Conference: Columbus, Ohio OCDS, Jan. 15, 1991. Fr. William Healy
When anyone asks you, "what really is the core, the center, and the most important part of being Carmelite," my answer is not, "reading the lives of St. Teresa and John," they are inspirations...but the honest to goodness center upon which they are preaching and teaching and writing...the honest to goodness center of your existence and your purpose in being a Carmelite is you life of prayer...your ability to go to God, day by day, and to speak to Him in your own words, and to talk to Him in your own way about your life as you are living it. So many people believe that when they are going to prayer they have to become all tense and uneasy...they must be able to give Him the thoughts of someone else or from a prayer book...and [but] our whole Carmelite being, the essence of our life, is the ability to carry on a conversation with God in your own words, in your own way. As I said...as life affects you...in the world which you're living in and the profession which is yours. That's why you have that half-hour of so- called "mental prayer". It doesn't mean you're going to think, think, think...but it does mean you're going to love...We come to prayer, says St. Teresa, not just to think, but to love...and that's talking to God in relation of a child to a father, a sister or brother to a brother, and the most intimate friend, The Holy Spirit...for without His guidance, without his help. without His inspiration, His invitation, you wouldn't even think of going to prayer.
So, when it seems to you that you're not getting anything out of your prayer, the question I put to you, and the question God puts to you is this: its not a question of what you get out of prayer...its what you give to it...and when you go you're giving Him the two most important possessions you have. One is yourself and the other is your time. That's what prayer is all about. So when you feel as dry as a bone and as arid as a desert, you come to the conclusion, "God, I'm giving You myself and I'm giving You my time. I'm even giving You my dryness. If You wish to change it into consolation, be You blessed, but if You wish to accept my dryness and my distractions as part of the prayer, then these I offer as Jesus offered His mental and physical anguish, His loneliness in Gethsemene and on the Cross. That's your prayer of sacrifice.
Last night and tonight many churches are having vigils for the preservation of peace. But here's where I talk to you as a brother to a sister or brother to brother: its a wonderful thing to have special masses offered for peace, its a wonderful thing to have vigils for peace, but don't you see, when you say, "I can't give my time to the half-hour in the morning or in the evening, and I find it so difficult to say the Office I put them aside..." don't you see, you're giving up the most valuable help to peace in the world at large...because these are commitments that you have made as Carmelites..." I'm going to give my half-hour to God, and I'm going to give Him my Office for the benefit, for the welfare of the world. Each moment that you give to God in prayer, each moment, and each word that you utter in thought that you give Him, by the doctrine of The Mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints, affects the world! And so when you say, "I'm not going to pray because I don't feel like it, and I don't have the time," you're giving up the greatest instruments for peace that you can possibly offer.
St. Teresa of Avila, with her little nuns said, "Here we are, thirteen little women living away completely from the world, but sisters'" she said, "if we to God the work of our hands, if we offer to God our recreations and our prayers, and we just give Him ourselves in our lives as we live them, live these lives each day, we're changing the Church and we're changing the world," and history proves that she was right! You cannot out and directly convert the enemies of our country, but in the depths of you heart, when you give yourself even in the aridity of, the distractions, and even the boredom of prayer, if it seems that way to you, you're affecting the world...you're overcoming yourself, and you're approaching God who made the world in the first place...you're approaching Jesus, Who died for it, 'though so many people unto this day reject Him, and you're giving yourself to the Holy Spirit, Who is supposed to, as His name tells us, He is the Inspirerer, the one who is the source for all inspiration for goodness. That's why you and I have every reason in the world to thank God for our vocations in which we are to have an intimacy with Him, the divinity...to talk to Him, and in each one's own way be an instrument for bringing peace to this confused world of ours.
As we said so frequently, the word Carmel is a secret garden, and the secret garden is in your own heart, where the blessed trinity dwells, and you go in, in all familiarity and trust, to face your God. You might say, " Well, I have so many troubles and problems in my vocation, in my life, where can I find the time to pray..." ...that's when you need it. You need the assurance that He's with you.
