Eve of whatever

“One of the marks of genuine growth in prayer is a deepening sense of confidence in God. Modern man is afflicted with anxiety, that is, with a sort of fear that has no definite object. Our attempts to pray and live a good life seem to make existence more complicated. Our efforts to respond to God often bring confusion and suffering, but they do gradually develop in us a heightened awareness of the reality of God, and of his care for us. This new sense of the presence of God is the best antidote for that formless fear and unease that we call anxiety.”

The quotation is taken, not quite randomly, from my “spiritual director,” the late Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory. He died just in time to miss the full Batflu farce, though not before expressing his contempt for it. His books I still have, and thus his voice from Saturday mornings, in the wee “conference room” where we met, is easy for me to reconstruct.

The book from which I quoted is, incidentally, On the Lord’s Appearing: An Essay on Prayer and Tradition (1997). He wrote a few others, each of which I recommend. He has the virtue of a reliably serious writer: each work seems to be his best, while one is reading it. Widely recognized as a contemporary Catholic authority, he had trouble getting the last couple of these books published, for Catholic authority had gone out of style, and the few surviving publishers had instead gone into “hip.” This is, I think, the first irretrievable step in betrayal. Regardless, one could rely on Father Robinson to be not hip.

But to his point, on an aspect of the Faith, founded in his broad and attentive reading of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church; in Philip Neri and John Henry Newman; and in his own life of responsibility and prayer. At its heart, his religion was “mystical”; but as that word is usually misused today, and badly misunderstood, he was carefully specific.

We are entering into the mysteries in the act of prayer. At first, often, they are taken to be some sort of shopping list. It is, “Lord, I want this and that,” until we grow, often by slow stages, into Lord I want nothing. It is the Christian, mystical paradox, that he who asks for nothing gets everything in return. But mind: this is only one way of putting it.

The season of Thanksgiving is formally for the harvest; for our family drawn together in its receipt. The old and the new, the work and its fruits in our leisure, may not be celebrated as a religious festival in all households. Yet this does not make it irreligious. It is part of antiquity: was the “pre-religion” into which each of us was born. The instinct to Thanksgiving was implanted in us, long before we could give it a name.

It is like our own name: something we couldn’t, and didn’t, give to ourselves. It is like everything important that identifies us, and goes to making us real: not a choice, but a given. “Given,” as in a gift.

We needn’t be anxious for what we already have.