Prayer Made Simple
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Contents Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21
The Sun that Never Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Where Time Touches Eternity . . . . . . . . . 8 The Spiritual Escalator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 It’s All in the Trying . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 It is in Giving that we Receive . . . . . . . . 15 The Quality of our Endeavour . . . . . . . . 18 From Here to Eternity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Journey’s End . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 The Journey Begins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 O: The Morning Offering . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 U: In Union with the Mystical Body . . . 33 R: Reviewing the Day Ahead . . . . . . . . . 36 F: Faith in Our Risen Lord . . . . . . . . . . . 40 A: Abandonment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 T: Thanksgiving . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 H: Holy Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 E: Examination of Conscience . . . . . . . . 49 R: Repentance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 Morning Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 Evening Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 The Prayer without Ceasing . . . . . . . . . . 60
The Sun that Never Sets
Some years ago I had dinner with friends in London. When I was leaving their home, I was introduced to their father who was busy digging in the garden. Taken by surprise and not knowing what to say, I asked a rather stupid question. “And what are you doing?” I said. “I do be digging the garden,” he replied, glancing at his son as if to say, “Who’s your fatuous friend?” Intrigued by his answer I asked a nun who taught Irish in Dublin what was meant by the expression, “I do be digging the garden.” She said that it is the English rendering of what is called in Irish, the present continuing tense. It means, “I have been digging the garden, I am digging the garden, and when you stop asking the obvious, I will continue to dig the garden.” There is no such tense in English, but it perfectly expresses the meaning of the Aramaic idiom, as spoken by Jesus, and as emphasised by St John when he said, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). He was not trying to give a definition
of what love is in itself as a Greek philosopher would do, he was describing in his own language that God is loving. That is what he is, and that is what he does, continually. In order to try and describe the power and magnitude of this love, with which God filled Our Lord at his Resurrection, the early Christians used the symbol of the sun. That is why they called their holy day, Sunday. It not only reminded them of the love of God that filled Christ at his Resurrection, but of that same love, as it was released to fill them on the first Pentecost day. Then finally it was a reminder of how this love was continually being released to fill them on every day. However, not even the sun could symbolise the real power and energy of Godâ€™s love. Even if you would join together all the stars in the firmament and multiply the power and energy that they released by as many millions as you like, it would not come anywhere near the power and energy of Godâ€™s love. Unlike the sun this infinite loving radiates outward and into all who would receive it, not just during the day, but day and night, to the end of time. If you think that I am indulging in pious hyperbole then think again. No man-made myth, no fairy tale has ever told any story like this. No dreamer has ever dreamed such an incredible truth as this â€“ yet it is the greatest truth ever told by the greatest man who ever lived. Before the Resurrection Jesus was limited by the physical body into which he freely chose to enter. His choice meant that he could only be in one place at a time,
so meeting him would have been as difficult as meeting any major celebrity in our time. But that has all changed now, because the same other-worldly love that raised him out of this world on the first Easter day enabled him to re-enter it on every day. So now he can enter into us as he promised, so that he can make his home in us and we can make our home in him, as he promised at the Last Supper. All this is possible, not in some distant pipedream, but here and now in this present moment. That is why Jean Pierre de Caussade, the great Jesuit mystic said, â€œThe present moment contains far more than we have the capacity to receive, for it is full of infinite treasures.â€?
