How to avoid “going through the motions” spiritually
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in Sunday Mass at the U.S. Naval Academy chapel. This “chapel” was bigger than some cathedrals I’ve been in, with a huge dome and tall stained glass windows.
The congregation was made up largely of midshipmen (many of whom were women) in their dress uniforms, adding an additional element of respect and sense of history to the service.
A student had recently died, a fact that the priest announced at the beginning of Mass and reflected on in the homily. This event had obviously moved the priest, taken an emotional toll, and, presumably, increased his pastoral workload as he counseled grieving students.
These types of traumatic events have the potential to draw us closer to God. However, all the emotion and attention to temporal details can also overwhelm us, with the result that we neglect our own spiritual needs as we attend to others.
In the priest’s case, he noticed that was rushing through the scripture readings as he prayed the daily divine office. He was checking the box of his obligation rather than finding spiritual nourishment.
He knew that Jesus, after healing many sick, “went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) The priest recognized that, in order to be effective spiritually, he had to take the time to really nourish himself with scripture.
How often do we go through the motions of our spiritual life – attending Mass, serving others, or saying our prayers – without reflecting on why we are doing those things or how they can bring us closer to God? Doing all those things is good, but we need to do them mindfully for them to have value.
The priest’s solution to regaining that sense of mindfulness was to pick out a single scripture reading, reflect on it during the week, and use it to guide his actions and deepen his prayer.
It’s a good practice for us, as well: select a single reading, perhaps from the Sunday or daily readings, or a personal favorite, and spend some time reflecting on it during the upcoming week. See where this reading leads you by the end of the week.
What reading will you choose?