As you contemplate the Epiphany, did you ever make a little meditation on the characters involved in the Epiphany? There, when the Magi, after their long, tedious trip depended upon just one simple prophecy? "Out of the east shall come a star..." And the star is called the Prince of Peace. They traversed the desert night and day. They were ridiculed by those who knew what they were intending to do, but the persevered, and as a result of their perseverance they found Jesus, Mary, and Joseph...and that's what John of the Cross says to you. You may not have to go over a desert such as they did, but there are times when you will experience a dryness in your own heart and the very fact is that your going to prayer may honestly seem repulsive, but you persevere because of the words of Jesus Christ, "I am with you always...and not a hair falls from your head without it being known to your Heavenly father. So you traverse...you going within...you're following the star of faith...and afterwards, as I said, they found Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Now, take the other characters. Mary...her virginity was questioned. Joseph thought about putting her away. He actually could have had her stoned to death because of the conception of Jesus outside of the intercourse before they came together. She felt the sting and humiliation of it, as anyone would, but she was silent. It didn't means she was joyful. It means like that you, when you experience pain and anguish, you feel it. She felt the humiliation; she felt the sting; she felt the hurt...but she didn't do anything about it. It took an angel from Heaven to come and enlighten Joseph on the mystery of the virgin birth, which he never fully mastered. "This is what God says, therefore I believe it." He didn't know why he had to take that journey at night into Egypt...why the son of God would depend upon him to carry Him, on a donkey, to another land...So, when you have these misunderstandings in your life, you're asked to be familiar with God in your prayer as a Carmelite...and say, if the model family had these difficulties, why should I be so overwhelmed by mine, when the Holy Family understands what I'm going through, and I can, as Jesus put it, offer the pain and the heartache that I am experiencing at the present time.
The center of attraction was Jesus Christ in the Epiphany. He was born to die, and every person is, but He was born explicitly to die in fulfillment of what he was going to say later on..."Greater love no man has than a man lay down his life for his friends." That's what He did. So the Epiphany stand off then for you and for me to be an inspiration and guide in our prayer life.
I love to think of the little kids that had the Christmas pageant in which the Epiphany was depicted...the wise men and all that went with it...and one little girl stood on the stage, she had nothing to do but stand on a chair, I should say...no words to say, but all she did was hold up an aluminum star. When the whole performance was finished they were asked, " Which of you played the most important part..." and the question was hardly put out when she said, "I did."
"Because, if the Magi didn't see the star, they never would have found, Jesus."
That's the way God deals with you and me.
Without preaching, the closer you come to Christ, the more you resemble Him. As truthfully as I stand here, then, in your own sphere of action, you become a star to bring others to the Savior. That's your calling, and that's mine.
In regard then to the prayer life, don't divile up and say, "I'm gonna pray, I'm gonna pray, I'm gonna pray!" But take the most relaxed position possible because you are experiencing and offering you time to the God of Peace, and His presence makes Heaven, Heaven. So, Theresa says, "Talk to him..." as I am right now talking to you, poor things...trying to express the thoughts which should be yours in your words and in your own way. So, then, when you say, "I can't say my Office," don't you realize that the prayers that you say in that little breviary are the inspired prayers of the of the Holy Spirit, and that these prayers are accepted by Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Moslems (for they firmly believe in the prayer of the psalms). So, when you're saying the Office, you're praying for all people, regardless of race, color, creed, and you can be the inspirerer for those who seem to have the incorrect attitude towards life and towards our country at the present time. So, when you say, "I don't feel like saying the Office," you're depriving the world of a tremendous help. And as we've said so frequently, these are the prayers uttered by Jesus Christ, for He prayed the psalms...and you're addressing the Heavenly Father as He did...in a different time, a different language, but nevertheless, the same thoughts. That's why I say we cannot overemphasize the importance of your personal relationship to God, because each step that you make towards Him affects the world.
