Have a Smoke

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One of the things that was most surprising to me when I entered the Church is the nature of advice given by Catholic spiritual masters. Presbyterians are absolutely convinced that Catholics are completely immersed in a "works" mentality and that they spend every waking moment in a feverish attempt to earn their way to heaven. Yet, the truth is that the best spiritual advice given by Catholic spiritual fathers is usually the simplest and most practical. For instance, there’s this from Fr. Boylan’s book, This Tremendous Lover.

There is really no occupation except sin, which is incompatible with such spontaneous prayer. Obviously there must be some prayers in the day to which we give our whole mind and lay everything else aside, but God forbid that any one should feel bound to limit his prayers to those said on one's knees. Perhaps the point can be illustrated by reference to the story of the two men who were in the habit of saying some prayers on their way home from work. The question whether they could smoke while doing so arose, and they decided to seek advice from their directors. One man was severely reprimanded for thinking of smoking while praying; the other man found a different type of director, who said that although smoking while praying was open to objection, still, one could hardly object to a man praying while he was smoking! The story is only a story, but it may draw attention to the fact that there is a difference between formal prayer and informal prayer, and that while the former demands suitable circumstances, the latter may be used anywhere. The point about smoking is, that if it is not a sin, it can certainly be shared with God, and if so, there is no reason why we should not talk to Him while enjoying one of the creatures He has made for our recreation and refreshment.

I guess it’s obvious that this book was written nearly sixty years ago, when smoking was much more common, but the point is still valid. It takes a great director to understand the difference between smoking while praying, and praying while smoking. The former would be an intentional distraction, the latter, sharing a quiet moment with our Lord. The advice points out that, while we have certain formal duties that we owe to God in terms of worship, there is no moment that cannot be turned over to Him. Remaining in His presence doesn’t involve horrible spiritual contortions and strenuous spiritual exercises, we can simply sit down and have a cup of Starbucks (to update the analogy) and offer that time to the Lord.

What could be simpler? Why, it's almost Presbyterian!

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on March 17, 2006 8:04 PM.

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