Shop to You Drop

The late Monsignor William Shannon, the great Merton scholar who I had the honor of spending time with shortly before his death in 2012, said, “We cannot ignore the fact that we live in a cultural milieu that constantly ignores the needs of the spirit.” Thomas Merton felt that the sickness of our mass society was that it had forfeited its sense of solitude and its capacity for contemplation. Only solitude can save people from the slavery of unthinking conformity to the accepted norms of our consumerist society that denies the inner realities of the human spirit. Our natural capacity of for contemplation has been virtually snuffed out by meaningless distractions and diversions manufactured by the titans of corporate greed. “Shop to you drop” needs to be replaced by “stop until you’re healed.”

We live in an age where modern transportation allows us to go anywhere we want; ironically, we live in an age where many have lost their sense of direction. Monsignor Shannon said, “Physically we can go anywhere we want to, even to the moon and probably to Mars, but spiritually many among us have no notion of where we really want to go.” Our society gives priority to material progress over moral growth and to the efficiency of getting things done over social responsibility. While technology is important and can be good, what we really need is the wisdom that comes from God. Instead we get tweets that say nothing.

The Difficult Journey

Everyone experiences heartbreak; everyone is in need of tenderness and compassion. At some point in our lives, we all have to face the difficult task of coming to terms with feelings of rejection and humiliation and fear. These very real and very painful feelings, in time and in prayer, become an authentic path from despair to hope. Tragedies and disasters become places of courage, of perseverance, places where we learn to plumb the depths of our inner life, our true essence, and are able, by God’s grace, to move from rejection and terror to healing and hope. Love grows from that deep-rooted pain within the universe where God is present and ever-willing to embrace us and bless us.

 

Where Love is

When we are enslaved by obsessive desires, we are not free to pray. When our interest in power, money, and material things is greater than our longing for God, we are still far from authentic prayer. The deeper we journey into prayer, the less interested we are in thoughts rooted in worldly desires and sensory perceptions.

Our prayer should be dressed in reverence and humility, unsoiled by a mind still cluttered, impassioned, and impure. Calm the restlessness of your mind by mindfulness of your breathing and by acts of compassion and mercy. The altar of our spirit should be unadorned and free of false and unhealthy desires.

We must imitate God who stoops down in mercy to touch us. So we too must stoop down in mercy to touch others…even those who live far away. The spiritual life is a twofold journey…an inward movement to the depths of our being and the source of Love, and an outward movement to the broken world, the margins of society, where love is manifested in acts of kindness.

The Voice of the Shepherd

John’s unique gospel says the voice of the shepherd calls us, and that the followers of the shepherd know the voice of the shepherd. The mystical voice of the shepherd calls us home, home to the experience of shelter and peace. We often lose touch with this voice because of the many distractions of life.

At times we are driven to ask big, life-altering questions, such as what is the meaning of my life or did I make a huge mistake in a promise I made but feel as if I can no longer keep, or do I have some deep unhealed wound. These big, unanswered questions often follow some tragedy or nagging difficulty in our lives. But the voice calls us from this place of inner conflict and tells us to come home to a place of harmony.

For too long I listened to the voice of the world, for too long I lived by false assumptions about life, for too long I was too busy to listen to the inner, mystical voice of the shepherd calling me home. I knew the words of the 23rd Psalm—the Lord is my shepherd—but I did not know the voice of the shepherd. I was lost.

Even after my conversion, I became so busy with my ministry, the voice of the shepherd became muted. A few years ago, I realized I needed to find a place of silence in order to hear more clearly the voice of the shepherd. Slowly I began to hear, albeit faintly, an inner voice in my own life calling me home to a deeper mystical experience. But as I resumed filming and speaking, I found myself once again becoming too busy to hear the voice of the shepherd. I need to listen more intently for the voice of the shepherd. I need to be more diligent in creating space of silence.

The Sunrise of the Soul

Prayer is the sunrise of the soul. Prayer quiets negative passions. Prayer helps restore our awareness of God. Prayer is an act of humility, stemming from a mindfulness of our inadequacy. Prayer and humility go hand in hand: prayer deepens humility and humility deepens prayer. Prayer prompts us to reach out in compassion to the suffering and weak, and helps us embrace all of humanity.

Prayer slows down the frenzied pace of life. Prayer helps us flee from the storm of negative inner thoughts and the noise that engulfs modern life. Prayer creates the unruffled calmness required to encounter God. To neglect prayer is to neglect God. Prayer is the only weapon we need.

Baby Steps

The gospel presents us with profound social, economic, and political challenges. Issues of global poverty and hunger, corporate corruption, and national policies of war and nuclear arms are gospel concerns. The gospel demands a response from us, which can be boiled down to three simple and clear things that we, as the body of Christ, cannot tolerate in our private and public lives: hunger, cheating, and violence. Moreover, we are compelled to treat all with dignity and equality, constantly on alert to extend mercy and compassion to all who are hurting.

The gospel values of mercy, compassion, and love can be found in the core beliefs of all faiths. They are universal human values, and it is those virtues that can unite us as a human family, and help us see and know that the chronically poor around the world are our brothers and sisters, and we must stand with them in fraternity and solidarity. And we can begin to do this by taking at least baby steps toward defying political polarization, consumerism, and militarism and putting our full trust in God’s abundance, mercy, and love.

What We Are

The more we worship God, the more we grow in humility. The more we grow in humility, the more gentle we become. The more gentle we are, the less aggressive we become. Stripped of aggression, the more pure we are. As we grow in purity, the more receptive we are to the gift of God’s spirit. The more filled we are with God’s spirit, the more loving and compassionate we become.

Nothing can separate us from love if love is not what we have but what we are.


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