- As we enter into the contemplation of the last things in our end of the year liturgical readings, I am moved by the ominous relevance of the Books of the Maccabees, the martyrdoms, the poignant cries of the Psalms, the mysterious content of the Book of Revelation. I am reminded of Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s comment: “To be satisfied with the present moment is to relish and adore the divine will moving through all we have to do and suffer as events crowd in upon us.”
“As events crowd in upon us…” suggests not only the events piling upon us, the busyness, the haste of our contemporary lives which tend to distract us from the presence of God and His Will, but suggests also the escalation of the Storm. Everywhere we look we see the desecration of innocence, the annihilation of the faithful, the destruction of the family and families—and the pace is horrifying. Pope Francis has commented, “The acts of terrorism which took place in Paris Friday night are the latest part in what Pope Francis has called a “piecemeal World War III.” Indeed, “events crowd in upon us,” threatening to overwhelm us.
But though Father de Caussade lived and taught over 300 years ago [1675–1751], his understanding of “the sacrament of the moment” gives us the light which we need to stay strong in Christ, to persevere, and to cling to God’s Will, as he reminds us that it is “the divine will moving through all we have to do and suffer as events crowd in upon us.” This is not only wisdom, but deepest comfort and fortification.
His classic, Abandonment to Divine Providence is a Catholic treasure of the first order. It has been the backbone of my spirituality for decades, and I have a lengthy article about it on this site: https://soulfoodministries.wordpress.com/soul-food-talk-5-abandonment-to-divine-providence/.
According to the Church, what is a sacrament? “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace.” Several of Father de Caussade’s statements lay the foundation for his central concept, “the sacrament of the moment”:
“Embrace the present moment as an ever-flowing source of holiness.” [p. 36]
“God speaks to every individual through what happens to them moment by moment.” [ p. 20]
“The love of God comes to us through all creatures but hidden as it is in the Blessed Sacrament. So every moment of our lives can be a kind of communion with his love.” [p. 48]
I’ve read two articles recently which led me a little deeper, which shed more light on the sacrament of the moment. First, I ran across “Christian Mindfulness” by Father Ernest E. Larkin, O. Carm (1922-2006). [http://carmelnet.org/larkin/larkin017.pdf] Most contemporary Christians and Catholics are somewhat familiar with the concept of the “eternal now” and mindfulness taught, for example, in Buddhist practice. I’ve been there and done that.
What is useful is the art of attentiveness which can help train us to be more focused and attentive to the moment, to the practice of the Presence of God. Indeed, Father Larkin points out three practices which all rely on the cultivation of attentiveness and awareness of God: “recollection, practice of the presence of God, and the sacrament of the moment.”
According to Father Larkin, “Recollection, a concept and practice dear to St. Teresa of Avila, means in her that ‘the soul collects its faculties together and enters within itself to be with its God.’” By its nature, this practice requires some quiet time, hopefully larger segments of time.
“Practice of the Presence of God” comes straight from Brother Lawrence’s beloved classic. In the first conversation, we read: “That we should establish ourselves in a sense of GOD’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversation, to think of trifles and fooleries.” So close to St. Teresa of Avila’s “recollection”—but with the suggestions that the conversation is to be ongoing, constant, and a departure from “trifles and fooleries” [requiring renunciation].
What we have so far: the soul collects its faculties –is whole and focused, the practice is continuous, and requires renunciation. Father Larkin tells us, “Presence to the moment is concentrated or focused attention; it means being ‘all there.’ Often we are only half there, present in body but miles away in thought.” A common teaching of mindfulness, for example, entreats the practitioner: “When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes.” In other words, be immersed in that action, in that moment.
I think it is the focused attentiveness in the body caught in time (which is outward and visible) that creates the sacramental aspect of the sacrament of the moment. The sacrament of the moment is, first of all, a moment in time, a moment replete with all that it means to be human, in a frail body, in a frail place, caught in the midst of action or motion, subject to the winds and hard realities in which we all live. The point of the sacrament is that when we bring that very mortality, that frailty and physicality of time and place and flesh to God’s presence and will in an act of complete abandonment, in that instant, that moment is made sacred, and grace is revealed, shining forever in the act of abandonment through the power of the Holy Spirit. The moment becomes an “outward, visible sign of an interior grace.”
