Prayer and Praying: August 2002 Archives

Silence in Prayer


Silence in Prayer
The quotations below, attributed to their authors, provoked in me the need to relate a little anecdote.

And if one comes into a parish church in which the loud vociferations of the street have NOT become an undistinguishable roar, but have come in with the parishioners who blithely natter & chatter, viva voce, well, it makes it all the more difficult. (dylan_tm618)

I believe that when Mass is celebrated properly, and we all quietly pray and take part in the Eucharist, community just happens. I repeat, it just happens. We don't need to "build" it. We don't need to shake our neighbor's hand or start off Mass by introducing ourselves to our neighbor. When we focus on the Lord, community is a natural byproduct. (Tom Abbot)

I am reminded of the first time I attended a service at a Byzantine Rite church (a special celebration at St. John Chrysostom, Columbus, Ohio for "The Third Finding of the Head of John the Baptist"). The church was a magnificent and beautiful building. On the exterior just to the right and left of the entry doors and on the center of the other three walls (you had to walk around the church from the parking lot to get it) there was a prominently displayed placard that read something like "Silence is to be observed inside the church at all times."

I remember thinking that this had to be the most unfriendly church I had even been to, and there was absolutely no way on earth I would go back. Once inside I was stunned by the beauty of the Church and the liturgy. The people all joined in the singing (which was difficult because they were doing an unusual Slavonic liturgy--the only part of which I remember was multiple repetitions of something that sounded like Hospodie Polimuj--I'm sure I have it wrong.) The service, though in a foreign language and utterly alien in its presentation (to this Latin Rite Guy) was magnificent beyond words. Here I was, in the midst of the people of God, worshipping and praising, and it felt quite different than it did at my very social parish church. No one questioned my right to be there, I was by virtue of my presence part of the community. I thought, after the service, that I would visit often. And while often would be an exaggeration, I did go back from time to time.

On the formation of community. Unfortunately Catholics have become protestantized here as well. Enter any Baptist church and if the Baptistry is not open the only thing to remind you that you are in a church is usually a bare wooden cross. (In my grandfather's church there is also an American Flag and the Flag of Israel flanking the "altar" area and a big table that had inscribed on it, "This do in remembrance of me.") There is a great deal of conversation and inquiring after family members, etc. And to some extent this is good--but in the proper place. Baptist services are not so much about recollection and private prayer as they are about public sharing of faith and scripture. Many Baptists (at the time I was going) brought notebooks and tape-recorders with them. They would replay the sermons several times during the week. This is obviously a different approach to spirituality, one that may better accommodate casual conversation and chatting. I know that it never interfered with my experience of God in the Church.

However, for whatever reason, it does tend to detract from my experience at mass. I am always glad to see friends and people I know, but I don't need to do more than nod my head or smile, if I am so inclined. Many churches have some sort of after-Mass doughnut thingee, or perhaps other ways that people can bond in a social way. This is undoubtedly an important aspect of community formation. However, to my mind it belongs outside of the Mass, as much as possible. It should not interfere with all of us coming together to worship God and to send our prayers "aloft" to Him. God will hear our prayers even if we talk before the service, but we will not have done Him the best service we can.

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The Prayer of Silence


Different book this time:

Meditations Before Mass Romano Guardini

Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being "all there," receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it. . . .

"Congregation," not merely people. Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals. Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual "space" around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer. Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary.

While this is undoubtedly true of mass (and one of the reasons I tend to impatience for people who wander in with a hale-fellow-well-met attitude) it is doubly true of all prayer. Prayer is encased in a house of silence. Outside of silence, prayer becomes just more roaring against the sound of the rushing wind of culture. That is not to say that God does not hear it, because of course He does. However, it is not the kind of praise that rises like an incense to the throne of heaven.

For prayer to be truly pleasing to God it must be of the sort that makes one completely present to God. Such prayer is not acquired in the short run, and ultimately its final stage is not acquired at all. However, one must dispose oneself to receive the gift of infused contemplation. One of the ways of doing so is to practice this "prayer of silence." In addition, the prayer offers the person praying innumerable benefits stemming from a "mental vacation from the world." It "recharges the batteries" and makes one more capable of coping with what occurs in everyday life. It helps one to experience the presence of God in all of life's activities. It helps one to empty oneself to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In short, it opens the doors to greater levels of prayer..

