Prayer and Praying: February 2004 Archives

from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer I
C.S. Lewis

And the almost nothing which I have to say [on liturgiology] may as well be disposed of in this letter.

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they beleived people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain--many give up churchgoing altogether--merely endure.

Is this simply beauce the majority are hide-bound? I think not. The have a good reason for their conservatism. . . . [T]hey don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or if you prefer to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to these things best--if you like it "works" best--when through long familiaritiy, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The prefect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

And to extent the metaphor--perhaps the best prayer is not the prayer that we are trying to say, but the prayer where we are least aware of prayer. That is where we spend time in the presence of the Lord, worshipping, adoring, and conversing, and come away refreshed, but only just aware of what transpired. Prayer starts as work that we do, and ends as we grow in it, in the Work He does on and for us. And all of the things mentioned above are detrimental to a solid prayer life. Make prayer a habit--a garment into which you slip easily and lightly--a place where you are comfortable. To do this, go routinely to prayer, close the door, and spend time. Do it in the same time and the same place every day. Perhaps you even say the same opening and closing prayers to set the tone, and maybe even a short prayer to still the mind when you start. But after you have set up the routine, the routine will guide you slowly into deeper and deeper realms of prayer. You will discover that all the things that used to bother and distract you no longer get in your way (you'll have a whole new realm of distractions). You will begin to abandon your need to take things with you in prayer because the territory has been outlined and you're discovering where God is--set prayers during prayer time become less needed.

However, if you distract yourself by making a new time and a new place each day, you will never have the comfortable routine that allows you to approach the throne of Grace readily. Think of it as wearing a path through an exceedingly dense forest. You must walk the same steps in the same way every time you walk the path. Yes, habit is a very, very good start to a productive life of prayer and to the Ascent of the foothills that lead to Mt. Carmel.

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Q. So who is called to this union with God anyhow?

A. You are.

Q. What do you mean me? That stuff is for the Saints.

A. And by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ you are among them.

Q. Yes, I'm one of the saints but I'm not one of the Saints. I can't do what they did.

A. True, you cannot because you are you and they are who they were. But you can't get around the call to the kingdom. "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads unto salvation." The strait gate and narrow way are Jesus Christ Himself. Contemplation of God is the road to union. Contemplative prayer opens the gate--the way is open to all, but few choose to follow it.

Q. But I can't be a contemplative, I'm too busy.

A. Yes, you can. You need to decide to do so and then lean completely on grace. We are nothing of ourselves, what we do we do through Jesus Christ.

Q. Okay, back to union with God. Why is this so important?

A. Precisely because it is what God has ordained as your destiny. Either in this life or in the next you will be in union or not. And not being in union is like being perpetually unmade and at sixes and sevens with all around you. We call it Hell. Heaven is divine union where the body of Christ functions as a body.

Q. Yes. But isn't union with God something only special people can do?

A. No. It will happen to the faithful who die in God's grace. Some of these lived the life while on Earth. Some will come to live it only after a time of conforming to God's will--a place called purgatory. But all who die in His good grace will get there, one way or another.

Q. Well, I can just wait and let my firends and family pray me out of purgatory.

A. Yes, you could do that. But think of what you are missing now. You could be living in heaven itself while on Earth. You could know how deeply and completely God loves you. You could be the instrument of salvation of thousands of lost souls. You could be the teacher of many who lack any substance whatsoever in thier lives. Union is not a thing to fear and avoid, but a destiny to be pursued relentlessly. "As a deer panteth after running streams, my heart panteth after thee O my God."

Q. Okay. But isn't it a lot of hard work and difficult thinking?

A. Not at all. Is it hard work and difficult thinking to talk to your son or daughter. Is it hard work to meet a friend for coffee and listen to her pour out her heart about her current trials and afflictions? God longs for this from you. He loves you as though you alone were the whole Earth and his desire for you is more fierce than Satan's and more fervent. The difference is that He loves you enough to ask you to come home by your own will. Satan will gladly drag you wherever he'd like you to go.

Q. How do I start?

A. In two words--shut up. Longer, "Be still and know that I am God." And yet more, go to prayer with the expectation that the Lord will communicate as He sees fit, and say it to him, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Fifteen minutes a day--ten minutes to start--go and wait upon the word of God. Don't expect miracles--it didn't take a week for you to become so mired in the world as you are, it won't take a week to escape from its trappings.

