Rooted in Christ: It starts with conversation.
Late in 2022, the family “Frameo” died. In other words the photo “frame” bit the dust—the miniature screen that displays the family photos uploaded to it by all those with a secret code. Maybe I knocked it off the shelf once too often. But it died, and I had never gotten around to backing up the photos to an external storage device. This was a cumbersome process, so I had kept putting it off: Me, the computer whiz kid. Me, whom already some twenty-five years ago a younger colleague had publicly called the “grandfather” of the Catholic internet.
Grandfather? Now you know the meaning of “left-handed compliment”. The sad thing is that my still-youthful vanity noticed.
But I digress. The old frame had stored its delights internally, not online, and the company did not offer a repair service, so the photos of the century were all gone.
Fast forward to last Christmas, and several of the “children” (now aged between 30 and 50) pitched in to purchase an up-to-date Aura Frame, which stores everything online, to protect the world from lazy know-it-alls.
So of course yesterday we got rid of our land lines and television service, retaining only Internet. Verizon came by to install up-to-date faster Internet and a new “router” (the gizmo which puts all your computer technology on a network and connects it to the rest of the world). But—bear with me here, as my wife did—the new router did not come configured to offer completely separate high and low speed network connections, whereas the new frame demands a discrete low-speed connection. Therefore the new frame no longer worked.
After trying to resurrect it last night, I mentioned (cheerfully, I swear) that I was now mad at the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I meant it as a Jeffrey joke, but it earned me a warning flag from the game’s referee (which, with just the two of us at home now, is not me).
So I did what any self-respecting Catholic should do. I put the whole problem out of my mind, sat down with a book…and poured myself a glass of wine.
In the morning, I awoke to the recollection that I had a gizmo in the technology drawer that automatically separates the Wi-Fi network bands and allows networked devices to choose between them. I know you are on pins and needles to fully grasp the technological essence. Suffice it to say that I plugged in the gizmo (OK, call it a range extender), and the Aura Frame software was able to select the network band it required.
I take this as confirmation that God understood the joke…and approved the rebuke. He was certainly under no obligation to give me a hint while I slept.* But perhaps I should have entitled this essay “Routed in Christ”.
Life, of course, happens every day, and will go on happening now for all eternity. But my little story is, after all, a metaphor for the ups and downs of daily life and all the personal liabilities appertaining thereto. What this means, of course, is not that we must have a lawyer handy, but rather a Savior…and a Church…and a priest.
All of this came sharply to mind today not only for the unplanned reason recounted in the previous section, which is as trivial as most of the things that upset us on a daily basis, but because of something that was actually planned. I mean feedback from our staff on what we at CatholicCulture.org could do to improve our work in the coming year. Several deft comments about our written commentary noted that my writing tended to be a bit abstract and sometimes difficult to apply, and that it would be nice to see more specific applications to the lives of our readers, including their devotional lives.
This was not a startling revelation, believe me. In my name, “Jeffrey A. Mirus”, the “A” pretty much stands for “abstract”, at least when it doesn’t stand for “awkward”. Or at least it doesn’t always stand for “applicable”. I will be 75 next month, so this is probably not going to change dramatically. The first thing to go is the details. But there are always helpful spiritual things to learn, and there are always habits of prayer, spiritual reading, liturgical life, group-involvement, and apostolic work that we can and should adopt, in addition to regular reception of the sacraments.
The bottom line, though, is that we must either develop in ourselves the habitual practice of the presence of God or we will be stuck at critical moments with nothing to draw on but our own resources.
Everyone is entitled to favorite devotions, but as soon as we become familiar with them, we will often run through them more or less unconsciously, which rapidly diminishes their value. The same is true of the difference between “hearing” Mass and doing our best to consciously “live” Mass in Christ—that is, active participation. Most exercises in the spiritual life—and certainly all those most frequently recommended by the Church and her saints—are helpful to spiritual growth, whether they are best-suited to neophytes or old hands. Moreover, at least minimal guidance in the stages of prayer can be very helpful for spiritual growth. If all we ever do, for example, is say rote prayers in rote ways, growth is going to be retarded for the vast majority of us.
