My experience of reading and praying with Deacon James Keating’s Remain in Me was not unlike that delayed ‘pow!’ one gets when enjoying certain single-malt scotches. I would read a few lines or a paragraph, then have to double-back, re-read, and put the book down for a minute and let what I had just read sink in—and, then, pow!
And just as a single-malt is best enjoyed by pouring a small amount into a snifter, nosing it well, then taking a sip and savoring it slowly, you’ll want to do the same with Remain in Me, all of ninety-two pages long. This is a work of deep spirituality to be read, not in a few sittings, but to be savored line by line—in prayer, on retreat, in combination with lectio divina and as an aid to contemplation.
And those lines—often wonderfully dense—are the fruit of Keating’s own interior life. A husband, father, theologian and permanent deacon, Keating is particularly known for his pioneering work in the renewal of seminary formation, particularly in collaboration with the Institute for Priestly Formation.
Here Keating writes fraternally to his brother priests and deacons, but he writes as well with urgency. Keating’s is a genuinely prophetic voice for our times in which clergy struggle more and more in what can only be described as a spiritual wasteland. Keating’s simple invitation to his brothers? Allow your hearts to become re-fascinated with Jesus, return to prayer, and allow a renewed intimacy with the Trinity to fuel your life of ministry.
Remain in Me is a tapestry that intertwines multiple rich threads of spiritual insight. But at the heart of Keating’s message is this profound and urgent appeal to the ordained to recover and interior conviction that authentic mission—as opposed to the self-absorbed activism we often fall into—emerges only from our union with the Trinity. Writes Keating:
For clerical formation to be complete, each deacon or priest is invited to learn how to enter the prayer of Christ, which consists of his receptivity toward the Father’s love even while he is loving others… To abide in this kind of prayer is to take on the mind of Christ and, therefore, to execute the actions of Christ in ministry that flow from such holy communion.
And in this way, as Keating puts it wonderfully and succinctly, “communion becomes mission.”
Communion with the Trinity, for the ordained minister, requires fidelity to prayer—and much of this work is presented as a wonderful stimulus to that fidelity. “Remaining in a contemplative mission,” writes Keating, “depends upon our staying in love with the Holy Trinity. Staying in love with God is attained through a prayer-soaked struggle against the attractions of this passing age.”
Perseverance in that struggle for communion with God requires a particular experience of suffering—“suffering the coming of God” in our souls. With that peculiar turn of phrase, Keating captures not only the primacy of the Trinity’s role in our union with him, but the struggle inherent in that pursuit, manifest to us as aridity in prayer, on-going struggles with temptation, a God who speaks in silence, and who leaves us wrestling with our restless hearts to enter into a deeper communion of life. Keating explains:
I say “suffer” God’s love because his offer to enter our lives with divine life is often resisted because we prefer the status quo. God is always doing something new. However, God introducing new things into our “routine” may seem more a threat than a promise. So, we resist. We also resist God’s love because we prefer the immediate gratification of our false gods to the more deliberate and developing communion with him that does not quickly assuage our struggles.
And because we are prone to hide and resist, such union is normally not possible without someone to whom we can be accountable. Keating is adamant that genuine advancement in the mystical union to which every ordained minister is called, is not possible apart from spiritual direction—the theme of chapter one. Fidelity to spiritual direction—throughout our lifetime—constitutes that preferred means by which the Holy Spirit can conduct us with greater surety along the path of mystical union.
It is no secret to anyone who lives immersed in clerical life today that it is often only the exceptional priest or deacon who maintains regular spiritual direction, goes on retreat annually, and takes a substantial amount of time every day—every day—for personal prayer, often in that commendable form of the holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. In far too many priests and deacons, the interior life is a thing of fleeting memory. In Remain in Me, Keating offers strong spiritual nourishment for his brothers to collaborate with them in opening to the action of the Trinity for the renewal of clerical interior life. Keating keenly observes:
Throughout the history of the church, there have been times when interiority has been lost. In response, God raises up those who renew the interior life, reestablishing the proper order of happiness. This order correctly flows when we simply choose to be with Christ, contemplate his love, and from within this contemplation, receive a mission.
James Keating—I have no doubt—is one of those God has so raised up. And this small book is a spiritual treasure-trove for our times, a powerful catalyst for the renewal of priestly and diaconal interior life and ministry, a renewal which is no doubt already underway.
Remain in Me: Holy Orders, Prayer and Ministry
By James Keating
Washington, D.C.: Paulist Press, 2019
Paperback, 92 pages
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