Where Time Touches Eternity
These infinite treasures are all contained within the love of God. Then, as this love first strikes a human heart that is open to receive it, that heart acts like a prism, distributing that love to every part of the human personality. These spiritual treasures are not only full of the love we need, but the virtues too that love generates within us, enabling us to return this love in kind to God, and then to share what we have received with others. Jean Pierre de Caussade calls the here and now the “sacrament of the present moment”, because it is the only moment where time touches eternity. It is the only moment where the love of God can reach out to us and we can reach out to him, to begin and to continue the journey for which every human being yearns deep down within them. It is the journey to the ultimate mystical marriage for which we all yearn, where our love and the love of Christ become one, in the Three in One, and to all eternity. This is what we call the ‘Good News’ because it is the best possible news that anyone can ever hear. But the bad news is that the infinite love that is continually available to us is different from all other forms
of energy, because love cannot be forced. We know this from our own experience as human beings. No matter how we might love someone or no matter how much they might love us, if that love is not welcome, if it is not received and reciprocated, then it will have no effect at all no matter how powerful it may be. It is the same with God’s love. That is why from the very beginning the first question asked by the great saints and mystics is not, “How do we love God?” but, “How do we freely choose to turn and open ourselves to receive his love?” It is only then that his love can begin to enter into our love in such a way that it can suffuse and surcharge our human loving with the divine. Then it can begin the ascent, in, with and through Christ, through whom this love is given, to contemplate the Father in whom our final destiny is brought to perfection. But, and there always seems to be a ‘but’ when we hear good news; if we do nothing to try to receive God’s love then nothing will happen except that instead of going forwards in the spiritual life we will go steadily backwards.
The Spiritual Escalator
Making the spiritual ascent to God is rather like trying to run up a downward escalator. The moment you stop moving steadily forwards is the moment when you start moving steadily downward. A hermit once said that they did not fear a precipice, for only a fool would fall over it. It is the steady downward slope that we should fear in the spiritual life. Going steadily forwards means finding daily time to do what St Peter told his listeners to do when he was the first to announce the Good News that God’s love had just been unleashed on the first Pentecost day. He told them to keep turning and opening themselves to God’s love every moment of their lives. Speaking to them in languages they could understand, he used the word ‘repent’. In Hebrew there is no such word for someone who has repented, but only for someone who is repenting. It is a continuous ongoing process that pertains to the very essence of the Christian life. This repenting or this turning and opening oneself to receive the love of God has to be learnt, and the place where it is learnt has traditionally been called prayer. That is why there is nothing more important in our lives
than prayer, because without it we cannot receive the only love that can make us sufficiently perfect to enter into the life of the Three in One to which we have been called. That is why St Teresa of Avila said, â€œThere is only one way to perfection and that is to pray; if anyone points in another direction then they are deceiving you.â€? There is nothing therefore more important than prayer. When human beings love their love is both physical and spiritual, but as God has no body he loves with his spirit alone. As a mark of respect we have come to call his love the Holy Spirit. As we keep turning and opening ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit in prayer, he continually draws us up like a supernatural magnet into Christ: then, in, with and through him into the life of the Three in One, to contemplate and enjoy the Fatherâ€™s love for all eternity.
It’s All in the Trying
Many years ago I was privileged to attend a retreat given by Cardinal Hume. He first quoted and then slightly modified the definition of prayer given in what used to be called the old penny Catechism. “Prayer,” he said is “trying to raise the heart and mind to God.” The word he introduced to the old definition was “trying”, to emphasise that the essence of prayer is all in the trying. The quality of our prayer is ultimately determined by the quality of our endeavour. It was for this reason that the great mystic and mother, Blessed Angela of Foligno said that prayer is, “The School of Divine Love”. In other words, it is the place where we learn how to love God by daily trying to raise our hearts and minds to him. I intend to introduce you to the different means and methods that tradition has given us to help us to keep trying to turn and open our minds and hearts to God in this little series, but first let me say this. There are no perfect means to help us keep trying to raise the heart and mind to God, just different means. What helps you at the beginning, may not help you later on. What helps you in the morning may not
help you in the evening. What helps me, might not help you. Remember the famous words of Dom John Chapman, “Pray as you can and not as you can’t.” The acid test is, does this means of prayer help me to keep trying to keep raising my heart and mind to God? One thing I will promise will happen when you seriously set aside some daily space and time for prayer. You will find that no matter what means of prayer you choose to use, you will be deluged by distractions. After a few weeks of distractions and temptations buzzing around in the head like a hornet’s nest, many people come to the conclusion that they cannot pray. They then tend to pack up giving a special time for prayer and only turn to God in extremis when they are in trouble. Here is the secret of prayer that has to be learned from the outset. The very distractions that you think are preventing you from praying are the very means that enable you to pray. That is why St Teresa of Avila said that you cannot pray without them. Each time you turn away from a distraction to turn back to God, you are in fact performing an act of selflessness; you are saying no, to self and yes, to God. If in fifteen minutes you have a hundred distractions, it means that one hundred times you have made one hundred acts of selflessness. Gradually, if you continue to do this day after day, then acts of selflessness lead to a habit of selflessness that helps you to pray better and better. That is why Blessed Angela of Foligno said that prayer is the School of Divine Love where loving is learnt by practising selfless loving.