Q. But how do I know it is working?

A. You don't. But it is. Remain faithful to your meeting time and if nothing else happens, simply offer up the time in love and quiet. At the end of it say a short prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

Q. What if I get distracted?

A. Ah, a question for another time. Right now, don't worry about it. Go and wait. Send out love and love will return.

(By the way--I'm in the same place as a great many in St. Blogs--no further along, and perhaps even trailing a lot of you. What I report here I do not report from the fullness of my own experience--I report it from the depth of the experiences of the saints. So do not be disheartened and above all else do not dare to compare yourself with another--the heart cannot be the lungs, the hand cannot be the feet. Rejoice in what the Lord has granted you and live it to the fullest. Aspire like St. Thérèse to return to God empty handed, having given out and passed back all the graces you have been granted. God will see the lowliness of your estate and rejoice in the love you have shared with all.)

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On Christian Prayer


A couple of excerpts from an introductory essay:

from "An Introductory Essay" before Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection
Rev J. B. Dalgairns, Priest of the Oratory

It is very difficult for men living in the modern world to understand a life of prayer; yet they must accept it as a real fact. Thousands of Christians have lived such a life without becoming either praying machines like the Buddhists or fakirs like the Brahmins. The principle of Christian asceticism is as far apart from Manicheism as possible. It is simply the principle of expiatory suffering and prayer involved in the very idea of the sacrifice of Christ. The gulf which separates the anchoress from the fanatic is the love of Jesus. . . .

[quoting from a noted Anchoress]

In another place, after a beautiful and minute description of the crucifixion, and how the "hellbairns" betrayed and crucified Him, she breaks out: "Ah! Jesus, my life's love, what heart is there that will not break when he thinketh hereof; how Thou, that art the Saviour of mankind, and the remedy for all bales, didst thole [endure] such shame for the honour of mankind. Men speak oft of wonders and of strange things divers and manifold that have befallen, but this was the greatest wonder that ever befell upon earth. Yea, wonder above wonders that that renowned Kaiser, crowned in Heaven, maker of all that is made, to honour His foes would hang between two thieves. Ah, how can I live for ruth that see my darling on the rood, and His limbs so drawn that I may tell each bone in His body! Ah, how do they now drive the iron nails through Thy fair hands into the hard rood and through Thy noble feet! Ah, now from those hands and feet so lovely streams the blood so ruefully! Ah, now they offer to my love, who says He thirsts, two evil drinks in His blood-letting, vinegar, sourest of all drinks, mingled with gall, that is the bitterest of all things! Ah, now, sweet Jesus, yet besides all Thy woe, to eke it out with shame and mockery, they laugh Thee to scorn when Thou hangest on the rood! Ah that lovely body that hangs so ruefully, so bloody, and so cold! Ah, how shall I live, for now dies my love for me on the dear rood, hangs down His head, and sends forth His soul? But it seems to them that He is not yet fully tormented, nor will they let the pitiful body rest in peace. They bring forth Longinus with the broad sharp spear. He pierces His side, cleaves the heart, and there come flowing out of that wide wound the Blood that bought us, the water that washes the world of guilt and sin. Ah, sweet Jesus, Thou openest for me Thy heart, that I may know Thee truly, for there I may openly see how much Thou lovedst me. With wrong should I refuse Thee my heart, since Thou hast bought heart for heart. Jesus, sweet Jesus, thus Thou foughtest for me against my soul's foes. Thou didst settle the contest for me with Thy body, and hast made of me, a wretch, Thy beloved and Thy spouse. Brought Thou hast me from the world to Thy bower. I may there so sweetly kiss Thee, and embrace Thee, and of Thy love have ghostly liking. What may I suffer for Thee for all that Thou didst thole (endure) for me? But it is well for me that Thou be easy to satisfy. A wretched body and a weak I bear upon earth, and that, such as it is, I have given Thee and will give Thee to Thy service. Let my body hang with Thy body nailed on the rood, and enclosed within four walls, and hang I Will with Thee, and never more leave my cross till that I die."

If we set our eyes on Jesus and we set our hearts on Him, we cannot fail in prayer or in life. Jesus will carry the burden for us, and our only duty is to walk with Him and talk with Him. We need to listen more than we talk. We need to hear from Him the Father's expiatory, exalting, and exultant Love.

Jesus is the elder brother we do not hear about in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He is the elder brother who rushed out to greet the one coming home and ushered Him into the Father's embrace. So he does for those of us who are willing to spend time with Him. He is the sure sign and the presence of the Father's Love. It is through His tangible and real presence that we come to know what the Father feels for us.

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C.S. Lewis makes some remarkable points about the sin of gluttony in Screwtape XVII

from The Screwtape Letters XVII
C.S. Lewis

This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on the gluttony of Delicacy, not the gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother. . . is a good example. She would be astonished--one day, I hope, will be--to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern? . . . She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, "O please, please . . . all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast." You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome if may be to others. . . .

The real value of the quiet unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on this old woman can be guaged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life.

