THOUGHTS ON THE CATHOLIC FAITH NO. 7 (Fr J. O’Neill P.P., S.T.B)
The ‘green catechism,’ so full of riches for those who can still think (more so the new catechism) said: “We know that there is a God by the things that He made,” thus compacting great tracts of the Old Testament, St. Paul, St. Thomas and countless others, into one simple line. “The things that He made” not only show that God exists, but they can show us, in great measure, what He is like, and that revelation creates its reaction in us.
Among the highest delights of nature is to watch the sun come up. To make the most of the experience you have to be in the bush, away from man-made lights. Preferably the night should be moonless - pitch dark; you rise in the wee small hours, place your back against a good old gum (which you selected the previous day so you could find it in the dark) and then wait.
When the silent, near almighty forces move the sun and planets into their appropriate places, suddenly you think you can see vague shapes. Is it the eyes getting used to darkness, or can you really see? Wait. Be patient. Soon it is obvious: you can indeed see things. More waiting shows them more clearly. About now the wonder of sight finds accompaniment in the wonder of sound, as the ‘dawn service’ begins in the twittering of birds, nature’s choir tuning up to sing.
It is not long before everything is clear, but the best has yet to come. You look up and see the tops of trees and hills wearing crowns of gold, and you are hushed and stilled in the glory of it. If this is what He made, what must He be like? You keep watching as the gold creeps down the trunks and down the hills to fill the most secret recesses of the land.
Perhaps this wonder of nature can teach us the wonder of prayer. We admit our complete ignorance and mental impotence (getting up in the dark) and therefore desire God by faith (look forward patiently to the sunrise). We accept that we cannot reach God, but that He wants to and can reach us (we cannot make the dawn, but still it comes for us to bathe in its light). If we keep the habit of thoughtful prayer, He will increase our awareness of Him, an action He wants to keep up until the day He calls us home (the light increases to the fullness of day). So it is the action of God that is by far the larger part of prayer: Our part is to let Him work, to do the things that allow Him to enlighten (our faith) and to enliven (by His charity).
This understanding of how prayer works is not the error of Quietism : He does everything, we do nothing - because we have to do the things that make it possible for Him to work in us. Indeed, we cannot do even those things without His actual graces. We must, even in the midst of an active life, keep our mind free to hear God, like the home of a large and active family - it can still be tidy and liveable. Perhaps love of Our Lady comes in here: she will keep our minds available to the Holy Spirit, even when we are very active, as a good mother can keep a much used home tidy.
Surely the world is crying out for people who can calm it down: and by ‘the world’ we have to mean those around us today. Only the peaceful can do that, and only the prayerful can be peaceful, because they are conscious that God loves them, that He is actively present, and can spread His peace through them.
Father John O'Neill
17 Cameron Street, Doonside NSW 2767 Australia
Ph: +61 (2) 9622 3426
Fax: +61 (2) 9622 3376