If you have many distractions and you keep turning away from them, then you will get straight As when the examination comes round. If, however, you only have two â€“ one is dreaming about where you are going for your next summer holiday and the next is worrying about how to get the money to get there, then that is a different matter. Let us suppose that when you settle down to pray you fall asleep. Is that prayer? No. On the other hand, let us suppose that the moment you are preparing to pray you are swept up into an ecstasy. Is that prayer? No. In the first case you were doing nothing, and in the second case God was doing everything. Strictly speaking you were not praying at all in either case. Prayer is what happens between the sleep and the ecstasy where you are continually trying to raise your heart and mind to God, and in so doing learning how to love in the School of Divine Love.
It is in Giving that we Receive
Blessed Angela calls prayer the School of Divine Love, not just because it is the place where the selflessness that leads to love is learnt, but for something further. In the words of St Francis of Assisi, it is in giving that we receive. In other words, as we try to give ourselves to God in prayer he gives himself to us. In our very endeavour to turn away from distractions in order to raise our hearts and minds to God, our endeavour becomes the channel through which our love rises to God and Godâ€™s love descends into us. It is only then, as our weak human love is suffused and surcharged by the divine that we can begin to love God like never before. Then we can begin to observe the new commandment that Jesus taught us, which is to love God with our whole heart and mind, with our whole body and soul. At first glance it might be thought that this is not a new commandment, but the old commandment that the Jews in the Old Testament were taught. Yes, it was given to the Jews in the Old Testament, but they could never observe it as God wanted them to until Jesus came to show them how.
Remember when St Peter told the crowd that the love of God promised in the Old Testament was on that very day being unleashed upon all, he told them to repent or to turn and open their hearts and minds to receive it. However, he told them to do something else too. He told them to be baptised, to undergo the new initiation ceremony. This initiation would not so much mark their entrance into a new organisation, institution or religion, but their entrance into a person, the person of Jesus himself, now risen and glorified. So, now when they were told to continue repenting, trying to raise their hearts and minds to God, they would do it in him. But that is not all, for the same Holy Spirit whom he sent would so enter into their prayer that now they would be able to pray with him, and through him, to the Father who sent him in the first place. The daily battle against distractions now takes on a new meaning, for now it enables us to participate in Christ’s death and Resurrection: by daily dying each time we say ‘no’ to self, and ‘yes’ to God. Once prayer is seen in this context then what was originally seen as a pointless activity can be seen as the most important activity that we could ever perform. This book is called Prayer Made Simple but that does not mean that it is easy. After all, who would expect that learning the most important thing that any human being can learn would be easy? Learning to love in the School of Divine Love may not be easy, but it is the most important thing that we can learn, not just for our happiness on earth, but for our ultimate happiness hereafter.
The selflessness learnt in prayer helps us outside of prayer too, as the habit of selflessness enables us to love others, our families, our husbands and wives, our children and others too who have need of our love. Now we see that the second of the new commandments becomes possible. It is so often misquoted as commanding us to love others as ourselves. I am afraid that is the teaching of the Old Testament. The second of the new commandments, as given to us by Jesus himself, is to â€œlove one another; just as I have loved youâ€? (Jn 13:34). This can only become possible when, as we try to love him in prayer, our endeavour becomes the channel that enables his love to enter into us and into our loving, enabling him to love others through us.