Saturday, August 13, 2011

"A friend who gives candid advice"

A friend of mine passed through town last night (such a rarity -- someone I know actually coming to Port Charlotte! -- is a cause for celebration). It was great to catch up with her, a FOCUS campus minister who I hadn't seen in probably two years. During dinner we talked about her work and the fact she has now fully discerned her call to religious life (it's been a lengthy process, but I, completely aware of my own stubbornness, can only admire her patience and openness to God's plan and the sometimes meandering path He's led her on) and the journey she's taking to find the right order. As we sat talking over delicious Mexican food, I realized couldn't recall the last time I used the word "charism" in a conversation and not had someone look at me askance or had to explain what it meant. :)

Afterwards, we headed to Books-A-Million and wandered among the shelves, laughing over ridiculous discount CD sets (3 CDs worth of Irish accordion music, for only $4!) and hunted for small gifts for her oldest godson. As we made our way toward the small Catholic section, she asked me, "So, what are you reading these days?"

I knew, of course, that she wasn't referring to novels or fun books about history. She was asking about my current spiritual reading. And right now, that would be a whole lotta nothin.' I told her about how excited I had been, starting over with my reading of Theology of the Body during Lent, and the fact that I wanted to continue with it post-Easter. While I didn't automatically stop reading the moment Lent was over, I haven't continued with it as I hoped to do, either. So much for commitment. I also mentioned several books that I have and want to read ("No Man is an Island" and "The Discernment of Spirits," among them) and books I've started, like "A Shorter Summa," that I've now attempted twice (I keep getting stuck because, at least at this point, I find Peter Kreeft's introduction far more readable than Aquinas' style. Maybe I'm just not ready for it yet...or maybe I should soldier on through...).

I told my friend that it's not that I don't want to read spiritual works, I do, but that it feels like "things" keep getting in the way. And as I said it, I realized it sounded like an excuse. Yes, I'm busy, but I always seem to find time to waste on things like Facebook, for example. Even reviewing morning and evening prayer and daily mass readings in Magnificat, something I've done for years now, has fallen by the wayside of late. It's not that I've stopped praying, far from it. But perhaps it's my own laziness setting up roadblocks. What things could possibly be more important and worth spending time on than my spiritual growth?

Back at my house later that evening, my friend pointed out a website a mutual friend of ours, a seminarian, recently began blogging for. Along the right side of the main page was a short anecdote about St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who's feast it was yesterday:

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal was heading to the chapel one day to pray. Seeing a young novice in the hallway, she asked "Why don't you join me in the chapel for prayer?" The young nun answered "Sister, I really don't feel like praying right now." Jane responded with  "Sister, I haven't felt like praying in years! Now, let's go to the chapel and pray!"

The story made me laugh, but it also struck a chord. While God often speaks in a "still, small voice" to whisper in our ears, sometimes I think we need another, physically present voice to redirect us. My friend urged that, instead of beating myself up for not going through all the prayers of the day in Magnificat, I should ease back into it slowly, and also to not feel guilty about occasional spates of less-than-voracious spiritual reading, while at the same time, recommending several books she's found helpful. Her visit was so timely -- certainly not a coincidence, for God always sends what I need -- and a subtle, loving reminder to refocus myself on what's really important.

And although St. Pius X was addressing priests when he said the following back in 1908, he could just as easily be addressing me now:

"Everyone knows the great influence that is exerted by the voice of a friend who gives candid advice, assists by his counsel, corrects, encourages and leads one away from error. Blessed is the man who has found a true friend; he that has found him has found a treasure. We should, then, count pious books among our true friends. They solemnly remind us of our duties and of the prescriptions of legitimate discipline; they arouse the heavenly voices that were stifled in our souls; they rid our resolutions of listlessness; they disturb our deceitful complacency; they show the true nature of less worthy affections to which we have sought to close our eyes; they bring to light the many dangers which beset the path of the imprudent. They render all these services with such kindly discretion that they prove themselves to be not only our friends, but the very best of friends. They are always at hand, constantly beside us to assist us in the needs of our souls; their voice is never harsh, their advice is never self-seeking, their words are never timid or deceitful."

And who am I to argue with a saint? :)

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