But it isn't easy, and it isn't a short road. It may take years, perhaps decades. But, as with the bloom of the Century Plant, it is both spectacular and worth waiting for. In the prayer of silence, we take the first steps toward becoming like our grand model of prayer, the Holy Mother of God. We learn to "ponder these things in our hearts" and to derive from them great joy and peace. The prayer of silence, it would seem to me, is one of the most effective tools on the road to lifestyle evangelism because it causes a fundamental change in the person who is doing it consistently. From agitated and worried to peaceful and trusting, the prayer of silence changes lives.

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More about the Rosary


I must first say that I find much of what goes on at Disputations is well beyond my immediate ken. But I profoundly admire the spirituality and understanding that seems to come from the site. Continuing an extremely fruitful strain on the Rosary:

The goal of the Christian life is perfection in Christ. Praying the Rosary is a tremendously effective aid to achieving this goal, but it doesn't work by magic. If it is not helping you to become perfect in Christ -- although, as I've written before, it takes some time and effort to be sure about this -- then don't pray it.

Insight like this will keep me going back to Disputations even when posts like this make my head spin:

St. Thomas Aquinas, taking up the question of whether contemplation is the cause of devotion, considers this objection:

[I]f contemplation were the proper and essential cause of devotion, the higher objects of contemplation would arouse greater devotion. But the contrary is the case: since frequently we are urged to greater devotion by considering Christ's Passion and other mysteries of His humanity than by considering the greatness of His Godhead.

Yes, I know, it's merely a matter of applying myself. But I must confess a certain sympathy for the woman described in Chesterton's biography, St. Thomas Aquinas:

A lady I know picked up a book of selections from St. Thomas with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, "The Simplicity of God." She then laid down the book with a sigh and said, "Well, if that's His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like."
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On the Rosary


On the Rosary

Yes, an off-hand comment that I made started this, and I am pleased to see so many responding to it. There is this excellent post at Disputations in response to this equally cogent reflection at Goodform. The quote below is taken from Disputations:

The purpose of a devotion is to bring you closer to God, and if all the Rosary brings you close to is chucking the beads out of a window, then perhaps you should chuck the beads, not out of a window, but out of your prayer life. (Put the beads away some place; there may yet come a time when you'll need them.)

St. Therese wrote, "It's a terrible thing to admit, but saying the Rosary takes it out of me more than any hair shirt ... Try as I will, I cannot meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary. I just cannot fix my mind on them." (I'm told the early editions of her autobiography omitted such passages.) As a Carmelite, though, she had to pray the Rosary, and -- agreeing with Tom -- decided that the sheer effort of doing so would be at least as profitable as twenty minutes of easy meditation.

It used to be that I really disliked St. Therese. Then I studied her life and writings. What I discovered I dislike (as happens more often than not) is what popular piety makes of St. Therese. She is called "The Little Flower," but she is, in fact, "A Mighty Oak." And I share her difficulty with the Rosary. But I also recall the words of our St. Teresa of Avila (further reflected in Therese) that God prizes obedience above a multitude of actions. Teresa was so adamant about obedience, in fact, that she counseled that if you wished to do something that your superior denied you, then obey your superior. If it were in God's will that it were done, He would change the superior's heart, or change the Superior.

So, one Rosary said in obedience to my rule, is better than ten-thousand dedications, consecrations, and acts that I enjoy more. In fact, I know that God prizes daily morning prayer, evening prayer, Office, and lesser hours, but from me, He prizes more each Rosary I can choke out. And I know that He prizes those rosaries done with my four-year-old son. (Actually, doing them in this way, though he does not go through all five decades, removes some of the burden and gives me great cause for joy. Since I've made this parenthesis, I may as well continue to brag--how many other four year olds can recite Psalm 8 and Psalm 23 in toto?)

The Rosary can be a penance, and a very useful penance, but I know that it also serves to strengthen my prayer life by dint of obedience to the promises I have made. I also know a great many people whose lives have improved immeasurably as a result of adopting this wonderful devotion. However, as Mr. da Fiesole indicates, if it serves to move you away from God, then discard it. (See advice from St. Ignatius--here)

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This page is a archive of entries in the Prayer and Praying category from August 2002.

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