Fr. Jacques Philippe wrote that “it is vitally important to learn to receive, to receive one’s very own self along with everything from God. To the extent we learn to receive everything from God, we can give to others the best of ourselves.”1 Indeed, it is written into the nature of being Christians that we must sacrifice as Christ did, to give of ourselves generously and freely; but as St. Therese of Lisieux once said “The merit doesn’t consist in doing nor in giving a lot, but rather in receiving, in loving a lot.” This idea of learning to be a good receiver rather than merely a good giver, was something of a foreign idea to me. Growing up as a perfectionist with OCD tendencies and an extreme desire to please others, I relied heavily on my own ability to get things done myself, excluding others in my never-ending endeavor to garner praise for my achievements. My self-worth was tied to my productivity; however, in doing so, I fell into a selfish abyss. Only after rediscovering the value of relationships was I able to climb back onto the surface. The quest for joy and peace ever elusive became approachable as I entered into relationships. Entering into relationships challenged my natural tendencies – it required sacrifice, compromise, investment, reaching outside one’s comfort zone. But all this giving is only one side of the equation. It also required a dose of humility – to understand that we cannot thrive without the assistance of others, without the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I would like to take this time to elaborate on two specific ways I have adopted to nurture along this art of receiving.
Being Open to the Holy Spirit
I grew up a cradle Catholic and my initial experiences with prayer were that of rote memorization of the Our Father, Glory Be, and Hail Mary. During what I would call my desert wandering years, I would employ prayer when I sought for God’s help with pursuing my wants and desires. A professional crisis precipitated a renewal of my faith life, and I soon found myself at the door of the Sword of the Spirit charismatic movement in our Church. Admittedly, I entered the room cautiously and was a bit uncomfortable with the outpouring of praise during worship of our Lord. It took a surrender of my will to open my heart to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And this Holy Spirit has emblazoned me with a courage that I thought I never could possess – a courage that welled up from the darkness that was social anxiety and public speaking phobia, allowing me to speak openly about my faith to my spiritual fraternity groups, to my patients in my medical practice, to complete strangers who are enrolled in Catechesis or Baptism class. Calling upon the Holy Spirit prior to these interactions and surrendering my expectations to the glory of God has been life-changing.
This is not to say that it is always clear whether the stirring of the heart can be attributed to the Holy Spirit. Discernment of the spirits requires a diligent practice of the faith and regular time in prayer. In this day and age, it is all so easy to become too comfortable with our way of life; to believe that it is by our own doing that we have achieved all we have around us. St. Paul exhorts us to “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). What an exhortation! – to rejoice always even when there are trials and struggles, when the Evil One knocks at the door and seeks to steal our souls. I recently discovered Fr. Walter Ciszek’s story about his 23 agonizing years in the Soviet prisons and Siberian labor camps after having been convicted as a spy during WWII. In his response to his suffering and the problem of evil, he writes: “Mysteriously, God in his providence must make use of our tragedies to remind our fallen human nature of his presence and his love, of the constancy of his concern and care for us. It is not vindictiveness on his part; he does not send us tragedies to punish us for having so long forgotten him. The failing is on our part. He is always present and ever faithful; it is we who fail to see him or to look for him in times of ease and comfort, to remember he is there, shepherding and guarding and providing us the very things we come to count on and expect to sustain us every day.”2 We must therefore continually approach the Holy Spirit with an open, humble, obedient, and faithful heart. We must then exercise the virtue of prudence in putting into action what our intellect has reasoned to be good. Too often, I have failed to ask for help when needed. One fairly recent example involved removing Christmas lights that had been hung along my roof line by a professional who was no longer available. I had a ladder, legs, and a lofty sense of self-reliance; but what I did not have was stable grounding, a strong spotter (my 4 year-old), or a sufficient supply of humility. Ultimately, I made the prudent decision to call upon my Christian brothers for help, and my body was glad that I did. By opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit and to our neighbors, I believe we can unlock the best version of ourselves so as to be a holy gift to others.
