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Follow the Lord’s lead

February 6, 2015
Father Charles Puthota

An old monk had prayed all his life for a vision from God. Finally God appeared to him in his cell. The man worshipped with tears of joy and gratitude. At that very moment the monastery bell rang. It was time to feed the poor at the gates, and it was his turn to feed them. How could he turn his back on God’s vision? The monk was torn between the divine and the human. It was the dilemma between heaven and earth, mystery and reality, prayer and work, contemplation and action, and interiority and exteriority. With much regret, he left the vision and went away to feed the poor. Hours later, when he returned to his cell, he couldn’t believe his eyes. God was still there waiting, and he said: “My son, if you hadn’t gone off to feed the poor, I would not have waited for you.”

We can relate to the monk’s desire and dilemma. As we journey through life, seeking love and fulfillment, struggling through sadness and sorrows, we are comforted and guided by the Catholic faith and its incredibly powerful traditions. One of our struggles may lie in integrating prayer and life – and learning to view them as natural and highly beneficial, even necessary, allies for peace and happiness. Being united with God and taking that experience into all that we are and do is the simplest – and surest – formula for success in life.

Jesus shows us the way. In Mark’s Gospel, we glimpse into a day in the life of Jesus. Jesus leads a hectic life. All his activities flow from his union with his Father: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Thanks to his prayer, his action is filled with grace for others; his ministry is filled with purpose, direction, and energy; his exterior mission is spent in selfless, life-giving service. Jesus will take all aspects of his work – teaching, preaching, healing, driving out demons – back to his contemplation with his Father so that he could become deeply conscious of his Father’s will for him, evaluate his mission in God’s presence, and forge ahead despite opposition and apathy. In other words, his prayer life flows into his ministry, which flows back into his prayer life.

It is said that Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, before her conversion would attend early morning Mass at St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Avenue in New York City. She was attracted to the simple gesture of people kneeling in prayer. She said, “I longed for their faith. So I used to go in and kneel in the back pew.” Her new-found Catholic faith helped her discover the profound relationship between contemplation and social action. She said famously: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.” She would rather live a simple life of faith showing forth in service than be distracted by titles of honor.

We live hectic lives. In the midst of multitudinous activities, the call is to be like Jesus: To carry our experiences into prayer and let prayer influence and affect all our having and being and doing. We are to be contemplatives, even mystics. If we don’t see more than what our eyes see, we are in trouble. Through prayer, we peer into the mystery of God – to touch his presence and love. In prayer, our consciousness is heightened to capture our inseparable connection with God. Like Jesus, we are to let this awareness of the divine permeate our daily lives. We are invited and challenged to a life of faith that translates into service, one that does justice.

Father Puthota is pastor of St. Veronica Church in South San Francisco.

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