I suppose all of the capital sins show this brand of two-facedness--of excess in at least two directions, one of which is much more subtle and much more difficult to identify than the other. Who would have considered eating a piece of dry toast with weak tea an act of gluttony? But the point is that such a demand focuses all attention on the self and sets one in a habit of thinking about oneself rather than others. Rather than taking what is given, a person is always seeking something other--something bigger, smaller, tastier, less tasty, less fatty, more fatty, less carbohydrate-rich, more carbohydrate rich. It is one thing to eat sensibly and carefully, another entirely to expect the entire world to wait upon you, and yet another except under extraordinary circumstances (highly restricted diets) to "bring your own." And yet people today think nothing of these things.

I am not so clever as C.S. Lewis, but his passage makes me think, what other faces do the Seven Deadlies wear that we might not be quite so sharply attuned to. For example Pride that expresses itself by denying what is ostensibly true in praise coming from another so that the praise is repeated or rephrased. Some call this demurral modesty, but in nearly every case it is fishing for compliments. (There are cases of legitimate surprise--when your work is compared with that of someone you admire deeply and you didn't notice the basis of comparison, or when some other unlikely thing is mentioned that hadn't crossed your mind. Still, the correct response to all of this is a polite, "Thank you, the comparison hadn't crossed my mind before. So-and-so is one of my very favorite [authors, painters, composers, auteurs].

I guess as I approach Lent, I am less concerned about the imperfections I can readily perceive (and thus readily confess) than those that are hidden and mysterious to me. It's easy to see how you might be lustful, but perhaps harder to see how you are being prideful or avaricious. Part of my Lenten preparation and prayer will be to ask that some of these darker, more obscure tendencies on my part be brought to life and healed by the graces of the Lenten journey.

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On The Liturgy of the Hours

| | Comments (14)

I started to answer this in the comments box below, but both the question and the answer seems far too important for a mere comments box reflection:

Tom asked the question whether Liturgy of the Hours were really necessary to the pursuit of holiness. My long answer follows. My short answer is undoubtedly (and most assuredly from a personal, experiential perspective), "Yes it is." As difficult as it may be to fit into a life, whatever life it is fit into is made better by the discipline of following this great work of the Church.

With the advent of works like Magnificat a version of the litrugy tailored to those with strong time constraints is available to all. Moreover, as the name implies the "Liturgy of the Hours" is the work of the whole body of the church. It is liturgical prayer second in importance only to the Mass itself. Finally, the liturgy of the hours provides structure to the day. It would seem, to instill the discipline necessary to start the practice of the presence of God.

Personal prayer, while commendable, and indeed sanctifying often tends to be somewhat loosely regarded and on-the-fly. The Liturgy serves to structure this otherwise rather free-form mode of expression.

That's not to say you can't become holy without with Liturgy--but rather that the liturgy is so helpful to the process that it should not be remanded to a mere recommendation, but put forth as a sacred treasure whose usage greatly increases the probability of success on the road to holiness by virtue of the grace of obedience and discipline.

Finally, to address the objection, " After all, people in the world do not always have the luxury of living as though they occupied a cloister," I quote from the work of the Holy Father regarding lay participation in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Inuente #34 John Paul II

It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning. I myself have decided to dedicate the forthcoming Wednesday catecheses to reflection upon the Psalms, beginning with the Psalms of Morning Prayer with which the public prayer of the Church invites us to consecrate and direct our day. How helpful it would be if not only in religious communities but also in parishes more were done to ensure an all-pervading climate of prayer. With proper discernment, this would require that popular piety be given its proper place, and that people be educated especially in liturgical prayer. Perhaps it is more thinkable than we usually presume for the average day of a Christian community to combine the many forms of pastoral life and witness in the world with the celebration of the Eucharist and even the recitation of Lauds [Morning Prayer] and Vespers [Evening Prayer]. The experience of many committed Christian groups, also those made up largely of lay people, is proof of this. [emphasis added]

and from Sacrosanctum Concilium

from Sacrosanctum Concilium

83. Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.

For he continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this, not only by celebrating the eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office.

84. By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church's ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; lt is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.

85. Hence all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ's spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God's throne in the name of the Church their Mother. . . .

88. Because the purpose of the office is to sanctify the day, the traditional sequence of the hours is to be restored so that once again they may be genuinely related to the time of the day when they are prayed, as far as this may be possible. Moreover, it will be necessary to take into account the modern conditions in which daily life has to be lived, especially by those who are called to labor in apostolic works.

and this, from "Instructions on the Liturgy of the Hours"

27. Lay groups gathering for prayer, apostolic work, or any other reason are encouraged to fulfill the Church's duty, [103] by celebrating part of the liturgy of the hours. The laity must learn above all how in the liturgy they are adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth; [104] they should bear in mind that through public worship and prayer they reach all humanity and can contribute significantly to the salvation of the whole world. [105]

Finally, it is of great advantage for the family, the domestic sanctuary of the Church, not only to pray together to God but also to celebrate some parts of the liturgy of the hours as occasion offers, in order to enter more deeply into the life of the Church. [106]

It would seem to me far easier to become holy if one were to spend some time "sanctifying" and "consecrating" the day with the form of prayer specifically designed for that purpose.