The idea of receptivity can be most visible in the way we approach leisure. I have often struggled to truly relax and be refreshed when spending time away from work. This issue becomes even further magnified when it comes specifically to vacation; my productivity mode would continue to operate and what typically has happened is that I will tire and frustrate my family to no end, dragging everyone mindlessly from one activity to another. I still very vividly recall specifically doing so during my European honeymoon. Nothing screams stupidity like deciding against sleeping and instead coaxing my exhausted wife to humor me by joining me on a late-night subway train in Barcelona, in order that I fulfill a desire to capture a quick snapshot of a half-lit Guadi-inspired building. I am struck with the following words of Dr. Michael Naughton – “When we take by force those things that should only be received, we violate the divine image within us.”3 This overvaluation of work comes at a tremendous cost in our relationship with others; but also more importantly, it can lead us down a dangerous path where we may begin to think we can control our destiny and can write our own moral laws rather than embrace the natural moral law that has been given to us by God.
So how can we cultivate this sense of leisure? Two ways are through silence and through feasting. In the very loud and distracted world we live in, silence is very difficult to maintain. Silence can be found in experiencing nature in solitude. Developing a sense of awe for the beauty around us is a wonderful way to practice leisure. But we cannot always escape into environments of silence. Interior silence is also very necessary. To this effect, Cardinal Robert Sarah wisely states “Our world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking, at a devastating speed and volume, in order to say nothing.”4 I am currently going through Exodus 90 and the one practice that is most difficult for me to maintain is the 15-minute silent prayer time, a time to be spent in quiet adoration in the presence of our Lord. How easy it is for my mind to drift off to things that need to be attended to; perhaps my body’s tendency to fall asleep during this time is the repose that my mind and soul really yearns for. In the same vein as developing a relationship with Christ, silence is also critically important in our conversations with others; as Jesuit moral theologian James Keenan puts it, allowing ourselves to “enter into the chaos” of another being is how one can truly love them in a merciful way.
When it comes to the topic of feasting, our Catholic faith gives us the wonderful opportunity to rejoice throughout the year, whether it is through the various feast days or indeed through each and every Sunday. Approaching the Sabbath as a day of feasting and celebration of the marvel of God’s creation did not come easy to me. Like many, it was the day you caught up on homework or chores, the anxiety-ridden day before the start of another stressful week. Once again, it was all about my doing, my productivity, my striving; rather than true rest, true leisure, true reception. It necessitated much planning beforehand, but incorporating nature walks and family-prepared dinners have been instrumental in creating this time and space for true rest. As I reflect on the times when I am most present and not worried about what I ought to be doing, I think about the times when my wife and I would host dinner parties – how our bodies and minds would synchronize as we served all those who have gathered. The isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for us as a family because it truly has robbed us of moments where festivity would thrive. We look forward to the day when friends and family can all commune together without fear, to once more joyfully celebrate the goodness of life.
Year of St. Joseph
I have taken this year to consecrate my life to St. Joseph, this year 2021 that Pope Francis has called to be the year of St. Joseph; in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church (Apostolic Letter “Patris corde”). In regards to the theme of receptivity discussed in this reflection, we can look to St. Joseph as the model of humility, who was willing to step out of the limelight so that the glory could be due to God and reverence given to our Blessed Mother. He allowed God to use him as part of the Divine Plan; and in so doing, as Fr. Donald Calloway puts it “the greatness of St. Joseph is that he was willing to become a homeless wanderer out of love for God and Mary.”5 As I strive to become the husband and father that God has created me to be, I earnestly beseech the intercession of St. Joseph, that I may be led in the ways of holiness by the Holy Spirit; and that at the end of my time in this world, I may attain a happy and holy death and reside in eternal repose and festive celebration within the Kingdom of Heaven.
Joseph Most Just, Pray for Us
Joseph Most Prudent, Pray for Us
- Philippe, Jacques. Fire & Light: Learning to Receive the Gift of God. New York: Scepter Publishers, 2016.
- Ciszek, Walter. He Leadeth Me: An Extraordinary Testament of Faith. New York: Image, 2014.
- Naughton, Michael. Getting Work Right: Labor and Leisure in a Fragmented World. Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2019.
- Sarah, Robert. The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2017.
- Calloway, Donald. Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father. Stockbridge, MA: Mairan Press, 2020.