A few months ago my father called me up. For a man who is all but a Luddite and eschews a cell phone, a computer, a tablet, and still uses the leather-bound edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica to verify what he’s read in his morning newspaper, a phone call generally means someone in the family has died.
But on this occasion, my father had an entirely different idea. He asked me: “Have you heard of this ‘YouTube’?” Rolling my eyes (and wondering where on earth he was going with this) I answered, “Yes, dad. I have heard of YouTube.” After a moment of silence I asked the obvious question: “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I was thinking,” my father continued, “What if you did a YouTube presentation, or whatever they call it, of just silent meditation?”
At first I thought this was some elaborate joke that my brother and sister had conned my dad into. So I responded, somewhat snarky:
“You want me to go on YouTube and just be silent? Dad, this sounds like that episode of Seinfeld where they are going to write a television show ‘about nothing’.”
Undeterred — and I’m pretty sure the Seinfeld reference didn’t faze him, either — my father explained, “No, no. Not you yourself. But you meditating along with a saint’s picture or relic or icon. It doesn’t have to be long. Just a few minutes or so.”
At this point, I was sure he was kidding me, so I repeated back to him: “Just so I understand this: you want me to take a saint’s card and film myself with it silently for three minutes and then upload it to YouTube?”
“Not exactly,” he countered. “I don’t think you have to be in it. You could put the camera behind you so that the viewer just sees your hand or your shoulder and they look past you to the prayer card or icon or relic that you are holding and they meditate with you for a few minutes.”
I really didn’t have any response to this so I remained quiet. My dad finished with,
“This is so different from anything else on YouTube, I think it might really catch on. Why don’t you give it a try.”
When my dad says I should “give something a try” that’s pretty much the equivalent of a papal bull plus a presidential executive order, so I said, “Sure, dad, I’ll do this — for you.”
So for the past several weeks I’ve been silently meditating and uploading these meditations to YouTube. All the major saints are there (Mary, Joseph, Jude, Anthony, Padre Pio) and devotions (Divine Mercy, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart of Mary, the Holy Face of Jesus) along with a cadre of Servants of Gods (Isaac Thomas Hecker), Venerables (Nelson H. Baker), Blesseds (Bartolo Longo, Alvaro del Portillo, Mary Scinina) and saints (Norbert, Bernard, Theresa, Vincent de Paul et al.) You can see them all here:
and on Pinterest:
Not surprisingly, this has not gone viral. But on the other hand I have wound up with many more followers on Twitter and Pinterest who seem to have an honest-to-goodness desire to spend some time in silent contemplation…on YouTube.
Which brings us to Lent. Yes, we have to give something up for Lent for the edification of our spiritual life and the strengthening of our soul in the fight against evil — this is only good and right and useful. However, it is also helpful, especially during this upcoming penitential season to actively DO something — here one immediately thinks of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. There is a balance to be maintained and it’s important to do so: in Luke 11:25 we read of when “an unclean spirit has gone out of a man” but later returns “and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (cf. Matthew 12: 43-48).
This story used to bother me, because, it seemed to me that the implication was that after receiving the Sacrament of Penance, the devil redoubles his efforts to lead you into sin. But that’s at the very least a misreading. What one wise priest noted was that the parable is a call to “fill up” (“theosis”) in oneself with good works and practices what we used to waste our time on (sin). If we don’t do anything following a good confession, then surely we WILL fall again—but if we replace that initial demon with good spiritual practices not only will we keep the devil at bay, but we will be doing God’s work.
So this Lent, in addition to the obligatory penances, please feel free to join me for three minutes a day in meditation. As one friend told me: “I used to meditate a few minutes each day and it really made me feel better. Then I stopped—I don’t know why. Thanks for giving me a reason to start meditating again.” So I told him to thank my dad.