Monday, January 12, 2015

Everyday Struggles

I have had the chance over the past few weeks on multiple occasions to meet with and pray with some people who are struggling. Sometimes these moments of prayer are triggered by a health crisis, sometimes by family difficulties, sometimes health or job worries lead to family difficulties. While praying with these new friends, I happened to come across the quote above in a 12th century work by an English saint, Aelred of Rievaulx.

What, doesn’t everybody read spiritual works by twelfth century monks? Well, those who know me know my enjoyment of libraries, and for following footnotes. In one of Father Tim Gallagher’s books on spiritual direction, a footnote mentioned a book, “On Jesus at Twelve Years Old,” and the title intrigued me. So through my connections at Immaculate Conception Seminary, who happened to have a copy in their library (“Thanks, Mike!”), I had the chance to read a translation of this little book written before the printing press was invented. The quote struck me as having a lot of wisdom for today, almost a thousand years after the abbot, Saint Aelred, was writing this as instruction for one of the other young monks.

Consider the premise: if the temptations of the Devil, the passions of our own emotions, or the attacks from the world we live in seem to get us down, we should turn to Jesus. Each of us have “bad days,” when we are pulled down by the chaos around us, perhaps invited to give in to a little depression or despair. The wisdom of this monk, writing about a century before Saint Thomas Aquinas, remains good advice today: “then you must run to Jesus.”

I connect this thought with a more modern writer, Karl Rahner, who reminds us about prayer in the everyday life. He wrote, “The Lord is not only our God on the holy days of life. He didn’t create the exalted so that he could have it back for his glory. He also willed into existence the petty, the insignificant, the ever-the-same which fills our life.” Our challenge is to run to Jesus in the middle of everyday struggles.

“Everyday struggles” becomes a phrase we need to examine. Does it mean the routine difficulties we encounter each day, challenges that nudge us and give us some dents and bruises, and which add up over time to a painful burden? Or, are “everyday struggles” the massive, can’t-hide-from-them crisis of health or jobs or family life that can crush us easily, which for some people have become an everyday occurrence?

The answer is, “Yes.” Both the small and the massive struggles can become every day events, and so we need to remember the ancient monk’s advice: run to Jesus. Surrender to His embrace, Who knows every struggle of our heart, every emotion streaked with tears, every pain that racks our bodies. As Rahner states, we can only pray in the everyday (it’s the only place where our life takes place), and we must pray in the everyday. He goes on to state, “Temptation is a moment of decision. And whoever prays during it will conquer it.”

Let’s all choose to run to Jesus every day.

[Saint Aelred, "On Jesus At Twelve Years Old," translated by Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker, London: A. R. Mowray & Co, 1956.

Karl Rahner, "The Need and the Blessing of Prayer," translated by Bruce W. Gillette, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1997.]

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