God speaks within us

We just sprang ahead by moving the clock forward one hour. While we have slowly been enjoying evenings of more daylight, the springing ahead one hour made the extra daylight even more obvious. In a certain sense we can say that, by our pushing the clock ahead, the longer days come about by two actions, nature’s and our own. Of course, our part in this change is not only minimal, but also artificial. Nature will continue to make the increasing daylight even more dramatic as spring officially begins on March 20.

As we continue to spring ahead during the season of Lent, the cooperation of our moving the clock with the natural movement of nature is a good reminder of what should occur in our spiritual lives. During this holy season, we undertake certain practices of prayer, penance, and charity to help us grow in our relationship with God. These practices are not an end in themselves but a means to help us mature more fully as spiritual persons. If we notice any progress within ourselves, it is due to God’s action which is always at work. Like our manual movement of the clock, our spiritual efforts are minimal and almost artificial. God uses them and, like nature, changes them quite dramatically. It is he who moves us from darkness into the true light of Christ.

God’s loving power transforming our feeble efforts is at the core of the Gospel message. God became one of us, and through his cross and resurrection, brought us to life. Such is the very meaning of the parable of the mustard seed when the Lord said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it is grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Mt 13:31-32).

One of the areas in which we try to grow during Lent is prayer. Prayer is the substance of our spiritual lives. Prayer takes many forms such as supplication, adoration, meditation, praise, and petition. However, all of prayer is basically our communication with God. We speak to God from the depths of our being and he, in turn, speaks to us. Just as two people cannot grow in a relationship unless they speak to each other and communicate, we cannot grow in our relationship with God unless we do the same. As we try to grow in prayer, we must never become discouraged if our efforts do not seem to bear fruit. As with all things, it is God who transforms our poor attempts into something great, even when we do not realize it.

Pope Francis’ message for Lent this year emphasizes the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans. In fact, the pope’s message is entitled, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19). The eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans powerfully reminds us of God’s invitation in creation and how it is he who works within us drawing us to himself despite our resistance and weak efforts. This chapter of Romans is a perfect reflection on prayer for the season of Lent, reminding us that God is always at work.

One who freely acknowledged the reality of the power of God in our feeble prayer was St. John Paul II. He certainly showed the world that he was a man of deep communication with God. When asked about how he prays in his personal book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” the pope surprisingly responded, “You would have to ask the Holy Spirit. The pope prays as the Holy Spirit permits him to pray.” He then made reference to a favorite passage of his from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “The spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what the intention of the spirit is, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Rom 8:26-27). St. John Paul II stressed that the Holy Spirit, deep within our hearts, is always praying within us. It is not we who pray, but God who prays within us. The more we let ourselves be joined to God’s promptings within us, the more we grow in union with him. The more we let our feeble efforts be transformed by God’s steady movement, the more we come into the light who is Christ.

St. Patrick’s Day is here. St. Patrick had a vivid experience of the prayer to which St. Paul was referring. His experience must have been similar to that of St. John Paul II. St. Patrick was a very prayerful man and that is evident in his life and work. He wrote in his confession about God’s transforming power within him, which was at the heart of his own feeble prayer. He said, “At the end of the prayer one spoke out thus: ‘He who has laid down his life for you, he it is who is speaking in you;’ and I was thus awakened rejoicing greatly. And again I saw him praying within me, and I was, as it were, inside my body, and I heard him over me, this is to say, over the ‘interior person,’ and there he was praying earnestly with groans, and amidst these things ‘I was astonished and I kept wondering and thinking’ who he might be who was praying in me, but at the end of the prayer he declared that he was the spirit.” St. Patrick allowed himself to hear the voice of God within him, which is what prayer is all about.

As we continue our Lenten practices, especially prayer, we need to recognize the power of God which slowly but surely transforms our weak efforts into success. The measure by which we know whether we are cooperating with God is love. Whatever we are doing during Lent must manifest itself in love. If we wonder whether we are praying and letting God work within us, the measure is love. If we find ourselves more loving, compassionate, merciful, and understanding, then we are praying, and God is transforming our feeble efforts into great works. St. John Paul II again spoke of this reality when he wrote, “Through prayer God reveals himself above all as mercy – that is love that goes out to those who are suffering, love that sustains, uplifts, and invites us to trust. The victory of good in the world is united organically with this truth. A person who prays professes such a truth and in a certain sense makes God, who is merciful love, present in the world.”

We will experience more daylight and we will notice it because we simply moved the clock ahead one hour. Nature had already done all of the work. So, it is with God’s power and our efforts during Lent. If we notice any change within ourselves, God has accomplished it. Let us continue to let God speak within and to listen to him. In the words of Pope Francis’ Lenten message, “Let us not allow the season of grace to pass us in vain.”