If someone were to ask you to name a couple of the books that have had a major impact on your life, what would the titles be? My list would have to include Gerard Broccolo’s, Vital Spiritualties: Naming the Holy in Your Life. Early on, the author makes a distinction between the ideal and real schools of spirituality.
The ideal school has the spotlight on me, and seems to continually ask, “How am I doing?” With the focus being the perfection of the Gospel, my task is to always try to live up to that ideal. So, in this school, I expend a good bit of energy giving myself a report card on performance or behavior, and repeatedly taking my moral temperature.
The real school, on the other hand, is focused not on me — and how am I doing? It is focused on God. And what is God doing? My task is not to perpetually be evaluating my performance, taking my moral temperature or giving myself a report card. In fact, the focus isn’t even on me. The task is simply to pay attention. As we hear in today’s Gospel, our task is to “stay awake,” …so we don’t miss God.
In an allusion to the story in Exodus 3 (of Moses hearing God speaking to him out of a burning bush), British poet, Elizabeth Barret Browning, pens these words, (Book Seven of Aurora Leigh):
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries…
Sometimes we get so strung out with overwork, so anxious with the nitty-gritty, or so bloated with comfort and convenience, we seem to miss God. We miss the grandeur of creation, the beauty of nature. Maybe the task isn’t always to do more… more effort, more prayers, more discipline. May we are simply being called to “stay awake.” To smell the roses.
I will praise your name for ever, Lord!
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P,. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.