I was listening to a theologian last summer, and he shared a marvelous Latin quote from St. Benedict of Nursia, age quod agis, ‘do what you are doing.’ He also shared another pithy saying drawn from Zen Buddhism, ‘When you eat, eat; when you walk, walk.’
Then he added this striking commentary (paraphrased from memory here), ‘It is the universal consensus of the spiritual authors in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions that those who refuse to embrace life’s present joys and trials as coming from the Hand of God, who constantly whine, “if only!” – these folks will never grow in sanctity, but rather will forever remain mired in the guano of mediocrity, grumbling and murmuring that their present situation is simply not conducive to greatness.
Jesus overcame the mentality of “if only” once for all in the Garden of Agony when he said, “…but not what I will but what you will.” The devil’s mantra always inverts Christ’s — not now, later; what if; if only.’
He then told this humorous personal story about a comment his wife once made to a friend who said to her, ‘Boy your husband is away from home a lot giving lectures!’ She affirmed the friend’s thought, adding, ‘Yes! And even when he’s home he’s away.’
Then he spontaneously added an addendum to this story, ‘I love my work, but she was right; it stung me to the heart. When I’m home now, family dinner is my divine liturgy; and when I’m home, my daughter’s dolly is my Summa.’
This all made me think of what I consider two of the finest works of spirituality ever written, both of which propose methods and means for renouncing our “if onlys” and learning to practice being present to the demands of the present moment. The first is The Practice of the Presence of God, a collection of letters and transcribed sayings authored by the 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence. The second is The Sacrament of the Present Moment, written by 18th century French Jesuit, Jean-Pierre de Caussade.
I could read these two works hundreds of times, and still feel edified and challenged anew on each read. Though written long ago by men who lived as consecrated Religious, they embody a universal vision that speaks, in a singular way, to one’s particular state in life in any time or place.
My advice: Tolle, lege, ‘pick up and read!’