Yesterday, the first Sunday of Lent, was the Rite of Election, when all the catechumens and candidates are sent by the congregations to the Bishop, who receives their names and declares them to be among the elect.
At the Basilica in Saint Louis where the Rite took place for our archdiocese, I was stunned by the beauty of the murals in the Cathedral. I know some Protestants complain that the Church spends too much money on her Churches, money that could go to the poor, or to the pro-life movement. Judas (I tend to think of him as the first protestant, the one who refused to see Christ's authority) made the same complaint against Mary Magdalene when she anointed Christ with expensive oils. But I read the Old Testament account of God's directions for the Ark of the Covenant, and I think about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, the Ark of the New Covenant, and I know we can never build a Church too beautiful for the Blessed Sacrament, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, the Real Presence. As I walked through the interior, I was intensely aware that Our Lord deserves an edifice as beautiful as this.
I was totally unprepared for the effect the Rite of Election had on me. I'm sponsoring a man who's coming into the Church and I've been praying and fasting for him since last August, so being there with him was important to both of us; but I'd viewed the rest of the ceremony as rather perfunctory, something I'd need to sit through. That was a foolish notion, of course, because wherever God is active is an occasion for awe. But I'm a fool, good at foolish things. So I was surprised when I cried as the unbaptized catechumens went forward to the altar as their names were called. As I watched them, I realized that we were stealing souls from Satan's grasp: all of these people would have been condemned without baptism. I was watching salvation in action. It was a beautiful sight, one that put the Basilica itself to shame.
Why was I surprised by my reaction? Why am I always so surprised by God? When I first came to belief I sat for hours each week in prayer before the Sacrament, struggling with the sense that I was holding something back, something I wasn't willing to give to God. I've searched for years for that stiff-necked part of myself, but the feeling remains. I have a prayer I pray over and over, almost like a mantra: God, do whatever it takes to make me fully yours. Blind me, maim me, furrow my back, break me.
Scripture tells us our prayers often aren't granted because we pray for the wrong things. After yesterday, I think I'm closer to an understanding of my own problem. I'm surprised by God because I keep thinking I have Him all figured out. I suffer from a horrible intellectual pride that convinces me that I know God. So when I see something I didn't expect from Him, like His presence in those saved souls streaming toward the altar, I'm dumbfounded.
I'm not childlike with God. Children wonder at the world, but nothing surprises them. To be surprised, I have to first think I know what's going to happen, what's supposed to happen, then have something else happen instead. Yet God surprises me.
My prayer needs to change.
Not "Blind me," but "Let me see that I am blind without You."
Not "Maim me," but "Let me walk upright in your truth."
Not "Furrow my back," but "Give me a furrowed heart, ready for Your Word."
Not "Break me," but "Remake me."
Lord, I don't have any idea how You might accomplish Your will in my life, but when You do, give me the childlike grace not to be surprised.