian forbears, who consecrated every moment of every day to God, in and through everything they said and did. I have already explained how we can do this every morning by firstly making the morning offering, and then by trying to implement it at every moment of every day of our lives. However, if this is going to be successful the morning offering must be supported by time for personal prayer at other times of the day too, as Jesus did with his disciples, and even without them, when he went off into solitude to pray alone.
Flying buttresses and all!
Several years after some of the great medieval Cathedrals were built, it became the custom to add Spires. These Spires were built as signs and symbols of the prayer of Jesus and all who prayed in, with and through him to God the Father. However, in order to make sure that the Spire did not fall, new foundations had to be added beneath the old ones, the walls had to be strengthened and even flying buttresses added to make sure they did not buckle under the weight of the new addition. It is the same with the morning offering. Without further daily prayer to support, it will not be sustained for long. Naturally we want our morning offering to make our work our prayer, indeed our whole life our prayer, but unless this desire is continually sustained, this desire will eventually tumble down like a Spire without proper support and foundations. Cardinal Hume put it this way:- –
“To say your work is your prayer, or your life is your prayer, is not only meaningless, but quite misleading. It is undoubtedly the ideal, but such an ideal will never be realised without giving daily time to personal prayer to sustain this laudable ideal.”
Asceticism for the faint hearted!
It is in this daily personal prayer that a beginner will gradually learn how to receive the love of God in such a way that his love will gradually surcharge our own, making what was quite impossible before not only possible, but easy. For with love, all thing are possible, just as all things are impossible without it. The biggest mistake of any beginner is to try too hard too quickly. Although it is true that sacrifices have to be made, making the wrong sacrifices, and making them too burdensome too quickly may do well to bolster a beginner’s pride, but this pride will inevitably come before the inevitable fall. All the great spiritual writers agree that a life dedicated to receiving the hidden or mystical life of Christ needs a corresponding ascetical life
The Desert Fathers would insist that you should always have the humility to:- Make haste slowly! -‘Festina lente’! To achieve this, observe this simple ascetical principle:-
Don't give up anything you like or enjoy, except when it prevents you from giving quality space and time to God in prayer each day.
If you think it’s too easy then try it and stick to it day by day, and you'll soon find it's not quite so easy as you thought. So don't let your initial enthusiasm fool you into heroics that you will never sustain. When you have persevered for long enough, you will gradually begin to receive and then experience the love that will enable you to do what is quite impossible without it. In his beautiful little book Pax Animae the sixteenth century Franciscan mystic put it this way:-
With love you may bring your heart to do whatsoever you may please. The hardest thing become easy and pleasant, but without love you will find anything not only difficult but impossible. (Chapter I)
When a person falls in love and begins to experience being loved, there is nothing that they wouldn't do nor any sacrifice that they wouldn't make for the one whom they love. In fact they positively look for things to do, the harder and the more difficult the better, to enable them to show the real quality of their love. What was once impossible to a self-centred egotist only a short time before, becomes not only easier but also their greatest pleasure. It is exactly the same in the spiritual life. The exemplary behaviour, the extraordinary self discipline, and the heroic sacrifices made by a person who begins to experience the love of God are not the result of an arrogant stoic trying to make themselves perfect. They are the actions of someone desperate to express their love in behaviour that could not be maintained for long without the love that sustains it. All the little pleasures and pastimes that were thought indispensable before, suddenly become dispensable, and with the greatest of ease! Beware then, for although we may, understandably desire to abandon ourselves totally and without delay to the One who has given his all to us, we are of ourselves weak at the beginning of the spiritual life. Until God gives us the inner strength to do so, we have to learn to be humble and wait patiently, as we persevere in the daily prayer, where we will be given the only love that can empower us to do what is quite impossible without it. In short –‘Festina Lente’!