As long as we are faithful to prayer, we maintain a clarity of vision that promotes higher ideals and elevated standards of conduct. … The more we pray, the more its fruits nourish our daily lives.
John Chrysostom once wrote: “Prayer is the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness and depression of the soul.” We who are schooled in the art of prayer find these words to be quite true.
Although many fine words have been written about prayer, it cannot be completely understood. We can understand it to a point, but then we must let go and dwell in prayer’s mystery of grace. Alive in us, grace makes prayer an ever increasing hunger of the heart. We realize how important God is in our lives and want to remain united with him. Grace takes us to the heart of prayer: a love that truly changes us. We cannot love rightly without God. After we experience the great love of God, we let go of the lesser loves that hold us captive to ourselves. Our hearts enlarge and embrace God’s love within more profoundly. We are in awe of his great love, and at that point, we are able to release the lesser loves that block the flow of grace and enslave us. Prayer keeps us faithful to God and the ways of God—even in difficult times. Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced decades of spiritual darkness, but continued to say, “If my suffering fills your thirst, here I am.” She shows us how to love at its highest level, to give love and receive nothing in return.
Prayer is our hardest labor. At times, God appears to be silent, absent, or nonexistent. Sometimes prayer is like being in a completely darkened room. We do not know or cannot see where we are going. We do not know how well we are doing. We are not in control. Therefore we must cling to God. We follow where he leads with infinite trust and move forward in his mysterious ways that so elude us.
Life would not be authentic without spiritual darkness. We learn from it and move forward, or are intimidated by it and move backward. If we avoid being intimidated, the night gives us a new way of looking at things. Signs of dying can be pangs of birth. Hope keeps us working through periods of spiritual darkness. It is important to know that being in spiritual darkness does not mean being in long-term depression. There may be mild depression in the dark, but it is transitional. If we are in spiritual darkness, we do not lose our ability to function, or effectiveness in our work or other areas of life. Depression depletes these abilities. A sense of humor, although often subdued, is retained in the dark but may be lost in depression. Spiritual darkness increases our ability to focus on others’ pain with compassion, while depression can be an absorbed focus on one’s own pain, without doing anything to alleviate it.
Letting Yourself Be Loved
John of the Cross tells us that no matter how much we are searching for God, he is searching for us much more. God’s love keeps our hearts awake to his presence within. He patiently waits at the depth of our being for our response. Deep prayer is silent, loving attentiveness to the Triune God. He loves us more than we can possibly realize. Elizabeth of the Trinity reminds us that our challenge is to let ourselves be loved by him. How often do we silently reflect upon God’s being present and loving us from the center of our being? If we dwell on the awesomeness of letting ourselves be loved, our loving gaze will see God in everything because he is at the center of how we view life and face its problems.
Many interesting things are revealed to us in prayer. Love is a most beautiful fruit of prayer. When we pray for the whole world, prayer reaches places we never heard about. People matter. Prayer bonds them with God even though they are unaware of this. Prayer guides people to God’s truth, and somehow eyes of greed and power change to eyes of love and mercy.
Prayer broadens our perspective about giving and receiving. When considering basic needs, giving is easier than receiving because we usually give what we want, to whom we want, for as long as we want; and when we feel like stopping, we stop. We do not have these choices when we receive. We are at the mercy of others. This is very evident when we are no longer able to drive. We are no longer free to go when and where we want. We face our need for others and reach out to them in faith. As our options decrease, we feel solidarity with people who have limited choices. Our dependency on God increases when we learn to receive graciously. Prayer helps us to trust that whatever comes our way is a manifestation of his love for us. To receive what comes to us, as Christ accepted events in his life, is no easy task.
