By James Keating
Deacon James Keating, PhD has nearly thirty years of experience in the area of clerical formation in the Catholic Church. He is currently Professor of Spiritual Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St Louis, MO. He is the author or editor of twenty-eight books on spirituality, morality, and clerical formation, including Configured to Christ: On Spiritual Direction and Clergy Formation.
Even as our days remain filled with many activities, we can still remain close to God; we can still “abide” with Him (John 15:4). To remain with Him we need to develop a habit of love: hospitality toward His coming in love throughout the day. Of course, we need to go to the Blessed Sacrament to pray, but we also need to learn how to receive His love throughout the course of a workday or during family commitments. In order to receive His love, we need to be affectively vulnerable toward Him and become adept at noticing when He comes to us within these affective movements of love.
Married couples will oftentimes fill their workplaces with photos or reminders of their spouse so that, throughout the day, they can emotionally connect with one another by glancing at these icons, even if only for a short moment. The heart in love wants to stay connected with the one it loves. God loves us, and so He too wishes to initiate an affective and intellectual connection with us. This initiation by God becomes prayer if we respond in faith, hope, and love, regardless of where we are in our daily commitments.
Each day, we are busy with many challenges, but we can still receive His love in the midst of them. Unfortunately, what normally happens is that daily events rob us of a sense of His presence. If we are not vigilant, the “daily grind” mistakenly communicates that ordinary life is spiritually lifeless; our days are simply filled with our own and others’ agendas. Our daily life becomes enclosed, airless, and self-absorbed. Over time, we can lose a sense of transcendence. This loss of the spiritual is similar to a marriage that loses its erotic energy; instead, the spouses become defined by “work,” “success,” or some other duty that economic need presses upon them. In this press, they lose one another. The most humanizing of realities—intimate communion with the one we love—becomes undermined by the clamoring of economic and familial demands vying for immediate attention. God too can be lost in such a tumult.
Our hearts and minds can be cluttered with streams of thought and images that have very little connection to our present concerns or work. We are very busy inside ourselves, either intentionally by thinking or unintentionally by the continuous flow of content that seemingly runs on automatic pilot. Within and among all these pictures and voices, God wishes to speak to us. He longs to sound a voice of love or an invitation to conversion.
How can we better listen to Him and for Him amidst this interior jumble of voice and image? First, we can cultivate the habit of interior silence. Interior silence is a character trait that makes room for a voice beyond one’s own. Interior silence is hospitality deep within the soul rendering us available for visits from God. Ironically, this kind of interior silence is cultivated by committing ourselves to some external silence during our day. Periods of external silence, where we intentionally seek a silent environment, give birth to interior silence.
From such interior silence, we can more easily live in communion with God, which fulfills the very purpose of His indwelling. “The same [Holy] Spirit who moves and motivates God in his actions is now also in us and impels us to live in the same way as God.” Interior silence cultivates a state of diminished interference between our heart and the Trinity and prepares us to receive and remain in communion with God. In marriage, silence is the necessary prerequisite to a kiss. One cannot kiss or be kissed by a talking spouse! By giving silence a key position in our spiritual lives, we create an environment conducive to our abiding with the Trinity. Silence creates the condition for the possibility of a divine kiss. “The spirituality of St. Bernard’s conception of the mystic kiss of Christ . . . signifies nothing else than to receive the inpouring of the Holy Spirit . . . this gift conveys both the light of knowledge and the unction of piety.”
We want to receive this inpouring by way of our interior hospitality; our silence communicates an attitude of total availability to God’s love. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bind us to Christ and thus to the Father; the Spirit is Holy Communion. He seeks us out in the ordinary circumstances of our day to assure us that heaven is not far away: it is coming to us from within the ordinary. We only need to notice His presence moving our affections from within, His voice gently speaking to us and confirming that heaven is not “up there.” Heaven entered human existence with the coming of Christ and is now a stable presence in the sacraments and within us by the indwelling Spirit. If only we come to discern His presence lodged within the crowd of feelings and thoughts that inhabit us, we will know daily life as saturated with God. Silence is the essential medium for prayerful union with the Trinity. Having an interior silence can provoke a change of heart because silence is not emptiness but rather conveys a promised and anticipated union—a union fostered by the activity of listening and desire. Silence is filled with listening and eager desire and reaches its crescendo in an act of self-gift: a quiet handing over of oneself to Jesus. Silence is not the absence of words but the fullness of presence, a presence ordered toward gift.
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The best clerical formation today prepares men to be divinely loved in their humanity. In Configured to Christ: On Spiritual Direction and Clergy Formation, Deacon James Keating shares what makes a priest or deacon peaceful, personally happy, and—to the extent he keeps receiving the love of God in prayer as a man of interiority and sacrament—a minister of God’s love to his people.