Father Larkin cites Hans Urs von Balthasar in these words about Therese of Liseux: “At each moment, her sole concern is to carry out the will of God as it was revealed from second to second….Therese never tries to dominate the course of events. In a very womanly fashion, she simply tries to receive everything, and to receive it lovingly. For her, every moment comes so fresh and immediately from the hand of God. . . . [Thérèse writes:] “I just keep concentrating on the present moment. I forget the past and preserve myself from worries about the future.”
In his discussion about why mindfulness is important, Father Larkin helps us to realize that in total abandonment to the sacrament of the moment, the movement of the soul is WHOLE, SIMPLE, UNDIVIDED–this is what St. John Cassian calls PURITY OF HEART.
He explains: “Our distractions come from our divided and disordered selves. Our desires are the product of our many-mindedness, and this in turn comes from our lack of integration. Our desires need to be integrated with our whole person and with what we are about at the moment. Our thought needs to be one-pointed and simple, an accomplishment that takes practice, discipline, and grace.”
Tonight I read on Anthony Mullen’s blog, THE DIVINE ANTIDOTE, “St. Frances De Sales continues: we must ‘treat our affairs with care, but never worry nor hurry,’ which both come from self love. Haste upsets our faculties, our memory, our intellect and our will and the intellectual gifts of the Holy Spirit (Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge) become clouded!” [https://divineantidote.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/the-final-keys-to-hearing-the-inspirations-of-the-holy-spirit/]
At first glance, we may fail to see that this quotation has anything to do with the sacrament of the moment, but if you think it through, you soon realize that to act in haste is contrary to the sacrament of the moment, the little moment which we must abandon in perfect trust. The little moment into which we pour our whole being. Haste is thoughtless, unfocused, inattentive. Haste thrusts aside the moment to get to the next moment, and the next! Thus all are wasted–how tragic for us. Haste aborts our attempt to live fully in God’s Presence and Will.
The last section of Father Larkin’s article is “HOW DO I GET IT?” Isn’t this the million dollar question! He tells us: “How can I become more mindful? I want to suggest two special means. One is meditation itself; the other is the basic condition of all prayer, purity of heart.”
The practice of meditation, quality prayer time or contemplative time is critical. Tradition suggests two hours a day. I’ve noticed such a change in my spiritual life since I committed a full hour of adoration/contemplation a day in addition to time devoted to Mass, the Rosary, and significant reading and study. Previously I had practiced 15 minutes, then a half hour, but it was not until I gave a full hour, [and sometimes more] at a stretch that I began to experience a depth of growth and calm, a peace of soul that permeates my entire day.
Purity of heart requires renunciation, detachment from anything that keeps us from God, turning away from anything that is in competition with God in our hearts. A heart that is single-hearted is pure. Father Larkin cites Cardinal Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI]: “everyone has to undergo his own Exodus.” He is telling us to leave Egypt behind and go into the desert. I like theologian Karl Rahner’s answer: “…recollection, which he defines as ‘withdrawing into ourselves’ and from there making the right choices at each moment.”
To live in the sacrament of the moment is to live deliberately, attentively, calmly in God’s presence. It is to live in trust, to abandon fear, worry, anxiety. For those of you who follow Charlie Johnston’s blog, it is to “Acknowledge God. Take the next right step. Be a beacon of hope for those around you.” For those of you who follow the Simple Path to Union, it is to know “I bring you news of great joy: God is here. You are beloved. This stands firm forever.”
I love this section of Father de Caussade’s book:
HOW EASY IT IS TO BE HOLY
“What is the secret of finding this treasure? There isn’t one. This treasure is everywhere. It is offered to us all the time and wherever we are. All creatures, friends or foes, pour it out in abundance, and it flows through every fiber of our body and soul until it reaches the very core of our being. If we open our mouths they will be filled…. [This treasure] is the ready acceptance of all that comes to us at each moment of our lives.” [p. 25]
PRAYER [Adapted from Venerable Luis Martinez]
I humbly ask that Your Sweet Holy Spirit
give me the grace to live in simplicity and purity of heart
in complete abandonment to Your Will
in the sacrament of the moment.
O my beloved Jesus, simplify everything
in the unity of Your Sacred Heart
in order to plunge the whole universe
into the bosom of the Trinity
that God be All in all!