By Fr. Corey Close
A few weeks ago I had the privilege to attend a program intended to train me and 140 other priests as spiritual directors, that is, as someone who is especially trained in the spiritual life and who can aid others in this journey. Some of you may be wondering: “But you are a priest, shouldn’t you know this already?” In one sense, yes, but this program is intended to hone the skills we already have and to give them a context so that we, as priests, are much more aware of what we already do. You may be a good husband or wife, but not really know why or what you are doing well. A good book about marriage may elucidate the good you have already been doing so you can do it more effectively, but also help to shine a light on what you have not done so well so that you can become a better spouse and a more intentional one. This is precisely what this program intends to do and what I hope to gain: to be a better expert in the spiritual life, and more intentional about it.
So in late April I drove to Mundelein Seminary in northern Illinois for the first week of the nine-week program held over a three-year period. Returning to Mundelein where I began seminary eight years ago was a beautiful moment for me. On the Easter Vigil, Pope Francis said that we, like the apostles, must return to Galilee, that is, the places where we met God in the past, perhaps the first real place we encountered him and his love for us. Perhaps it is a physical place, such as Mundelein was for me, but it may also be a spiritual place in our hearts where we are most able to sense his love for us and to receive it. Over the course of a week of intense study and prayer on the spiritual life, I was truly amazed at how many “Galilees” God showed me, and how truly good God has been to me in my life. In the midst of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day life, it can be easy to lose sight of this.
That first week of the program, while beginning to give us tools for helping others, was mainly targeted at our own spiritual lives, for if we do not have a powerful personal knowledge of ourselves and of God’s love for us, how will we bring others to this knowledge? You cannot give what you do not have. So much of the week was spent reviewing and going deeper into the basic truths of the spiritual life. The greatest truth I learned that week, which I needed to be reminded of, was that we can have a personal relationship with each member of the Trinity and with Mary. Thus, in my prayer life, I can have a powerful filial relationship with my heavenly Father, a beautiful brotherhood with Christ, a love-affair with the Holy Spirit, and a touching friendship with my Mother Mary.
But we need to have somewhere to start. For those of you reading, here is a simple prayer to begin this lifelong journey of growing in intimacy with the Trinity and with Mary. It is called Lectio Divina, and it works like this: Find a time of quiet and take a moment to relax. Sit in a comfortable position or even lay down if you choose. Then, call to mind God’s presence and imagine him gazing upon you. Then, take your Bible or the daily readings and pick a short passage to read. Read it slowly and prayerfully, noticing words or phrases which draw your attention. Read through the passage three or four times, honing in on the words or phrases that attract you. Once you know them, say only that word or phrase over and over again for a little while, noticing what thoughts, feelings or desires you have and then share them with God. Imagine him listening to you as you communicate how you feel. Sad, angry, happy, elated, shamed or free — all emotions are welcome. Then, let him communicate to you. Listen, sit still, and be patient. It may feel like nothing at first, but God desires to communicate personally with each and every one of us. Let him speak. As the prayer period draws to a close, imagine yourself speaking personally to each member of the Trinity and with Mary. So speak with the Father, then the Son, then the Holy Spirit, and finally Mary, sharing your thoughts, feelings and desires with each one, and let them speak to you in return.
The entire prayer should take 15 to 30 minutes, so give yourself at least that much time. It is my hope and prayer that each of you encounters the living God ever deeper in your lives. Lectio Divina, reflecting upon the living Word of God, is a great place to start. I look forward to continue to share my experience of this wonderful program over the course of the next three years! God Bless!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)