March 2007

Fr. Antony PortraitDear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

It is easy to drift into lethargy. Trying to stay spiritually alert takes energy and effort. Just a little goes a long way, as they say, but conscious and sustained effort each day makes a huge difference. What are the first two things we need to begin?

First, we need to have faith - faith in God. That is indispensable, but faith also in the unfolding process of life lived in the ocean of God's love. We all live in that ocean. The truth is inescapable. The Holy Spirit "is in all places, filling all things" including the dismal recesses of life. If we want to begin spiritual work, we need faith, but remember that unless we actually begin, then we will not realize that faith is not a mental exercise in convincing ourselves of something that we cannot see or prove. Faith is part and parcel of who we are. We are made in God's image. The seeds of faith reside in us waiting to be discovered.

Once we discover faith, then we need to make an effort. Faith calls us to do something because it ignites in us a longing for God, for love, for peace. You may think the next step is prayer and you would be correct, but prayer is a very deep thing. When we learn to play an instrument we have to learn slowly the essential elements before we can tackle compositions. Little by little we need to take steps towards prayer. Each step is prayer, but each step also leads to prayer. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is music, but so is "The Moonlight Sonata." Here is a verse from the PHILOKALIA, the great manual of prayer.

When your mind, inflamed by longing for God, little by little divests itself of flesh, as it were, and turns away from all thoughts engendered by our senses, or from memory, and filled with adoration and rejoicing, then we may conclude that it has approached the boundaries of prayer.

There are elementary, intermediate, and advanced musical compositions and there are also elementary, intermediate and advanced ways of praying. The difference between the two disciplines is this: while playing advanced musical compositions demands more complexity, the highest levels of praying demand greater simplicity. To approach the boundaries of the deepest, most advanced stages of prayer we must become like little children. Slowly, by calming and stilling our thoughts we learn that Mary was right to site quietly at the feet of Jesus for that is the one necessary thing. All other good things flow from that. There are skills that must be learned and practiced, but it always means returning to what is most simple and true about being human, we are and always will be children. The problem is that we think otherwise.

Blessed Lent,

Fr. Antony Hughes