I awoke Sunday morning and got ready to go to church, where I teach the Junior High Sunday school class.
We were going to talk about Blind Bartimaeus from Mark 10:46-52. And I was excited. The prayer of Bartimaeus forms the backbone of the central devotion of the eastern hesychastic piety, which seeks to teach the heart to pray not just the mouth or the mind. I was going to talk to my students about what it means to live all of life with a heart of prayer that seeks God at all times, even when things don’t go your way and the deck seems stacked against you.
I would soon need to learn that lesson a little bit better first hand.
As I walked out the door I looked for my car. I knew I had parked it right in front of my appartment, I had even peeked on it in the middle of the night to make sure it was safe.
The car was gone. There was an empty space where my 1999 Red Honda Civic hatchback had been parked just hours before. I was confused for a second but then the realization of what happened hit me. I was the victim of Motor vehicle theft.
My heart felt like it instantly dropped out of my chest. If any of you have ever experienced a theft like this you know what I’m talking about. It was a devastating feeling.
I had to call my church and tell them I wouldn’t be able to make it, I had to call the police, I had to call my insurance, the tollway, my wife, my mom…. I tried to keep a cheery attitude though it all, but by the end of all the calls I was exhausted: Spiritually, emotionally, even physically.
I decided that I would go Mass.
For the last year I have been exploring the Catholic church’s spiritually through it’s practices. If I didn’t understand why Catholics did something I tried it out for a while, and in the midst of living it I found the richness of the theology behind it. It’s been an incredible journey.
For the last month or so I had been going through a 34 day cycle of prayers that were designed to acclimate my heart toward Christ through meditating of the faith and humility of Mary. This series of prayers was culminating of the day of the Annunciation, March 25th.
March 25th also happened to be the day my car was stolen.
The final prayers were supposed to be done after Mass in the presence of the Eucharist. As I thought about what was going on with my car I came to the concussion that I might be dealing with some kind of spiritual conflict.
The Bible teaches that are fight is never with people, who are loved by God and created in His image. Instead we are told we wrestle with the dark powers who seek to bring their darkness into this word and enslave God’s beloved creation.
I have never really understood exactly how that metaphysical reality worked, but I did know one thing. On the day I was planning on concerting my heart to Jesus after over a month of intense preparation the way I was going to get to the church to do it was GONE.
When this fact hit me I got up and I started to run.
I knew there was a catholic church that was going to be starting Mass in about a half hour so I decided to get there as fast as I could. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of this day. I ran through my neighborhood to the bus stop that would take me there. I arrived just in time to catch the bus as it was pulling up. I got off and I ran into the church.
As I entered I was shocked, even though I had arrived early the service was already underway. They had changed their mass times without posting it on their webpage! Thankfully there was still a lot of the service left. The priest was just about to begin the service of the Eucharist. This section of the liturgy is the central wellspring of all catholic piety. I was glad to be there for it, I have always found it to be a great source of grace in my own life.
Since I wasn’t allowed to partake in the Eucharist itself I began to look around for votive candles to light. Part of the prayer of consecration recommends that you light one of these candles.
Votive candles are symbols of prayers that are offered to God. You can see them in most Catholic and Orthodox churches. You light the candle, give a small offering to offset the cost of the candle, and say a prayer of intention for the person you are praying for.
I walked around the whole church…. and every candle was lit!
I was shocked. Instead I gave an offering in the box for the poor and prayed a prayer in my heart.
“God I give it all to you. Let my car be an offering, and let my life be taken too. Steal me away oh Lord from all the concerns that distract me from you. I want only you.”
When I had finished praying this prayer I made my way to the front of the church. The priest was blessing the people and the congregation was filling out the doors. I pulled out the prayer book that had my prayers of consecration.
I had been worried for so long that when this day would come I would find that the prayers would be too focused on Mary and that I wouldn’t understand what I was doing. I was afraid that all of this would be irrelevant to my life. I had worried that I would not be ready to give my life to Jesus.
As I opened up to the prayers for the day of consecration I read:
I, Billy Kangas, a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in thy hands the vows of my Baptism; I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works; and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life, and to be more faithful to Him than I have ever been before. In the presence of all the heavenly court I choose thee this day for my Mother and Mistress. I deliver and consecrate to thee, as thy slave, my body and soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, and even the value of all my good actions, past, present and future; leaving to thee the entire and full right of disposing of me, and all that belongs to me, without exception, according to thy good pleasure, for the greater glory of God in time and in eternity.
As I finished I couldn’t believe it. This prayer spoke exactly what the prayer of my heart had been just moments before. I had come to the end of my rope in the morning. I was broken. I knew I needed Jesus. As I prayed these words I knew God had taught me the very lesson I had hoped to teach my students that morning about the prayer of the heart.
A wash of peace came over me and a smile crept over my face. I was still upset about my car, but in that moment I knew that it would all be ok. God had met me in my brokenness and showed me his wholeness.
P.S. After making this prayer I discovered that this year the annunciation had been moved to the 26th because it had fallen on a Sunday. I thought this was awesome, it was another opportunity to give my heart to Jesus. I went back to church on Monday. I spent time walking the stations of the cross, lighting a real life votive candle and just sitting in the peace of God. I prayed the prayer again. It still blew me away. I think I may have to start praying that prayer regularly.