We find ourselves in the second half of January already. Christmas and New Year’s Day are distant memories for many people. Now the focus is perhaps “getting me through winter.” The beginning of each new year can also be a time where people refocus their lives. This comes about through New Year’s resolutions. With great resolve and determination, a new course is set for ourselves. New Year’s resolutions should have a positive impact on our lives, bringing about new blessings. Otherwise, we wouldn’t resolve to make them in the first place. Shouldn’t resolutions make us feel better, never worse?
But a month or two down the road, New Year’s resolutions can become a source of depression and unnecessary stress or foster disappointment if the resolutions are unattainable or we experience failure in carrying them out and they becomes just another a list of things we had hoped to do.
I would like to offer one resolution for everyone in the diocese. This is already part of everyday life for some of you, but my prayer is that it becomes a part of everyone’s lives. I guarantee that this resolution will bring God’s abundant blessings upon us as individuals, upon your families, your parish community, and our diocese. When practiced with desire, determination and discipline, lives will be changed and enriched in ways you cannot yet imagine. Guaranteed!
The resolution? Spend a half hour each day with the Lord Jesus in prayer — only one-half hour of the twenty-four hours allotted to us each day! When we think about the magnitude of God’s love for us, how are we not compelled to return daily to the Lord in gratitude? Yes, thirty minutes is a long time for many people to be in silence with the Lord. But spending time in silence with our hearts and minds gazing upon the Lord Jesus, either in Eucharistic Adoration or simply in private prayer, leads to intimate communion with the One who loves us more than we love ourselves.
In a recent Sunday Gospel, we heard the story of two disciples following Jesus. “Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see’” (Jn 1:37-39).
This question, “What are you looking for?” is a question for all of us. What are we looking for? What will bring the deepest meaning to your life? Are we looking for Jesus each and every moment of our daily lives? He is always present, waiting to encounter us, waiting for us to “come and see.” Are we looking for the intimacy that he longs to have with us? In other words, have we fallen in love with the Lord, as a bride is in love with her bridegroom? This is what Jesus desires with and for us. “What are you looking for?”
Falling in love with God is the vital key to opening the door to the fullness of the Christian life. Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, points out, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, falling in love with God in a quite absolute way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love. Stay in love. And it will decide everything.”
Jean Jacques Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, notes that prayer, in its simplicity, “is contained in these three things: To look at Jesus [to fall in love]; to unite ourselves to Jesus [to stay in love]; and to act in Jesus [and it will decide everything]” (my emphasis added in the brackets).
What keeps a person from pursuing this relationship with reckless abandon, like a man who has found the love of his life? There are many reasons. We all have our own. Often it is because we are looking for fulfillment in other things besides Jesus. In other words, we are seeking fulfillment in idols. Or we see prayer as another “thing” to do.
Salvation in Jesus is meant for everyone, and therefore it must be simple — uncomplicated. This is why daily prayer is so important, but also so simple — gazing on the one we love and the one who loves us.
The work of staying in love with God is about remaining steady and committed to prayer, even if such prayer is one long exercise in suffering the absence of a felt presence of God. The blessings we seek cannot be attained through our own strength but must be received as a gift, when the Lord chooses to give them. We must wait on the Lord. When we succumb to the temptation to skip regular prayer, Jesus chooses to remain intimately present, even though we might not feel anything. His love deepens in our hearts in the painful, felt absence.
Recently, while on retreat, this question for meditation was proposed. “In prayer, have we lost our expectation of intimacy with Jesus?” Perhaps this is why people struggle to enter into a daily life of quiet prayer. They have lost their expectation of intimacy with Jesus. Prayer is not complicated. Perhaps it is we who are complicated and are afraid to love and be loved. Prayer is communion with the Lord and not something we do or accomplish. Jesus desires this union with each of us more than we do ourselves. Jesus is looking for us! “What are you looking for?”
There is so much more that can be said about prayer and its importance in our daily lives that cannot be addressed in a short article. But the New Year has begun. Will you claim this resolution as your own — 30 minutes of daily prayer — and put it into practice? It is the same amount of time as one program you watch on television daily. If so, the year 2018 will be one filled with many graces and blessings, more than you can imagine. It is said that it takes doing something seventeen times in a row for it to become a habit.
Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into this habitual daily life of prayer. The Spirit is eager to initiate and sustain this union with the Father and the Son. Do not be afraid!
Jesus said, “What are you looking for?”