Posted January 04, 2012 in New Millennium:
Finding the Joy of the Ordinary

by Fr. David May.

The spirituality of Nazareth has many ramifications, but these do not take us very far unless we get to the Source of things: the love of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Only when we live from this source and return constantly to him, do we begin to see Nazareth for what it really is: a glorious offering filled with the joy of the Kingdom.

Family life, whether it be that of a blood family or a religious or lay community, involves a constant offering of oneself—in serving, listening, cleaning, repairing, forgiving, loving, working.

But it is only when we live united to him, who is all joy, that we begin to see that joy is also meant for us. That joy penetrates right to the core of the ordinary, right to the heart of the mundane.

I didn’t know much about any of this when I arrived at Madonna House in 1972. Like many from my generation (the post-war Baby Boomers), I was struggling to see if there was any connection between our Faith and "real life."

But the focus of my search was always Jesus Christ. I knew that without him the whole edifice of faith would crumble into dust. And I knew that the so-called alternatives to faith which were popular at the time—American materialism, existentialism, Marxism, the drug culture—were no alternatives at all. I knew they were less than dust.

As I look back, I can see that the real breakthroughs of my life in Madonna House have all involved a deeper perception of a very simple truth: Jesus Christ loves me, and now I can love him back. This is the driving passion of the Christian life.

But how does a questioning shaky faith become one that is "sure" of itself? It’s really very simple: we have to be broken open to grace. Or to quote a favorite saying of mine from the Desert Fathers: "Give blood; receive the Spirit."

Practically speaking, what does this entail?

First, you have to want faith more than anything else on earth.

You have to be willing to do whatever God asks in order to obtain the pearl of great price: a living, warm, and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

For me that meant, first of all, leaving home and journeying to Madonna House. But everyone has to leave something behind—namely, self-will.

Each of us must seek to know God’s will at any given moment. Unless we are willing to do whatever he asks—no matter how difficult or absurd it might seem—we will never come to have a truly living faith.

This determination to surrender can only come through prayer.

When I first arrived at Madonna House, I asked Catherine how one gets the gift of such faith. She said, "Oh, that’s very simple. I’ll show you"

With that, she turned and bowed humbly before an icon of Christ on a nearby wall and lay prostrate before him for a time.

Slowly, she got to her feet. Then she turned to me, winked compassionately, and said, "A couple of nights of that, and leave the rest to God."

It was a lesson I never forgot.

Second, imitate the Gospel. Read it. Then do it.

Preach it with your life, even if you aren’t sure what the Gospel even is. There is nothing like "doing" the Gospel to teach us the truth of its reality.

Forgiving one’s enemies is a good example of this process. We tend to look upon forgiveness as a kind of "peak" gospel achievement, something only the very advanced can manage. But really, it is foundational; nothing much happens in the life of grace until we forgive.

Once I had to forgive someone who had hurt me many years before. To tell the truth, forgiving him was a terrible experience. We talked through much of the night and were together early the next day. I was exhausted afterwards and nauseous to the point of vomiting violently.

Looking back now, I can see that I was being cleansed of venom, anger, spite, and lack of forgiveness. Only then did I discover the truth of the Gospel of forgiveness and its power to save us from ourselves.

Humble service is another gospel way that breaks us open to God. The enthusiasm of our first efforts in the life of faith—the honeymoon phase—soon gives way to the grind of repetition and monotony. We have some expressions in English to describe this situation: such as "bored stiff’ (like a corpse), "bored silly" (as in "this is driving me crazy").

It is when we reach such a point—and any way of life brims with opportunities to help us get there!—that we can begin to let God take control of our lives.

When we persevere in the humble way of service in little things, we will inevitably pass beyond what we can accomplish, our self-centered efforts to serve him.

It’s Christ himself who must take over, pouring out upon us his own Holy Spirit. Then the ordinary is transformed from within as surely as the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s own Body and Blood.

Third, confess your sins to a priest at least once a month and preferably more often.

After years of observing people’s (and my own) varying progress in the spiritual life, I would say that receptivity to this powerful sacrament on a regular basis is the key factor. No one truly serious about the spiritual life can afford to neglect this supreme expression of God’s surgical, yet tender, mercy.

There is something about having to look at oneself in this way, by facing a priest and Christ in that priest, which roots out sin and strengthens immeasurably the resolve to be true to the Lord.

Until we are ready to do this, we are still just playing around, like teenagers who haven’t yet awakened to the reality of what responsible adulthood entails.

Until then, all we do inevitably reflects a spirit not yet broken deeply open to God—that is, a self-satisfied spirit, a smug and hardened heart.

This tendency in us to be self-satisfied is so pernicious, so deep-seated, that we need the strength of a sacrament to shatter its power. Our frequent use of this sacrament gradually enables our personal prayer to blend in spirit with that of the publican: God, be merciful to me, a sinner (Lk 18:13).

The one who lives this prayer from the heart, who becomes this prayer, is the only one who is on safe ground, spiritually speaking. There is nothing comparable to the joy in discovering that a humble, contrite heart he does not spurn (Ps 51). Indeed, the mercy of God becomes most real to those whose sin is always before them.

Fourth, we must understand the Eucharist to be the very center and "heartbeat" of our lives.

Nothing else expresses more purely and more simply what every moment of every day is meant to be:

"The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the fountain from which all her power flows." (Vatican II)

In the Eucharist is available to us the remedy for every illness of the soul. For in this sacrament, Christ gives himself, so that knowing the love of God which is beyond all knowledge, we might be filled with the utter fullness of God (Eph 3:19).

Not even the finest gift a human person could give us could ever approximate the gift of the Eucharist, because Christ not only gives the best of himself, but he gives his very person. In so doing, he utters one phrase: "I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you."

The love that pours forth from the Eucharist is consistent and tender. It is always there, quietly healing and casting out my fears, beckoning me to come to the banquet and saying, "Welcome! Welcome!"

Yet beneath that warmth is an intensity, a passion for the salvation and healing of all mankind. "Come," it seems to say. "Plunge into the furnace of my Passion that you might love with the very love with which you are loved by me."

Finally, all of this can happen most easily and most sweetly if we do a very simple thing: place our hand in the hand of Mary and consent to her being the director of our lives.

She herself was pure and simple openness to the grace of God. And she is the one who brings a profound silence to our souls, a silence that is pure receptivity to God, like good soil waiting patiently for the sun, the seed, and the rain.

If we entrust everything to her, day by day, we gradually become the Eucharist, and the offering of our lives becomes one with that of Jesus to his Father, that your joy may be full (Jn 15:11).

The secret of Nazareth is to trust God enough to allow him to break us open, which is the necessary prelude to transforming our individual lives… and the whole world.

God is waiting to lavish on us not simply his gifts but himself—a torrent of love and joy and exaltation that passes through the cross of Jesus and culminates in the Resurrection.

Let us abide confidently with Mary in the hiddenness of Nazareth, so that our hearts, the Church, and the whole earth, might be readied once more for his coming!


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