For my Moral and Spiritual Theology Class we had to write two one page single-spaced spiritual essays. I wrote both of these last weekend when we were snowed in. I think they are pretty decent and hopfully offer some insights. For the first essay we had to pick any quote we wanted from our readings and expound on it by making connections with other quotes from the other readings. In the Second essay we had to pick a quote from one of the readings that defined prayer and then expound on that using quotes from the other readings as well. I think they are blog worthy. Hope you all enjoy!
Father Jacques Philippe in his book, Searching For and Maintaining Peace, writes, “In order to understand how fundamental it is for the development of the Christian life to strive to acquire and maintain peace of heart, the first thing which we must be convinced is that all good that we can do comes from God and from Him alone: Apart from Me, you can do nothing, Jesus said (John 15:5)” (pg. 3). This is the key to the Christian life. Often times on our journey we get frustrated because we ourselves try to be in control. We must put God in control of everything in order to be successful in our Christian walk. Mother Teresa affected the lives of so many people because she had this exact attitude. She writes, “I don’t think there is anyone who needs God’s help and grace as much as I do. Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak. I think that is why God uses me. Because I cannot depend on my own strength, I rely on Him twenty-four hours a day.” (No Greater Love 3). She recognized that God used her because she saw that without Him she could do nothing. St. Augustine is a saint we can easily relate to with our struggles to depend on God in all things. He spent many years being restless and struggling because he wanted to be in control and cling to his sins. In the Confessions he writes, “For you have made us and called us to yourself Oh Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you Oh Lord” (Book 1 Chapter 1). Later he also writes, “You are the strength of my soul; make your way in and shape it to yourself, that it may be yours to have and to hold, free from stain or wrinkle” (Book 10 Chapter 1).
So how does one go about doing this? It is a lot easier said than done. The first thing one must do is to know their place in God’s plan; to allow one’s self to be God’s servant and know one’s limits that are part of one’s humanity. St. Bernard writes, “The impudence of the sinner displeases God as much as the modesty of the penitent gives him pleasure. You will please him more readily if you live within the limits proper to you and do not set your sights at things beyond you” (Sermon 3:4). In other words to rely on God requires humility. Secondly, we must seek to do God’s will and His will alone. St. Catherine of Sienna writes, “O sweet, eternal will, you have taught us the way to discover your will! And if, most merciful Father, we were to ask your gentle, loving Son about this way, he would answer as follows: ‘Dearest children, if you want to discover and know the fruit of my will, dwell always in the cell of your soul’”(Pg. 24). This stems back to becoming humble. St. Catherine goes on to say, “This cell is a well containing soil as our own poverty, knowing that of ourselves we are nothing. In this knowledge we appreciate that our very existence comes to us from God” (Pg. 24). It is important to recognize that when we rely on God’s will we will be happier than if we try and do things our way. Greatness lies not in what the world tells us but in what God desires for us. St. Therese of Lisieux writes, “It pleases Him to create great Saints, who may be compared with the lilies or the rose; but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets…The happier they are to be as He wills, the more perfect they are” (Pg. 2). Lastly, in order to accept God’s will and do it in humility prayer is necessary. When we pray we grow in love and become more trusting of our Father. Fr. Dubay writes, “anyone who grows in love grows in happiness, even to the point of ‘rejoicing in the Lord always’ (Phil 4:4)”(Pg. 80).
God has a great plan for all of us, but if we are not rooted in Him we can go nowhere. If we want to let go and put God in control then the questions we must ask ourselves are, “How can I let Jesus act in me? How can I permit the grace of God to freely operate in my life” (Philippe 4)? For only when we allow God to take control will we come to our true fulfillment.
Simon Tugwell writes, “‘Prayer,’ according to one ancient definition, ‘is keeping company with God.’ And that really throws us right in at the deep end. Prayer is not another part for us to act, another skill for us to master, another subject to study for an examination: it is a relationship, and a relationship with God” (vii). In order to cultivate any sort of relationship in our lives we have to put effort into it and spend time with the person. If we want a relationship with God we must pray. Mother Teresa writes, “My secret is very simple: I pray. Through prayer I become one in love with Christ. I realize that praying to Him is loving Him” (No Greater Love 3). Despite prayer not being a skill for us to master, it is something many of us struggle with. Bernard Bro writes, “One of the first observations to be made about our prayer life is that we do not know how to pray. The Apostles themselves recognized this very soon and make this request to Christ” (Pg. 28).
As mentioned above, prayer is about relationship with God, but how do we enter into that relationship? Just as the Apostles asked how to pray we must ask that same question. St. Catherine of Sienna writes of three kinds of prayer. “The first is unceasing: it is a holy and constant desire which prays in the sight of God, no matter what you are doing…The second kind is vocal prayer: you engage in this when you say the office or other prayers aloud. This is meant to bring you to the third kind, namely mental prayer”(Pg. 22). While all three of these types of prayer are good, if we want to truly grow in the Christian life one has to commit to mental prayer or meditation. “Just as you and I get to know people by meeting, listening, and speaking to them, so in meditation we get to know God interpersonally by conversing with him in a quiet place…We listen to him speaking to us through the beauties of nature, Sacred Scripture, the texts of the liturgy, the lives and writings of the saints” (Dubay 67). While prayer can be difficult and often times we get discouraged because we don’t feel like we are praying well, we must persevere. “If you want to pray better, you must pray more” (No Greater Love 4).
As we grow in love and prayer God may stir our hearts and call us to a deeper form of prayer called contemplation. However, contemplation is not something we can achieve on our own. “While meditative prayer involves reading, thinking, imagining, drawing conclusions, and conversing inwardly with the indwelling of the Trinity, contemplation is none of these things. Rather it is a real awareness of God, desiring and loving him, which we do not produce but simply receive from him when we are ready for it” (Dubay 85). St. John of the Cross refers to the soul called to contemplation in his writings. He writes that a person, “should allow the soul to remain in rest and quietude even though it may seem very obvious to them that they are doing nothing and wasting time…Through patience and perseverance in prayer, they will be doing a great deal without activity on their part” (Pg. 185). We can dispose ourselves to contemplation, but we cannot attain it on our own. In order to dispose ourselves to it one must, “lift up your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart”(Cloud of Unknowing Pg. 48).
Prayer is the key to being in relationship with God. It is only through prayer that we can come to know and love God more and in the process come to know ourselves so that we can perfect ourselves in holiness. St. Bernard writes, “I assure you my sons, I find joy in nothing else if he is not here, who alone gives me joy. And I implore him not to come empty-handed but full of grace and truth…I need both of these: I need truth that I may not be able to hide from him, and grace that I may not wish to hide” (Sermon 74, III, 8). Prayer helps us grow in perfection and find joy in His presence!