For additional comments see here (Cardinal Spellman, 1950), John Paul II, 2001, and John Paul II, 2001

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from The Hidden Life--"Before the Face of God II"
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

"Through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever." With these solemn words, the priest ends the eucharistic prayer at the center of which is the mysterious event of the consecration. These words at the same time encapsulate the prayer of the church: honor and glory to the triune God through, with, and in Christ. Although the words are directed to the Father, all glorification of the Father is at the same time glorification of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the prayer extols the majesty that the Father imparts to the Son and that both impart to the Holy Spirit from eternity to eternity.

All praise of God is through, with, and in Christ. Through him, because only through Christ does humanity have access to the Father and because his existence as God-man and his work of salvation are the fullest glorification of the Father; with him, because all authentic prayer is the fruit of union with Christ and at the same time buttresses this union, and because in honoring the Son one honors the Father and vice versa; in him, because the praying church is Christ himself, with every individual praying member as a part of his Mystical Body, and because the Father is in the Son and the Son the reflection of the Father, who makes his majesty visible. The dual meanings of through, with, and in clearly express the God-man's mediation.

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Opening the Door to God

from My Only Friend is Darkness Barbara Dent

God is busy forming the Son in us in all his completeness, though tailored to our individuality, and we cannot expect his passion and death will be omitted. How can we know what secret attractions, desires, attachmentts are binding us there in the hidden fastnesses of our hearts? We do not know, so we cannot ask to be delivered from them in any specific way of our own choice, but must leave the Spirit to work it out for us.

In short, we are not captains of our own ships or masters of our own fates. We don't even know ourselves well enough to clean house, how can we hope to know God without His help? Day by day He comes to us, almost in supplication. Here is the Father of the prodigal son humbly tapping at the door to our heart and asking for permission to come in. Here is the Lord of the Universe who could, if He so desired take away everything, deprive us of our last breath, and do other things more terrible and wonderful than we can contemplate, asking us to acknowledge our love for Him.

And we do love Him. Passionately. However, there are a few things in the way. For example, we like to read more than we like to pray. We like to run and jog more than we like to pray. We like to eat more than we like to pray. Let's face it, for some of us, we'd rather clean the commode than face our loving Father in prayer.

Nevertheless, to the last day of our lives, to the last second of the last day, He knocks. He humbly begs entry, and he tries the door to see if we at least left it unlocked.

Make an effort to clear a path. Move the debris out of the way so at least the door can swing open a little. Ask for light to see and courage and strength to do what becomes necessary in the light. Turn the key, ask God to come in. Though we are too weak to move this mound of stuff ourselves, surely if we desire it, He can and will move it. He wants us so desperately. To Him we are each an only child--the singular love of His life. He lavishes upon us every possible gift to make this clear. Now pray for a clear eye to see His hand in all that we are and all that is around us. Pray for clear vision to see Him in each day and thank Him for His presence.

Most of us have not yet approached the dark night, though we like to talk of it as though it was near. We know that the dark night means His love. We dread it even as we desire it. We do not think we can stand it, and we are right, because it is only through His strength that we can begin to undergo the purifications that will bring us to Him in this Life, in serenity, joy, peace, and love.

So, while we long for that dark night that means a closer union with God, let us prepare the way, if only feebly by muttering when he knocks, "Come in. Come in and be master of this house. Come in and make it clean, well-ordered, your own abode. Come in and love me, finally I am ready. Come in."

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Lift your mind to God today in several moments that you do not ordinarily do so. As you're doing the worst task of the day, thank and praise Him. As you are enjoying the extraordinary beauty of the full moon in the morning, thank and praise Him. As you are shivering and contemplating spring, thank and praise Him. As you are starting the car, thank and praise Him.

A short and simple prayer will do--"I love you Lord, my strength."

Or a longer more traditional one, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Or one of your own derived from the scripture.

Or one of your own derived from your heart.

Let your heart and mind reach out and touch Him, if only for a moment, a reminder that He is right there next to you, above you and below you, in front of you and behind you--within you.

Praise the Lord and thank Him in the traffic snarl you hate, in the broken appliances, dirty diapers, and tasks of ordinary life.

You'd be surprised at how much better your day goes when you go through it with your closest most intimate friend, ally, and comforter.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Prayer and Praying category from February 2004.

Prayer and Praying: January 2004 is the previous archive.

Prayer and Praying: March 2004 is the next archive.

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