When Fr. Mark first became a priest, he was so in love with Jesus that he would often spend hours before the Lord in prayer every day.
But once he became pastor of a large suburban parish, he began to feel crushed by the responsibility. On his best days, he would spare only a little time to be with the Lord—and even those times were dominated by pleas for financial help for the parish and anxious fretting over the latest personality clashes among his parishioners.
Gradually, an elderly woman who was a longtime member of the parish began to notice how tired Fr. Mark was looking and how labored his homilies had become. She began praying for him, and after a week or so, she approached him. “Fr. Mark,” she said, “God told me to tell you something.” Knowing that she was a prayerful woman, he invited her into his office, sat down, and listened intently. “Maybe God has finally answered my prayer for money,” he thought. But, rather than reveal a new source of financing, she said, “Jesus wants you to know that he misses spending time with you.”
Fr. Mark was stunned. With those few, simple words, he saw how distant he had grown from the Lord. He began again to set aside a few hours every morning for prayer and Mass. He arranged to tend to his duties in the afternoons and evenings and delegated some of the tasks he had recently accepted. Sure enough, the love that Fr. Mark had felt for Jesus in the early years of his priesthood began to revive. What’s more, some of the financial and relationship problems his parish was experiencing began to diminish.
“I miss you.” How heartbreaking these words sound when spoken by God! For centuries, he has been imploring his children to spend time with him in prayer, and people as diverse as powerful bishops and lowly peasants have responded to his call. Augustine the orator; Bernard of Clairvaux the statesman; Catherine of Siena the dreamer; Elizabeth Ann Seton the housewife; Ignatius Loyola the soldier—all these and countless others spent hours a day in God’s presence, and they grew soft and pliable as they let the Lord teach them.
The Renewal of the Mind
At one time or another, many of us have experienced some sense of God’s presence and love for us. It may have been at Mass, or it may have been in the quiet of our rooms. God became very real to us, and our hearts were warmed by his love. However, after such a moving experience, the anxieties of life can very easily cloud our memories and rob our peace.
Why is this? Very often, the problem is that our hearts may have been touched by God’s love, but our minds remain in need of renewal—something that can only happen by the power of the cross. As we sit at the feet of Jesus and gaze upon his cross, God will shine his light on the thoughts, desires, and assumptions within us that displease him. In the light of the love that Jesus poured out at Calvary, we will see our sin in a clearer way, and we will begin to take on a new way of thinking and acting.
God wants to change our minds as we “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and gaze prayerfully upon the cross. Make no mistake: such prayer is very difficult at times, and it will require some sacrifice on our part. But it is worth it as the Lord exposes our old ways of thinking and replaces them with his way of mercy, compassion, and obedience.
Imagine a young boy with his parents. At three years old, he begins to choose for himself. Sometimes, he is on the right path. At other times, he deviates from the path, and his parents must correct him lovingly but firmly. So too, as we sit at the foot of the cross, God will reveal those thoughts that must go. He will begin to tear down anger, fear, impurity, and self-righteousness and replace them with his peace, love, and self-control.
What About You?
Consider busy Martha in Luke’s story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Martha lived with her sister, Mary, and their brother, Lazarus, in Bethany, and Jesus had come to love them as his own family (John 11:1-3,35-36).
On one occasion, Jesus visited their home, and Martha invited him to stay for dinner. As she busied herself preparing the meal, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet soaking in his teaching. Martha noticed this and grew agitated at Mary’s apparent laziness. Finally, she blurted out, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40). Jesus’ response was far different from what Martha expected. “Martha, Martha,” he said, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (10:41-42).
As she took Jesus’ gentle rebuke to heart, Martha’s life was gradually changed. She came to acknowledge Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God” and held firm trust in him even in the face of loss and sorrow (John 11:22, 27). She continued to serve at her home (12:2), but freed from the anxiety and racing concerns that had dominated her previously. Over time, Martha learned to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear from him.
Jesus is inviting all of us to sit before him. When we can’t find the time to make it to Mass or to spend time alone with him, the Lord wants to say to us, “I really miss you. I want to reveal my heart to you.” Jesus can be as present in our homes as he was in Martha’s home. Let’s take the time to be with him and listen.
Take time to pray. According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. The heart is the dwelling-place where “I” am, where “I” live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. (CCC, 2562, 2563).
Go to that hidden center where the Father will pour out his love. Expect him to fill you as you come to him in faith and trust. Try to take five to ten minutes every day to quiet your heart and receive from the Lord.
Choose a Time and a Place. Make it a specific time dedicated only to prayer—a time when you are alert and clear (Psalm 92:1-2) and free from distraction and interruption (Matthew 6:6).
Lay Aside All Other Concerns. Examine your conscience and repent of your sins (Psalm 130). Let God’s mercy cleanse your conscience (Romans 8:32). Put aside anxieties, problems, and struggles (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Open Your Heart to the Gospel. Consciously say “yes” to these truths each day:
• God created me out of love and loves me always (1 John 4:10).
• God sent Jesus to give us life (John 3:16).
• By his death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death (John 5:24).
• Jesus promised to be with us and to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-16, 23).
• Jesus intercedes for us in heaven (Hebrews 7:25).
• Jesus is coming again (Matthew 16:27).
Praise God. Express your love and gratitude to your heavenly Father, to his Son Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit (Psalms 95; 136; Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:9). Worship God honestly and from your heart (Matthew 6:7-8).
Dwell in the Presence of God. Listen actively to God in your heart as you read Scripture (Isaiah 66:2). Sit quietly in God’s presence and let his love touch your heart (Psalm 131).
Intercede with Faith and Trust. Pray for the world, for the Church, for your family, your friends, and yourself (Matthew 7:7-11).
Write in Your Journal. Write what has God said to you, what you want to carry into the day to keep your mind fixed on Jesus. Write down any petitions will you keep close to your heart.