Human Experience Points to the Existence of the Spirit
Let me preface this homily by saying, “I like science.” I’m grateful for the advances of modern science and rely on them daily. I don’t want to even imagine what life would be like without science. At the same time, some people would take it too far and claim that the only things we can know in this world are what the scientific method can demonstrate to us. The problem is that science cannot fully explain the human experience. Love is something that we experience, you can’t put it in a test tube, yet it’s real, it exists. Beauty is not something that can be quantified, yet we know it when we see it. Prayer doesn’t fit into the scientific categories, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not real and that the peace and consolation we experience in prayer is made up. There are certain aspects of the human experience that go deeper than what we can see and touch, they exist at a much deeper level of the human person, in their spirit.
An Experience of Prayer
Last year, after arriving at St. Matthew’s Parish, I must admit that I was a bit hesitant. I was leaving behind a parish in Kitchener that I really loved. The first few weeks here were a bit overwhelming, the parish is so big and there are so many of you. At the beginning of Mass I would look out at all of you and think to myself, “Who are all of these strange people?” I began to wonder if I would ever get to know all of you and whether this would ever feel like home. With all of this going on in the background, one day before supper as Fr. Mark and I gathered to pray the Liturgy of the Hours together, something incredible happened. As we prayed there was a deep sense of peace that overcame me and it was as if I could feel God saying to me, “This is where I want you, this is where you are meant to be. I will provide for you, don’t worry. Trust me.” For me, this experience of prayer was consoling, reassuring, and inspiring. It’s not something science can explain, yet’s that doesn’t mean it’s not real. And, after a while, I came to see that you “strange people” really aren’t that strange, in fact you are pretty amazing.
The Parish Mission – Considering our Experience of Prayer
As you entered the Church, you probably noticed the sticky notes covering the windows at the entrance. During our parish mission this past week there was an opportunity for everyone to record a moment when they experienced the presence of God, his compassion, consolation, and love. These sticky notes contain your witness to the power of prayer as something that is common for all of us. God speaks to all of us who pray to him.
Lessons on Prayer from the Transfiguration
In the readings of the Holy Mass today we hear of two experiences of prayer. In the first, of Abram and in the Gospel of Jesus and Peter, James, and John. When Jesus went up the mountain to pray, he was transfigured and his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. Let’s take a look at a few things we can learn about prayer from this experience of our Lord.
- Up the Mountain. Jesus went up the mountain to pray. This mountain is not a small hill, but a steep mountain. I’ve been to Mount Tabour and it would have taken considerable effort to climb this mountain. This is a reminder for us that it takes effort to pray and to be open to the grace of God. Carving out time for the Lord to speak to us is one of the most important things we do each day.
- Peter said, “Master it is good that we are here.” For those who pray they will experience a certain sweetness that cannot be found anywhere else. This is why many saints devoted large chunks of their lives to prayer. It is always good for us to be in the presence of God.
- “Let us make tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” St. Peter wants to stay in that sweetness and spiritual bliss we just saw, but the Gospel says that he didn’t know what he was saying. In this life here below, we cannot stay in that bliss. It comes and it will go. We are meant to be a people whose hearts are set ablaze with the love of God that they cannot sit still because the heat cannot be contained. We go out into the world and spread the Love of God everywhere we can.
- The voice from Heaven, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” It’s true that sometimes God does speak in an audible voice, we hear of it from the saints. But most of the time God doesn’t communicate with us in this way. Often he uses more subtle means. He’ll sometimes give us inspirations in our heart or a sense of peace.
As men and women we experience all kinds of different things, some of these can be explained by science and others cannot. But just because science can’t make sense of them does not mean that they are not real, true and meaningful. In fact, I would say that some of these experiences, especially one’s involving prayer, are more real than anything else we encounter in the this world, because the experience goes much deeper than the senses or the intellect, they are an experience of the deepest part of our being, the human spirit.