Thursday, February 7, 2008

"You Led Us Through Fire and Through Water"

"You led us through fire and through water, but then you brought us relief."

The words of Psalm 66 describe a spiritual promontory of repose and security granted as a kind of resting point along the way of life’s pilgrimage. When the dust settles and the activity of life slows we are granted a vantage point from which to serenely look back with reflection. Thus was presented an opportunity for me, while awaiting a flight from Iraq to Kuwait, to revisit the many events, people and challenges I experienced in months of deployment. I now make the transition back into civilian life after service as a chaplain in support of American military, civilians and Catholics from far-flung places around the globe.

The fires the psalmist describes were found in the fear of a mortal enemy and the necessity of wearing armored protection and travelling in armored vehicles and with an armed enlisted assistant at all times. The fires were in the desert summer heat, in the trials of winter cold and sleeplessness, of living without many of the conveniences Americans would consider basic such as potable running water, flush toilets and fresh hot food. The waters were in the January snowstorms and the rain that quickly turned the powder-fine dust of the desert landscape into a mud which held fast in thick layers to the soles of one’s boots. The fires and the waters were in the trials of adjusting to frequent and arduous travel by flights and convoys to remote locations, punctuated by short periods of relief afforded by a few days of rest before setting out again.

Through the fires and waters of this world every human person must find the relief that can come from God alone, the reassurance that He still commands all the elements of nature as Creator. Peace of soul can be granted only by Him who can truly say "I have overcome the world". In the crowded events of life that threaten to choke out the spiritual growth that is necessary for Faith, the Lord provides the graces needed through prayer, the one constant source of good that is ever present to us at every step of our pilgrimage. Prayer which is sincere, heartfelt and intentional nourishes the weary and afflicted soul, brings true relief for renewing the hope of the faithful disciple.

I wish to thank our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, for reminding the Church that the source of prayer in the Breviarum Romanum of 1962 is still available to all priests, deacons, men and women religious and any members of the faithful who choose to draw from this rich and immemorial source of grace. Beginning the daily praying of the Breviarum for the first time in the dry and desert places of this region where our salvation history began has been a tremendous source of refreshment, or "refrigerium" in the Latin. The challenge and blessing of praying all 150 psalms each week is a grace through which the Lord grants the means of enduring, overcoming and finding the way of salvation after the "fires and waters" through which He has led me in these past months in Iraq. The graces of the Eucharist are extended throughout the day and throughout the week as the hymn of prayer to God is chanted, intoned and proclaimed through the elements of worship in Scripture and chant.

The richness of the Church’s prayer in the Church’s unifying language of Latin includes the grace of praying daily in union with our Holy Father in Rome and millions of faithful, ordained and lay, religious and secular, all around the globe. The universality of the Church’s life of grace is powerfully experienced through prayer in the Latin language that both belongs to no one, because it is no longer a living language in the ordinary sense, but also belongs to everyone for the same reason. As well, the grace of praying in union with the Church of the saints and martyrs reaching back for over a thousand years reinforces our living communion with both the Church triumphant in heaven and the Church suffering in Purgatory.

The world is hungering for God and the greatest danger for souls are the threat to faith by the fires and waters through which we are led. Souls "tested as gold by fire" stand in danger of falling away from the Faith without the constant strength God gives through profound prayer. The priest who is faithful to the daily recitation of the Church’s prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, or Breviary, is a necessary sign for others that everyone is need of communion with the Father through prayer. Prayer which is a sincere, regular and disciplined union of mind and will with God is indispensable.

The life of the Lord Jesus is lived here and now in imitation of His own spiritual communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit through prayer. Our gift of baptismal grace is not lived out in the fullest sense without a daily entering into the chamber of the heart, whereby we "close our door and enter our room and pray to the Father in private".

"I have been a sojourner in a foreign land" (Exodus 2:22) and faced trials and dangers in a life shared with our military men and women in a unique privilege to serve their living Faith. The graces gained through obedience to the Lord who commanded the Church to "pray always" preserved and increased the joy and consolation of the Father’s love and presence through many trials and difficulties.

The road ahead for every human person promises joys and sorrows, good and endurance of evil. Prayer and the interior life are God’s promise of aid, counsel, wisdom, strength, hope and love through all that life will bring. "You led us through fire and water, but then you brought us relief."

Photo by author: Snowfall at Camp Korean Village, Surgical Trauma Platoon vehicles

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