Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into
practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain
came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that
house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
Growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago in the 1950’s was a real treat because we played outside an awful lot. We played cowboys, we played war, we played knights. We ran or rode our bikes all over the neighborhood looking for the proper venue for our next game, fort or castle. A special event for us was when a new house or apartment was being built because that meant at least a month of excavation to play in after the workers went home. I wonder now what they thought of the imaginary edifices we built out of scraps on their sites. We watched as the hole was dug and smoothed and evened out; how the forms were laid for the cement to be poured for the foundation and then little by little the building to rise on our “playground” until it was no longer ours. It is strange the lessons one learns from such things as play. The idea of a solid foundation for a strong building is one, so that when I first recall hearing the above quoted verses from Matthew’s Gospel, I had a visual to connect the words to and help to understand the truth of what I heard.
Now as a priest and spiritual director I go back to those childhood memories to bring out the simple truths still valid in this adult world. When someone comes to me for spiritualdirection they most often ask “Where do I start?” and I have to tell them they need to start at the beginning. Too often in this age, we want to start somewhere else, preferably closer to the end so as to avoid all the work getting there; but in spiritual work, there are no shortcuts, no matter what the Internet says! The most important beginning for a member of the clergy is with their prayer life. This is where I usually hear, “Oh yeah, I really need to get on top of that. I need to pray more often and find time for that but you know with kids, job, parish……..”, you all know the excuses; and that is when I ask about daily prayer, like Morning and Evening Prayer.
It is incumbent upon ordained clergy to pray daily, regularly, formally. Simply rushing off a few “Our Fathers” or occasionally reading a Psalm is not enough; not if you wish to build that strong foundation that the storms of life will not prevail against. When one’s house is built on sand, well….I think we’ve all read the same Gospel! But when clergy come worn out, depleted of energy and feeling unable to cope or give anymore, I have to wonder upon whom or what power they have been depending. It would seem obvious not on the power of regular prayer. Too often we believe that since we have received such a great gift of the Holy Spirit, we’ll be okay; but that would be like hoping the money in your savings account doesn’t run out before you do. If we are not putting anything into it, how can we expect it to grow.
So for us, ordained clergy, we have a duty to dig the foundation, smooth the hole, lay the forms so that the cement can be poured into them and the house can be built upon it. That foundation is our regular prayer, or if your prefer our Prayer Rule. The most basic part of that Rule, the meat and potatoes of it all, is Morning and Evening Prayer in some form: Common Worship, Common Prayer, or Liturgy of the Hours. The old Matins and Lauds in the morning and Vespers in the evening. I can hear it right now, because I have already heard it so many times….“I really can’t find time for that every day“. And then I will ask iftime is found in our busy day for Twitter, for Facebook and for Internet surfing. I already know the answer. The simple truth is, that we have to make time for this, for real solid foundational prayer. There can be nothing that takes the place of this, no shortcuts, no magic bullet. We have to rather “bite the bullet” and do it. We find time for all sorts of other self-improvement exercises, for self-indulgences and distractions, none of which will build our spiritual foundation and strengthen us to carry the load of the work we are asked to do.
This is the first thing I ask of someone seeking spiritual direction, and if this is already part of their daily life good, if not then it needs to be. It ought to be a vital part of our life as Catholic clergy of the Diocese of Quincy, and will be of great help in strengthening our foundation and commitment as clergy.