But none of these spiritual opportunities will take us very far unless they bear fruit in our practice of the presence of God, that is, our gradually habitual advertence to God from moment to moment, our continuing awareness of His presence in our lives, the frequent lifting of our minds and hearts to Him, and our ability to recognize (as some have called it) the “sacrament of the present moment.” What does God intend for me at this moment in time? Usually it isn’t particularly daunting; most often it is as simple as staying in interior conversation with God in whatever we are about. Sometimes, it requires a change of attitude or a change of plan, a duty to others, the recognition and correction of a fault, or even a more significant vocational decision.
And take it from the guy who can still make Very Bad Spiritual Jokes: Sometimes it means paying attention to and adopting someone else’s idea, or accepting someone else’s judgment or rebuke. In the spiritual sense, every moment is an occasion for God’s action in us—which simply means that every moment can be sacramental, in the sense of being an occasion of grace.
Talk with God
It should go without saying that if we are just starting out at this, we should put some basics in place first. We should make sure that we are attending Mass and going to Confession, that we have certain minimal prayers or devotions at a set time each day, that (assuming an ability to read and comprehend) we spend at least a few minutes a day in spiritual reading, ideally writings of the saints or Sacred Scripture, in addition to other things from authors we find helpful. As for particular private devotions, it is hard to beat the daily Rosary, though it is easy to say the Rosary with far too little awareness or reflection.
But then: Don’t be afraid to talk with your baptismal saint, your confirmation saint, any favorite saint, Our Lady and your guardian angel. Above all you must talk with your Lord and Savior, not neglecting the Father and the Holy Spirit (indeed, as the Spirit moves you to do). The whole trick is to get yourself in the habit. Also be aware that if you suddenly find yourself agitated, or afraid, or full of glorious ideas, marvelous opportunities or astonishing exploits, somebody else is trying to horn in on the conversation.
I know, I know; it’s a challenge not to forget the presence of God. I’ve set hourly chimes on my clock or phone to pull me out of my daily routine and remind me to think of God, to consider Him present, to say something—that is, to raise my mind and heart to God in a very human way. And I have also failed to even hear the chimes when they ring, forcing me to set them louder or come up with other techniques. Some recommend associating the lifting of heart and mind to God with particular actions—walking through a doorway, sitting down in a chair or getting up, changing a task or activity, or doing a chore: “Well, here we are again, Lord” is not a bad start.
If you speak often with Catholic friends or you are in a prayer group, why not share ideas and experiences? If you are a loner (as I tend to be), why not make an immediate note of some thought you’ve had that might help, so that you’ll be reminded of it later? Of course you’ll be saying specific morning prayers and night prayers, to keep your mind and heart oriented, in the right groove. But don’t be afraid even to joke with God during the course of the day: “Here I am again, Lord. It’s been six hours since I’ve thought of you. If I were you, I’d have gone home!” If you think it will be more reverent, you can joke in Latin: “Mea culpa, suspicor.” (My fault, I suppose.)
Eventually you will get in the habit of this practice of the presence of God, even if you have to dust off the habit occasionally. But of course talking spiritually presupposes the ability to listen. The whole point is that God is always present to you, even if you are not always present to Him. So ratchet yourself into God’s presence as needed, by an act of conscious will. Pour out your thoughts, empty your heart, don’t spare the trivia, don’t fear to laugh or cry. Go ahead and own up to being an idiot. As Francis Thompson had Christ say in his great poem The Hound of Heaven, “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
Then pause in your outpouring. You might call it “listening”, but initially it is the pause that is important. I am not discussing an extended session of meditative prayer (another excellent practice). Practicing the presence of God is about frequent moments throughout the day, and the spaces in the conversation are primarily a matter of courtesy, which Belloc famously said contains the grace of God. So let God respond within. Let God work within. In conversation, it is bad manners to ignore someone who is present. In practicing the presence of God, you are acting on the certain knowledge that God really is present to you, so you should be present to Him.
* Note to Tech Wizards: Yes, I’m sure there is an option in the router interface somewhere to separate the low and high speed bands, but I hadn’t been able to find up-to-date instructions for that new router by the time I was ready to make bad jokes. Even the model number is hidden in the bowels of the Verizon online system, rather than stated on the hardware itself. So I do know that my solution should be a second choice, and eventually probably will be. (Some day.)
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