At our baptism we each received a small candle. It was lit, by our Godfather, from the larger Easter candle. And after it was lit we were told, “…this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. You have been enlightened by Christ, and are to walk always as a child of the light. Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart; when the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
A saint once said that on that day of our baptism a flame was lit in our heart: a flame that chased away the darkness of sin, a flame that thawed the ice of disbelief, and a flame that warmed our heart to the love of God.
Through that sacrament, Christ, our Savior, united us to himself, making us members of his own body, the Church. He claimed us for his own, forgave the debt of our sin, and made us his brothers and sisters, the sons of faith burning until we meet our Lord. To be prepared for our Lord at an hour we do not expect. Now that hour could be our death or the end of time. And daughters of his own Heavenly Father and co-heirs with him to the kingdom of heaven; our souls were given a completely different kind of life. A life completely different from the life we received by nature. At Baptism the life of God was poured into our souls. And this new life, or sanctifying grace, gave us the power to know God in faith, to desire to be with him in hope, and to love him, both now and in heaven. At baptism like the good servants of today’s Gospel we were told to keep the flame
In the 17th century there was a French Carmelite monk by the name of Brother Lawrence, who was always prepared and always kept his baptismal flame lit by living what he called “The practice of the presence of God.” At the age of eighteen Lawrence had a profound conversion experience that would affect the rest of his life. It was winter time and he found himself staring at a bare tree. It was winter and of course the tree had no leaves. But Lawrence began to think that in just a few months the tree would have leaves and buds and then blossoms and from the blossoms there would be fruit. This simple awareness of the change of seasons made Lawrence aware of the presence and power of God in his life. By the grace of God a lifeless soul could be made fruitful. After a short stint in the army Lawrence entered a Carmelite monastery in Paris. He remained there until his death at the age of seventy-seven.
Brother Lawrence spent the first 15 years of religious life working in the kitchen. He was responsible for preparing meals for 100 men. He really hated this job. So it was in this setting that he began to practice the presence of God. Always trying to remember that God was there even as he was doing everything he detested, washing dirty dishes, dealing with smoky stoves, and doling out the morning gruel to sometimes grumpy monks. But with time and practice, even in the midst of that kitchen, he was able to perfect his prayer of the presence of God. So that even in the most hectic of times he wouldn’t forget God, he knew that God was there.
When asked for advice on his way of prayer Brother Lawrence would say that his way of prayer was to take delight in and become accustomed to God’s divine company. God is there, present, no matter what we are doing. “He’s there whether you realize it or not” he would say. It is so very good for us to acknowledge His presence. It would be shameful to trade such a relationship for a trivial foolishness. This way of prayer is a habit formed by frequently bringing our mind back into God’s presence, over and over throughout the day. He would tell people to be patient; you don’t become a saint in a day. Don’t become discouraged if you fail to remember God’s presence at some point in the day, that’s what confession’s for. He gave examples of simple prayers beginners could use when working and doing chores, prayers that could be repeated many times throughout the day, prayers to remind themselves of God’s ever presence prayers such as, “My God, I’m completely yours” or “God of love, I love you with all my heart.” Or simply, “Thank you God.” It doesn’t matter what the words are, he would say, just make yourself aware of His presence. This simple awareness of God is the holiest, surest, the easiest, and most efficacious form of prayer and with time faith increases and becomes more intense. So while serving grumpy monks he was praying, “My God, I’m completely yours,” or “Thank you God,” or “God I love you.”
Brother Lawrence found great joy in doing little things for the love of God. Doing all the smallest of chores just for the love of God, “The Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done.” Lawrence said, “Our sanctification depends not on changing our works, but on doing for God what we would normally do for ourselves.” Change the focus, offer it to God. In practicing the presence of God, something we can all do, Lawrence was prepared like the good servant of today’s Gospel. He was ready to open the door when he heard the knock of his master. The Lord’s coming, of course, can mean one of two things: either the moment of our death, which we all know can be very sudden; or, it can mean the Lord’s return in Glory at the end of time, which can also happen at any moment. Were the Lord to return right now, this moment, would he find us ready to welcome him? Would he find the flame ignited in our hearts at baptism still burning steadily and maybe increasing in its brightness?
After receiving the last sacraments as he lay dying, Brother Lawrence was asked what he was doing, what he was thinking about. “I am doing what I will be doing throughout eternity,” he replied, “I am blessing God, I am praising God, I am adoring God, and I am loving him with my whole heart. This is what our vocation is all about, brothers, to adore God, and to love him without worrying about anything else.”
My prayer for us today is that we are able to do the same in preparation for our Master’s return. Let us remember our Lord throughout all the hours of every day prepared for that final knock.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley