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10 Ways to find true union with God amid the chaos

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Is your relationship with God getting lost in the flurry of your life? Try these tips!

Recently, a priest I know commented on the stony, gloomy faces he sometimes sees as he looks out on the congregation during Mass. He joked, “Some say Vatican II took the statues out of the churches but they are still there… in the pews!”

The priest was teasing, of course, but he was also pointing to a serious reality. In other words, outward religious practices do not always translate to inward transformation, peace, joy, and holiness.

There is no formula for holiness in the interior life, just as there is no formula for a perfect marriage, friendship, or any relationship. Certainly, there are “best practices” which are crucial to holiness, (i.e. Mass, the sacraments, prayer, the Rosary, etc). But in order to truly find union with God, one must also purposefully cultivate and maintain an interior relationship with him.

Here are some key attitudes and practices that can help one find union with God (thanks to my sisters in community for some of these suggestions!):

Key Attitudes:

1. Listening: When we listen to God, we put ourselves in his presence. Pope Francis wrote that when a person listens to God, he or she finds “a place to be under the gaze of the Lord.” Union with God begins with putting ourselves under our Father’s loving gaze and listening to his words.

2. Stubborn Courage: Cultivating an interior spiritual life is very difficult. It is much easier and less painful to live our lives on the surface than to choose to plunge into the depths. But it is also much less rewarding. Pope Francis wrote that “stubborn courage” is necessary for one who wants to “embark on the inner journey which leads us through the shadows of… sin to the ultimate truth.”

3. Willingness to Work Hard: Saint Francis de Sales once told someone that he worked on his resolution of meekness for 20 years and his resolution of humility for 21. Our spiritual lives require commitment, desire, work, and continual effort. If we want to grow closer to God we have to keep picking ourselves up over and over and not become tired of fighting.

4. To Be in Constant Search of God: We can easily lose God in the hubbub of our lives. Even Mary and Joseph lost Jesus in the chaos of Jerusalem. Growth in the interior life is about searching for Jesus in those inevitable times when we lose him. In order to do this, we have to ask ourselves regularly, “Have I lost Jesus? What can I do in the next few days to find him?”

5. Humility: Blessed James Alberione, the founder of the Pauline family, wrote, “[The Lord] wants us to experience the depths of our misery so that we know that it is he who sanctifies us.” Humility is not about beating ourselves up. But when we truthfully recognize our sinfulness, we open ourselves up to God’s grace. Humility also helps us to courageously accept our many inevitable failures in the spiritual life and to continue trying.

Practices:

1. Give Time and Space to God: Holiness does not just happen because we desire it. We have to make changes in our schedule and in our lives to give God the priority of our time and our space. If we want to grow close to God, we have to give him time. Prayer takes the place of something else we could be doing. In order to prioritize our relationship with Jesus, we need to be willing to let go of other things.

2. Prayer Word or Phrase: Traditionally called “aspirations,” these are phrases from Scripture, or even just a word or phrase that you can repeat throughout your day. I have several, including, “Help my unbelief,” “Have mercy on me, Jesus,” and “Jesus, give me patience!” These phrases can help us to recall the presence of God in every moment.

3. Send a Text to Jesus: Just as we text our friends, we can also send messages to Jesus. One sister in my community shared that she has a note in her phone that she adds to whenever she thinks of something she would like to share with Jesus. However we choose to communicate with Jesus throughout our day, when we try to “pray unceasingly” as Saint Paul urges us, we will begin to find God in every moment (1 Thess 5:17).

4. Prayer Landmarks: So many people insist they do not have time for prayer, but there are simple ways to incorporate prayer into your daily life that do not take a lot of time. For instance, pick a few landmarks in your commute or in your daily schedule and pause when you pass by. It could be a door, a highway exit, a river, or an escalator. But when you see your landmark, don’t look at your phone, stop thinking about other things, and take out your headphones. These short pauses in our day can do wonders for our prayer lives.

5. Mindful Reception of the Sacraments: Pope Benedict wrote, “True love and true friendship are always nourished by the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration… if this dimension is lacking, sacramental communion itself may become a superficial gesture on our part.” There is a difference between receiving the Eucharist while thinking about an upcoming football game and receiving the Eucharist with attentive love and an open heart. We are more open to grace when we receive the sacraments in the same way we would receive our best friend into our home.

Do you have any key attitudes and practices that you use to grow in closer union with God?

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