So, in conclusion, I bring two stories. I'm sure on television you may have seen the masters of ceremonies, Gary Collins. Gary Collins writes this little account of his life: I came into the world when we were called the baby-booming age. The country was at the height of its prosperity, and I was brought into a family that did not have to worry about money. I went to high school, and I had a magnificent personality. I could sit down with all the boys, drinking malts, have wonderful dates with the girls, attend football games...life was a romantic hit for me. As far as work was concerned, as far as studies were concerned, I could just sit there for ten miniutes and be able to pass a test, and I was so joyful when I got my C's and my C-'s. I'd say, "Look what I got...no work!" and they'd all envy me. But one fine day in January, I came into the study hall and there was a note handed to me by the study hall teacher: You Will See the Principal, Immediately After the First Period and You Will Be There On Time. Wondering what it was all about, I said, "He couldn't have anything against me...I passed. I have all of these friends..." He went into the principles office, a Mr. Harris, and he tried to joke the whole thing off with the secretary who paid no attention to him whatsoever, and voice from the other room, with the door open, "Collins, come in!"
"I went in terrified."
"I sat there, and he said, "I have a paper, and he went to the files and he pulled out a diploma. What a wonderful thing it was to see my name in big print on it."
He said, "I'm going to ask you to read that outloud."
"This is to prove that Gary Collins has completed the course of studies prescribed, and has shown enthusiasm and initiative in promoting this knowledge for self and for others."
The principal said, "I have a conscience, and in conscience I cannot sign that diploma because you are neglecting the talents the Divinity has given to you. You're playing, and making a joke of your attendance at school. I assure you unless there's a definite improvement I will not sign that diploma and you will become a dropout..."
"A dropout?" "As far as I was concerned," considered Gary, "it was one standing on the corner with a little dog."
"You will be a dropout, because I have no intention of signing the diploma, because I have a conscience, and in my conscience I could not do so."
He went and took his car to a mountain that overlooks Los Angeles. Here's what he wrote: bitter as the pill was...to hear what Mr. Harris has said, I have to acknowledge the truth from his mouth. I haven't used my talents, and life is not a dream or a game...its something we must give. The value of life is not what we get out of it, but what we give. So, bitter as the pills was, and painful as it was to recall what Mr. Harris has said, I resolved to improve. My grades did go up. Today, I am the master of ceremonies you see on television.
But you see, that's why so many people are afraid to go to prayer. They're afraid God is going to condemn them and point out their mistakes. And when you're able to acknowledge one mistake, its the grace of God speaking to you, telling you how He wants you to come closer to Him, and to be the person He wants you to be that you may give, truthfully your God-given talents to those who are depending upon you in your vocation, and as I said so frequently in this conference, to the world at large. That's was prayer is. He doesn't condemn. He accepts your consecration when you go to Him in prayer.
The final example (and I use the word, "final")...all of you have see on your television screen, I'm sure, Chris Burke, in a little thing called, Life Goes On. Corke was being interviewed. Chris, as you know, has Down's Syndrome in real life and plays the part of a character [Corke] in Life goes On. Now then, Chris couldn't carry on the conversation completely so his father filled in for him. His father was a former police inspector in the city of New York. He's now retired. To put it in Chris's words, and express it as he did in the beginning, "I always wanted to be an actor." That's difficult for anyone...but one in his condition! His father said, from his earliest age, at the age of six, I think, that's the earliest they accept them, he became an altar boy because serving at mass made him a center of attraction, and sort of fed into the idea, "I'm going to be an actor."
Whenever there was a Boy Scout get together, or they went to camp and there was a play, Chris would be in it. On day, while he was at a school for retarded children conducted by Catholic priests outside of Philadelphia, he was in a play, and Emily Kingsley of ABC attended the performance, and that's how Chris was discovered. That's how he became the star, you see, of the screen. The moral, as Chris would say, is this: I prayed from here [heart] that God would make me an actor. Nothing is impossible with God. So, if every person sincerely strives to be what he wants to be, and he prays about it, it will come true. You see, he continued, I don't have Down's Syndrome...I have "Up Syndrome..." and that's the trust, and that's the confidence that God seeks from you as you contemplate the characters in the story of the Epiphany.
God Bless You.
This transcript is Copyright, 2001, OCDS Community, Columbus, Ohio.