This past weekend at our workshop, one of the questions we were asked to answer was, “Do you have a favorite prayer?” To say that I have a favorite prayer is like saying I have a favorite Dave Matthews Band song: there’s just no way I could choose. Even narrowing it down to 5 can be difficult in both cases! But there was one prayer that I found interesting enough to bring up in conversation:
Nothing is more practical than finding God; that is,
falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are
in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect
everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in
the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you
will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and
gratitude. Fall in love; stay in love, and it will decide
Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
I’ve used this prayer on retreats and weekly campus meetings many times over the past few years because there is so much truth in its words: whatever it is that we desire most, put our trust in, pay attention to, love so openly and freely, is going to determine everything about us. And yet, even after using it so many times, I have never actually answered it for myself: where do I find Truth and grace? What am I passionate about, not because it makes me happy, but because it is God working in and through me? Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Engaging in community: Throughout scripture, philosophy, and Catholic teachings, its explicitly and implicitly stated that humanity is social by nature. We are meant to interact with one another, create relationships, and to live in community rather than alone. It’s said by some that it is these very things (language, cohabitation, civilization) that make us human. In an overly individualized country such as the United States, I passionately seek interdependent relationships in which love is exchanged freely and openly, where concerns for privacy and personal safety are replaced with active engagement with one’s neighbors, similar to different from myself. As a Catholic, this needs to take place on both a local and a global level.
Upholding and defending the dignity of community: Because of the highly individualized nature of the western world, community is broken and individuals are subjected to substandard living conditions. Being passionate about community means upholding and defending the human family from affronts to it, such as poverty, war, slavery, genocide, and discrimination. One of the things that gets me out of bed every morning is a desire to help individuals facing substandard human conditions begin to live in conditions conducive for “authentic human development.” Besides helping individuals on a person-to-person basis, this means also working for systemic changes, upsetting the status quo (I’m looking at you capitalism), in order to prevent affronts on the human family in the future. (Read more about Catholic social teaching here.)
Increasing in knowledge and wisdom: I’ve always been a person who asks a lot of questions and followup questions. I don’t want to just know the “something”, I want to know why and I want to know how to use it. Like Solomon, there’s nothing I wish to improve more than my capacity for wisdom. I’m fascinated with people who can pull together great details of knowledge and connect them with such a way that it has lasting effect on those listening. The first three lines of the Franciscan benediction explain it all:
May God bless you with discomfortAt easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,So that you may live deep within your heart.
I’m unsettled by answers that lack depth, that do not consider all of the consequences, or that neglect either the details or the big picture. The world is not black and white, and so our answers should not be either; I’m intrigued and inspired by finding the exact shade of grey for each situation, always seeking to know more and to find better answers.