We give others the opportunity to love, to serve, and to share the mercies of God when we have to ask for something we need. The giver and the receiver share in God’s life and love. The Christ in others wants to give to the Christ in us and receive his grace through us. We realize more deeply that life is hard, but it is good. It is true that life is not fair, but sometimes we receive wonderful spiritual surprises. In Teresa of Calcutta’s words: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
The Joy of Stability
When prayer supports our fasts, fasting takes on a broader meaning. To fast is usually thought to mean to abstain from eating. It can also mean to withdraw from excess, bad habits, negative thinking, and fast paced living. An old meaning of fast suggests fixed, as “to fasten.” To stay put is to fast, to fix oneself in a place, remaining steady and calm in a running here and there society. Refraining from an intense drive to complete a task, or from doing many things at one time, is an ongoing challenge in this high-speed, multi-tasking society. In order to live well, we must keep these two life-draining traits in check. To do a task in a speedy or haphazard way because it must be done, or because we must get on to the next task, or to do several tasks at the same time, blocks many graces of holiness. Holiness draws us into a more relaxed mode of task performance. This does not mean being lazy. It means doing things in an unhurried, conscientious, consistent manner. We recognize and perform our tasks and responsibilities, one at a time. A spiritual orientation allows us to enjoy the process of task performance in an orderly, competent manner, fully attentive to the task at hand. This neutralizes anxieties about things we have to do, or did not do, and minimizes feelings of being swamped or overwhelmed. We work consistently, prudently, and peacefully, and get things done that need to be done in their appropriate order. To be holy is less about doing things, giving advice, being right, or acting the expert, and more about slowing down, simplifying, sanctifying, and living as if Jesus were always by our side. We hold things with a relaxed grasp, share with others, and appreciate life’s enjoyments. In the words of Thomas Merton: “Sanctity is not a matter of being less human, but more human. A greater capacity for concern, for suffering, for understanding, for sympathy and for humor, for joy, for appreciation of the good and beautiful things in life.”
As we pattern our lives on Jesus, we deepen our union with him and grow in our ability to love. Love calls us to be fully present to others, and decreases anxieties and uneasiness about ourselves. How beautiful to discover new ways to love those we hold dear, and those with whom we are acquainted! Imagine the last day of our lives. What would be most important to us? Perhaps, many things will suddenly seem unimportant. Time is short and too precious to waste on frivolous things. Prayer gives us the strength to avoid many of life’s superfluities and focus on what is essential. The fire of God’s love enkindles within us the courage to change our self- defeating ways to God’s life-giving ways. The more we make these changes, the more courage we receive.
Our knowledge of God has a direct relationship with the way we live. As long as we are faithful to prayer, we want to know more about the Lord. Knowledge of God, and the things of God, lead us to a greater love for God and for his people. As our understanding of God grows, so are our choices directed toward him. Our ability to pray and to think helps us choose right from wrong. As long as we are faithful to prayer, we maintain a clarity of vision that promotes higher ideals and elevated standards of conduct. We accept the graces of prayer by meeting the challenges of Christian living with perseverance and nobility.
The Beauty of Fidelity
Prayer is our greatest joy because it is rooted and gifted in God, and in an assurance of Jesus’ redeeming love. This bond with God opens us to a greater awareness of his goodness and beauty around and within. We are encouraged to take care of our environment, and this must include our interior environment. Soul care is the most important part of self care.
Holiness is like a continuing, sacred thread that weaves itself through everything we do, and ends in eternity. It is not limited to the things we do in church. We can pray anywhere, and we should be holy everywhere. For instance, because it is so easy to use popular sayings, we are ever diligent in refraining from talk that is crude, profane, or disrespectful in any way. This is a lifelong task because speech patterns change—and not for the better. To be holy is to take a stand against the evils in our society. To do this, we must be in communion with God, and treat one another with respect. Our connection with God and others is sound as long as we keep praying and avoiding the drawbacks of high emotions, giving in to temptation, or losing the fact that we are sinners. There is much confusion today because of erroneous and trivial notions about indifference to, or denial of, God. Yet, all the beauty of creation cannot compare to his beauty. All the wisdom of the ages cannot compare to his wisdom. All the love of humanity cannot compare to his love. The more we pray, the deeper our awe of God. Prayer is like a river of fire that keeps our communication with God flowing, channeling his beauty, wisdom, and love to others.
The more we pray, the more its fruits nourish our daily lives. When we are faithful to daily prayer, that which is in conflict within us will decrease. Falling into a double life will be avoided as long as we are faithful to prayer and live God’s teachings each day. Selflessness will overrule selfishness; love, indifference; goodness, sin. Fidelity to prayer, and living the virtues, keeps us on the straight and narrow road to God.
Prayer keeps God alive and well in our hearts. He who is beyond this world has first priority in our lives in this world. “God, come to my assistance” and “Lord, make haste to help me” are frequent prayer phrases that help us resist that which pulls us away from God’s love. The more we pray, the more we are attracted to the beautiful things that come from God, including life beyond this world.
Help us, O Lord, to learn
The truths thy Word imparts;
To study that thy laws may be
Inscribed upon our hearts.
Help us, O Lord, to live
Thy faith which we proclaim,
That all our thoughts and words and deeds
May glorify your name.
Help us, O Lord, to teach
The beauty of your ways,
That yearning souls may find the Christ,
And sing aloud his praise.
(W. W. Reid, as in The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. III, p. 662)