Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Prayer

We ought always to pray, and not to faint. Luke 18:1
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thess 5:16
Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Matt 6:9

I blame a late Thanksgiving for doing my Nov. post in Dec. This was another favorite chapter because like Tweety Bird I can say, “I did! I did! I did pway.” Nowadays, my heart and mind are lifted to God many times throughout the day. It is as natural for me to be with Him as it is to be with my family or a good friend and in prayer, time and distance from loved ones dissolves. I didn’t come by this at once, rather in small steps, first by thanksgiving and sorrow for my sins, later petitioning, and still later in contemplation. I find it fascinating that I lose nothing of myself by being open to Him. I am still me, but being with Him makes me as I ought to be. There are times even now when I don’t want to talk to God, but it’s laughable that I can even try to keep a secret from Him. He knows the depths of my heart even when I don’t want to admit to some of my longings and desires. Even if I begin my prayers like a recalcitrant child, I end up in His arms, content. 

When I lost my faith at age 12, I didn’t stop praying immediately. In fact, I wept because I thought I lost my best friend, but a few months later, my mind hardly turned to Jesus, and a few years later, I gave Him no thought at all. And I can honestly say that it was the path to perdition. It is so easy to become your own god, to do what is right for yourself (moral relativism), and not give a care to anyone else. I am not the most charitable person on this planet, but in my 20s, I was downright callous. The poor and suffering were not even worth a thought, a tear, a prayer. And yet, prayer … sweet hour of prayer. It is the *one talent* we are all given, by which we can gain all other graces. I never thought about this until St. Alphonsus pointed it out in this chapter and which was discussed in a beautiful homily by Father Ryan: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-one-talent-prayer-gains-all-rest.html   
St. Alphonsus says, “The worship of God takes the first place in the order of moral virtues; it is occupied more with God and leads us nearer to Him than the others. For every Christian, therefore, who is striving after perfection it must be a matter of no little concern to make this virtue his own in the highest degree. Now the easiest means of doing so, a means that we can employ at all times and in all places, is found in prayer. Whether it be a prayer of praise or thanksgiving or impenetration or propitiation, we are worshipping God, for every prayer is a humble acknowledgement of the greatness or goodness or fidelity or mercy of God.”
“Vocal prayer, or prayer pronounced by the lips, is very pleasing to God because by it the endless Majesty of God is acknowledged and glorified. … In order, however, that vocal prayer may tend to God’s glory and our own salvation, it must be accompanied by attention and devotion. Such prayer is like sweet-smelling incense that is agreeable to God and wins for us treasures of graces. On the other hand, prayer without recollection is insulting and offensive to God and calls down His wrath on the offender."

OUCH!!! I am mortified at all the times I have given lip-service but my mind was elsewhere. St. Alphonsus always gives it to me straight.
We can blame the devil for the worldly distractions. St. Alphonsus says, “It’s because he desires to rob us of the benefit we derive from fervent prayer; and on the other he wishes to make us guilty of disrespect towards God, and therefore deserving of punishment.” As always, he gives some practical suggestions. “Offer Him beforehand (Mass) the prayers you intend to say, and beg Him to preserve you from distractions. During prayer, avoid haste... Abstain from everything that is incompatible with interior recollection, ex. gazing at every distracting object, speaking with others, etc. Interior attention is threefold: it may be directed to the words you utter, or to their sense, or, finally, to God. When during prayer, your mind is fixed on God with a view to adore Him, to thank Him, to love Him or to ask Him for His graces.
“The easiest means of practicing vocal prayer consists in uttering fervent ejaculations. These pious outpourings of the heart need not be restricted to any particular place or time. They are in order at all times and in all places, at work, at meals, at recreation, at home or away from home. They may take the form of acts of desire, conformity, love, oblation, or self-denial; they may be acts of petition, thanksgiving, humility, confidence and the like. ... Those who frequently utter ejaculations close the door against Satan and prevent his constant annoyance and wicked thoughts." Some examples:
O my God, I desire only Thee and nothing else.
I give myself wholly to Thee.

My God, I love Thee.
My Love, my All!


That last ejaculation was sometimes all I could say when I was in severe pain. Just "Jesus." On better days, I find myself singing various hymns or parts of the Mass, like the Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei.

St. Alphonsus reminds us, “The invocation of the holy names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph should have first place. All that we love and desire and hope to possess is summed up in these beautiful names. Jesus Christ has not saved us only once; He is continually saving us by His merits, when in accordance with His promise, He frees us from the danger of sin as often as we invoke His Holy Name. Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, that I will do. John 14:13

"With the holy name of Jesus we must unite the beautiful name of Mary. It is so powerful that all hell trembles when it is pronounced. ... If the King of Heaven and earth conferred on Joseph the honor of being the foster father of His Beloved Son and the protector of the holy and immaculate Mother, surely it behooves us to honor him and invoke his powerful intercession.

“You may also, without uttering a word, raise your eyes to Heaven or cast a loving glance at the tabernacle or the crucifix. … The best acts of love, of course, are those that well up from the depth of the heart at the impulse of the Holy Ghost."

St. Alphonsus then focuses the remainder of the chapter on silent prayer and meditation. He says, "Our Divine Redeemer had no need to retire to a lonely place to pray; for as His blessed soul was constantly in the presence of His heavenly Father … He did this to teach us the necessity of interior prayer."
"Mental prayer is like a mirror. If you have a speck of dirt on your face and come before a looking glass, you see the dirt at once and remove it. Had you not looked in the mirror, you would not have thought of the dirt nor washed it away. So it is with mental prayer; we are standing before the mirror of our soul. It is then we recognize our faults and the danger we are in, and accordingly we take measures to rid ourselves of the faults and to escape from the dangers that threaten us."

He then gives a method that is in three parts: preparation, consideration and conclusion. Since this post is already too long, I direct you to: St. Alphonsus' method of mental prayer

I agree with the saint completely when he says, "Without prayer it is absolutely impossible to lead a virtuous life." If you do not pray, do not despair. You can start now. Let the Jim Reeves song give you hope. It still brings tears to my eyes. I used to sing these songs with my mother. Requiescat in pace, Ai.


Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Thanks for sharing so much of your self here, Vijaya! Have you blogged about your journey from atheism back to faith. I would love to read that.

Marcia said...

Oh, I love the picture of you and the kitty! Prayer is like that. We can have these long, dry periods, and then wonderful seasons of prayer where that's almost all you want to do. If we draw near to God, he draws near to us.

Vijaya said...

Joyce, I've been meaning to write about my journey home in a more systematic manner and I will let you know. Thank you so much for your interest and for reading. When you find a treasure like this, you just want to shout it out from the rooftops.

Marcia, I hope to never, ever have a 30-yr dry period. That was painful ... but the Lord is so good. He never stops gazing at us.