In the past, when people asked me when I decided to become a priest, I would simply give the date of my ordination. But now I’m more likely to begin my answer by naming a moment of awareness in the last few hours or days. My response might begin with a smile before I say Well, I decided to be a priest this morning when…. and I go on to talk about a moment perhaps earlier in the day when I stopped drifting and decided again to live as a priest.
My best days are those when I wake up deciding to live in conscious relationship with Jesus in every moment of the day ahead. On these days, when I begin by saying “Jesus, you can have all of me today”, for that day nothing is an insurmountable problem and my good morning decision keeps coming to mind and bears fruit.
I recall someone once referring to this as the “practice of the presence of God.”
I like that.
As a child I was taught to begin every day with a Morning Offering, a conscious and articulated intention to give everything to God: “O Jesus…I offer you all my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day.”
And so these days began with a decision. Whatever happened, it was for God.
The Morning Offering prayer is a moment of orienting myself towards Jesus by establishing a sound default-setting for the hours ahead. Of course by the time midday comes I have wandered, lost direction perhaps and shifted my purpose and perspective onto one of my many go-to idols. In those moments I struggle, and sadly it is sometimes only much later in the day that I wake up to just how much I’ve messed up.
But then I remember that I have already offered everything to God, even the messing-up, and I relax.
My problem is that I have picked up so many patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking, idols even, that are holding me back from living every moment in relationship with Jesus. Then I become attached to and defined by all this stuff, this baggage, when Jesus is calling me to freedom. Then I feel guilty, and know that Jesus strong words to the Pharisees are hitting home in me: “Alas, you hypocrites.”
St. Paul understands this. In today’s first reading he writes to the community in Thessalonica, and opens this first (of two) Thessalonian letter(s) with gentle encouragement: “We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all, and constantly remember before God our Father how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ”.
In these lockdown days, without many of our usual routines and safety nets, it can be easy to lose focus and drift unhelpfully. At the same time, the challenges of these days give us the reminder, the opportunity and the invitation to consider whether or not our current idols of work, relationship, possessions and compulsions are delivering the depth of abundance we seek in life.
If they are not delivering what they promise, perhaps now is the time for a new decision?
You might like to spend some time today, in gentle and honest conversation with Jesus, asking him to guide you to let go of what is leading you away from life, and to embrace more deeply all that is leading you toward the abundance of peace and joy that you are created for.