When I was only fifteen, as I was eating a bowl of cheerios for breakfast, my dad asked, “does your mind ever wander during mass?” I chortled so hard that milk came out of my nose. “Yes, occasionally,” I replied. “That’s ok, me too,” he said. He continued, “I think that when our mind is wandering during mass, we might actually be in a meditative state that is drawing us closer to God. After that, my dad covered the tuition for a meditation class that would become one of the foundations of my spiritual life.
In today’s Gospel Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time and anticipates his own death. As we continue through Lent I think of Jesus’ final words. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” These words also came to me at the moment before I was to die.
It was July. I was 22. I was on a five-day float trip down the Congo River retracing the journey depicted in the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. From the mouth of the river we hiked north several hours and pitched our tents. Early the next morning I hiked further north and unknowingly strolled into a civil war zone. Standing on the beach at the base of a cliff just south of Cabinda, Angola, two gentlemen with machine guns scrambled down and ran towards me. After an hour-long heated discussion in French, one said, “we need to get on with our day” and raised his weapon to shoot me. Realizing that I was about to die, I closed my eyes as I had learned to do in that meditation class years before and offered this prayer: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” Silence. I was ready.
Was it a miracle I survived? Perhaps. Or maybe the miracle was that, instead of falling into avarice or wrath, I now wanted to make the world a better place. Now, when my mind wanders during mass a question arises.
Q: How might I conduct my life in a manner that is consubstantial with the cardinal virtues of my spiritual aspirations?