The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Gaudete et Exultate

Monday, May 14, 2018

In his recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exultate, our Holy Father Francis reflects on the everyday simplicity of the beatitudes as a way of ordering our lives towards holiness, describing holiness as ‘the most attractive face of the Church’ (Gaudete et exultate, §9). 

Our lives, Pope Francis says, must be ones which seek to integrate everything into our lives lived out in the world. ‘We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission’ (Gaudete et exultate, §26). Yet while we should always be willing to live out our vocations with a generosity which will inevitably involve a good deal of activity, still our lives must be marked by a desire for moments of quiet, solitude, and silence before God, particularly in a world which is so marked by a loss of meaning, and an increase in distraction. Pope Francis makes much of the tendency to absolutise our free time (Gaudete et exultate, §30), meaning we tend to desire to spend our spare time as our own, in exactly the way we wish, but part of the active prayer life which Pope Francis identifies as so key to our living a life of holiness requires a detachment from our own private free time, and a realisation that this time is not our own, but God’s.

A priest once said to me, and often said in sermons, that much of our prayer is a holy form of time-wasting. Obviously no time in prayer is time wasted, but by the standards of the world where time is so easily commodified, this is exactly what prayer is, a waste. But seen through the eyes of a Christian, prayer is a holy time-wasting which increases our desire for God. Fr Geoffrey Preston, O.P., a priest of the English Province, apparently often said, ‘There’s not much point in claiming you want God just because there’s nothing else you particularly want. Without wanting, we’ll never enter the Kingdom.’ 

Part of this, surely, is because of the longing which God has for us. St John’s Gospel makes so much of our Lord’s thirst for us: he tells the Samaritan woman that he thirsts, just as He will shout it from the Cross for all to hear. Indeed, Christ’s great moment of glorification seems to be a meeting of those who thirst for God, with the God who has thirsted for them from eternity: If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:37-38). Here we have the answer to the psalm: O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water (Psalm 62).

In all of this, the direction of our desires, wants, or needs may have to be altered, and perhaps sometimes drastically so as not to be focused on ourselves, but on the one who answers all of the longings of the entire world. But the desire should never go, for as the seventeenth century poet Thomas Traherne says, ‘We cannot love too much, only in a false way.’

Br Albert Robertson O.P.


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