I had this little book sitting on my shelf and thought it would be helpful right now: Taming the Restless Heart by Father Gerald Vann, OP (Sophia Institute Press, 1999; originally published in 1947 as His Will is our Peace).
I read the entire thing, slowly, in maybe 2 hours. But boy did it pack a punch! And I really wish I had read it during Lent, because it’s all about keeping your eyes on God and keeping yourself in His presence… not turning in on yourself and your very limited resources… and not letting bad things get you down. It would have been a great “textbook” for my Lenten Lesson:
[The Lord] does not tell us that we must not work, must not plan ahead. He does not tell us that everything will be done for us. But He does tell us that we must not be always worrying and fretting and making a great commotion, as though we, and not He, were responsible for the universe.
Yeah… the Lenten Lesson! Well, reading this book really helped to reinforce the Lenten Lesson.
The book is written in a very clear, sort of conversational tone. It seems very much written for us ordinary layfolk–and Father Vann understands what we need! He doesn’t give us anything esoteric or complicated. In fact, he emphasizes the importance of starting with small steps and gradually, naturally building those small actions into lasting habits. He speaks of things very familiar to us all, such as the actions we do at Mass, our interactions with other created things–objects, animals, and other humans–and the power of the Our Father.
Even a small action like genuflecting can take on great significance with a bit of reflection and concentration:
To genuflect, to bend the knee: what does it mean? It is a sign of submission, of dependence, of loyalty and service, as of a subject to his king. It means: I recognize that You are the important one, not I. It means, in the words of the psalmist, “I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid.” It means, in short, “Thy will be done,” expressing precisely that union of our will with God’s which it is our object to achieve.
Now, we tend, of course, by force of habit, to make our genuflections rather automatically, unreflectingly; they become a matter of routine. But if we do that, we again miss a great opportunity.
In the first place, a genuflection is a sacramental. This means that if it is done with sufficient care and devotion in mind and will, it can be an occasion of actual grace for us; it can bring us nearer to God. And there is thus a sense in which, like the sacraments, although in a different way, it will effect what it signifies: it will lead to the bringing about in us of a deeper sense of that loving acceptance of God’s will which it expresses in symbolic form.
In the second place, we shall, if we are wise, form a conscious habit to counteract the effect of the unconscious effect of routine. We shall choose some phrase that, for us individually, expresses vividly and cogently the sense of worship and of creaturely concentration on God and the will of God,* and we shall make our genuflection deliberately enough to allow us to say the phrase in our hearts, with our eyes and our minds on Christ in the tabernacle, addressing the prayer to Him. And so we shall make His presence a reality to ourselves, until perhaps, in time, the sense of that presence becomes habitual with us even when we are not in the church…
* It could be, for example, the words of the publican: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13); our our Lady’s “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38); or the words of the apostle Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28); or simply “Thy will be done.”
I just love how he delves into the meaning of that small gesture we so easily take for granted. I am definitely going to take a moment to offer a small prayer as I genuflect from now on!
I highly recommend Taming the Restless Heart for a brief but very inspiring spiritual pick-me-up.