April 27, 2020 - At the age of 23, I entered the Jesuits after finishing my undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M. My heart was full with Jesus and I was eager to do great things for God.
For the first 12 years as a Jesuit, my journey of discipleship made sense. I was finding success in the tasks assigned to me. I felt like I was making progress up the ladder of leadership; I was getting recognition. My prayer continued to be a source of amazing experiences. The paths ahead all seemed wide-open.
And then the rupture came. For the next six years I was adrift. No longer did my Jesuit life make sense to me. The landmarks in my spiritual life gave no guidance. All sense of progress stopped. During this time of being blocked, it was clear to me that my presumption that God rewarded hard work was no longer true; my hard work, dedication, and sacrifice no longer produced the answers that I demanded.
Then, unexpectedly, after years of being adrift, Jesus found me, and my prayer again had traction and gave me cool refreshment. For the past 20 years, I have been experiencing the tenderness of Jesus’s concern for me. My new landmarks, however, are rooted in God’s gracious gift, not in my accomplishments. Prayer is a time for me to give thanks, rather than informing God of what needs to happen. The order is reversed from my early years in the Jesuits.
In our current moment of the coronavirus, in which we have virtual classes, Zoom meetings, and teleconference doctor appointments, let me give clear testimony that our prayer relationship with Jesus is not virtual. God has the ability to reach directly into our hearts. Even when paths ahead of us are fogged in, God has the tender touch to reach inside of us.
I have heard it said that bad habits are hard to break, and thus that good habits are hard to break. Good prayer habits can make a pattern in our life in fruitful times, and in dry.
In these past two decades, I have three moments each day set aside to open the door for Jesus to come in. First, I share my cup of coffee in the early morning quiet. Second, before lunch I examine how my day has gone and anticipate challenges in the hours yet ahead. Third, at night I journal special moments in the day in order to go to bed with a mood of giving thanks to God.
In addition to these scheduled moments that give my daily life structure, unscripted moments come while listening to music playlists and gazing upon prints of art. While elusive, these moments hook me deeply when they happen.
With our spiritual paths unsure in this time of sheltering in place, we can draw insight from today’s Gospel passage as the two disciples journey to Emmaus and Jesus joins them on the way. With the loss of hope, it is natural for us to seek comfort by soothing ourselves. The spiritual caution for us is that soothing can deaden the burden of the moment, and deaden us to God’s touch. We see in these two disciples that they are escaping, they are going the wrong direction. Symbolically, they are heading toward the setting sun (not the rising sun). Same for us: deadening the sense of being fogged in can also deaden us to the sunrise of God’s touch in our hearts.
The Gospel passage concludes with the two disciples experiencing their hearts burning with excitement and eagerness to share the news. This too can be our experience, even with uncertain times ahead, because God has the ability to reach inside of us.
~ Fr. Paul Deutsch, SJ