The best part of Steubenville Youth Conference was … Adoration!?!
This past Friday 34 teenagers came to the Church at 5:45am to leave for a Youth Conference in Steubenville, Ohio. It was a fantastic weekend. There was over 2000 youth and the days were packed full with amazing talks, lots of loud music – secular and Christian, some great discussion, along with lots of fun and excitement. On the way home, we asked the youth what their favourite part of the weekend was. I was surprised at their response as they didn’t point to the loud music or the time away from their parents and with their friends. Many of them actually said that it was …Adoration, praying before the Blessed Sacrament … how amazing is that!
The Prayer of Abraham and Martha and Mary
In the readings today, we heard about four other people who cherished prayer: Abraham and Sarah, Martha and Mary. Abraham of course was called the “Father of Faith.” Already when he was old the Lord asked him and his wife Sarah to leave everything and follow him out into the wilderness. Abraham trusted and went. The first reading today follows them on their journey. Abraham met three mysterious men and invited them to follow him to share a meal. Some biblical scholars have speculated that these three were not actual men, but angels, while still others have posited that they are each of the persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come to see Abraham who would be the first of a new and special covenant with God. At any rate, Abraham and Sarah rushed to prepare a last minute meal for their prestigious guests.
In the Gospel, Jesus came to visit Martha and Mary in their home. Again, frantic preparations began for the sudden arrival of this esteemed guest. Martha made haste to prepare things, while Mary simply sat at the feet of Jesus gazing, listening, praying.
There are many Kinds of Prayer
There are many different forms of prayer. Did you notice, that for Abraham, Sarah and Martha, Jesus didn’t condemn their prayer or say that it was insufficient. When Martha complained, Jesus responded, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” In this, Jesus didn’t say Martha’s work was void of value or merit, but merely that Mary’s was better. There was a true offering to God in the service and hospitality that Abraham, Sarah and Martha provided, as they did it not merely for human ends, but for the Lord. At the same time, this is not the only form of prayer, in fact, there are many! St. Teresa of Avila described the life of prayer as wondering through a giant mansion with many rooms. In one room there might be the prayer of service to neighbour, in another, the Rosary, in another meditation, in another, the Mass, in another, prayer of petition. All of these forms of prayer are good and helpful to us and it is natural for us throughout our lives to go from room to room. There is one room in the mansion which is the most beautiful and the closest to God and this is the room of the prayer of contemplation. This is the best and highest form of prayer, as hinted at by Jesus in his defence of Mary’s prayer.
Contemplation is about an Encounter with the Living God
When we think about prayer of contemplation perhaps the first thing that comes to mind is a Buddhist monk in his monastery on some remote mountain. Or maybe we think of Yoga and it’s ability to calm our mind and give us a quasi-mystical experience. But let me give this warning, as Christians we need to be careful about using these eastern forms of prayer. Why? Because they have a different end than Christian prayer. Yoga, for instance, is a set of movements to calm the mind, senses, and heart so that we can reach a state of inner peace or, sometimes it is called, a state of nothingness. The end of Yoga is to get rid of everything to just be with everything else. While as Christians it’s important for us to calm the mind, senses and heart too, this doesn’t go far enough, the best part is still yet to come. We empty ourselves out not to be left with nothing, but so that God can fill us. The end of authentic Christian prayer is to have an encounter with the living God.
Contemplation is Two Hearts being Perfectly Joined Together – No Interferece
The best definition of Christian contemplation comes from the mouth of an old man who would sit at the back of a small country church in Ars, France. After seeing him sitting in the back of the Church every day for quite some time, the priest, impressed by his prayerfulness, asked him what he did all that time. He simply pointing towards the tabernacle and said, “I look at Him, and He looks at me.” Contemplation is the deepest form of prayer because it’s the meeting of two hearts, unencumbered by anything else. It’s like two lovers, who’s greatest excitement and adventure is merely to stare into each other’s eyes. And the amazing thing is that this deep form of prayer isn’t just for the saints, it’s not like God has his favourites and that He secretly loves some of His children more than others. He desires to give this form of prayer to everyone and he wants everyone to have such a close relationship with Him.
My message for this homily is simple. Those high school youth who came with our parish group to Steubenville had a real, authentic experience of prayer, probably even contemplation. Some would think that they should have liked their time with their friends more or that they should have liked the loud music more, but what they liked most about the whole weekend was their heart to heart experience with God in Adoration. Such an experience is possible for all of us. The life of prayer is the greatest and most exciting adventure we could embark on, it’s greater than both music and friends. It’s like a mansion with many rooms to explore. Perhaps, God is even inviting some of us today to begin a life of serious contemplative prayer.