by Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Our Lord wishes people to pray from the heart. If you’re not praying from your heart you should try to. “Prayer must not be long drawn out but it must be full of reverence, devotion and attention.” Always pray for reparation for your shortcomings and then for the crimes against God perpetrated in the world.
It is a great grace to be allowed to pray. Prayer is a gift from God, so pray in a calm and joyful way. Note that I’m not trying to tell you specifically how to pray, except for the different examples of prayer as quoted from Bishop Gross’s writings. This especially relates to prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. If there are 200 people adore the Christ, the Messiah, the Healer, our Brother and Friend, there may be 200 different ways of prayer being used. Prayer is the elevation of our minds and hearts to God. Each person prays in a way most befitting the zeal of his or her soul influenced by his or her drive, psychology, physical condition and individual way of expressing love. Bishop Gross writes, “You will only begin to pray well when you have learned to discipline your thoughts and fancies.” Our relationship with Almighty God should be that of a loving child. Nothing in God’s eyes is really small or insignificant. Our prayer is important to Him because we are telling Him that we accept His love and that we love Him, too. So let your prayer be a message of love!
The Church recognizes that there needs to be just a little structure in prayer. First, one praises the Lord for all He has done for us. Second, we should be sorry for all the times we've gone against Him. Third, we may make some petitions, not whole telephone books of petitions, mind you, but a few over which we pray with great zeal. Also, it is totally unnecessary when speaking to Jesus, to quote whole sections of Scriptural texts. He knows the Scriptures, He LIVED the Scriptures. Jesus wants us to pray like children do, from the heart. Many kids will, before getting into bed, kneel by the side of the bed and pray...pray for Mom and Dad, for siblings, for the teacher maybe, aunts and uncles who visited. And it is not often that a child will think of wishing something for him or herself when the before-bed prayers are said... as children are they are open and honest and most charitable toward others. Jesus wants us to leave the baggage of the day behind when we pray, and pray from the heart, from the soul, as if this was our first and last prayer. Oh yes, before I forget, after the petitions, comes the fourth section of prayer... thanksgiving. As long these these four elements, however muddled, are a part of your prayer, you have really prayed.
Some people claim they aren't any good at praying... well, have you tried? Like the Sacrifice of the Mass, prayer succeeds if we bring something of ourselves into the action. What have you contributed to the prayer, or are you praying without thinking about it? A feller came to me some years ago, and complained that "God never answers my prayers!" I asked him, well, what about your knee replacement... that came from God too, right? Well, we don't think of that because the hospital and the doctors did it. Jesus created them, too! All knowledge comes from God. The knowledge that created the operation itself, the pills we swallow, albeit at high cost, even those are created by God's will. I'll bet that most doctors know this deep down. Unfortunately, the final bill doesn't always reflect the mercy and compassion that God also doles out. Not all of us have health insurance, but you know, God never leaves us in the lurch completely. He gives us a roof over our head and something to eat.
Now I can hear a homeless person say... what is he talking about? He's not speaking reality. Well, my heart goes out to you, but if you keep Jesus central in your heart, and lay all your problems at the foot of His Cross, He will protect you and keep you. And, ask others to pray for you, please. I know that there are people who fall through the cracks in the social services system. My heart cries for them. There are so many people, who through no fault of their own, are laid off by uncaring corporations and lose their house and are forced to live on the streets. Yet we have the audacity to lump them all into a global, faceless bunch of humanity and say, those bums, let them get a job! Did you know that you can't get a job in this country unless you have a mailing address? You cannot receive public assistance unless you have a legal mailing address, and, you cannot even get a post office box unless you have a legal mailing address. Did you know that? Probably not. Admittedly, in a town such as Vero Beach, there are fewer people out on the street, but they are there. And, in cities like Miami, New York, and Cincinnati, where I've spent some time during my life, the homeless are countless. There they are often herded from area to area by the police, and there is also an element of criminals among them which is what gives the homeless such a bad name. But it is never justified to make mass judgments. First of all, we shouldn't judge at all. Secondly, every person is an individual with his or her own story. Most of all, we are all children of God, even though some have no religion at all.
People who are close to Jesus always have a ready smile. Have you ever noticed that? Yes, they laugh easily, show excitement, enthusiasm. They emote... why, because they are happy within. Sure they may have personal problems, health perhaps, but they know and trust Jesus will take care of those and thus with joy in their heart, they smile and show you their caring and love. This is not just putting up a false front. No, this is real.
People, on the other hand, who are living in sin also emote, but they emote in the negative. Their faces are devoid of any sign of emotion, they are living in despair, they are at best, broken people. They have no enthusiasm, no verve, no drive, and no joy whatsoever. They are the sourpusses of this world, and no one really cares, they say... but God cares. God will meet you halfway if you only reach out to Him.
I would like to recommend to my readers an excellent booklet by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. "Prayer Primer." It's a fairly new book, but Fr. Dubay is very well known for a bigger book "Fire Within" which is a must read for all who seriously seek a contemplative life. I read it when I was a monk, but had known of it for many years as Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR used it as the basis of one of his lecture tapes, which I've listened to about 10 years ago.
A great deal of time should be spent in thanksgiving after one has received Holy Communion. Nowadays, priests will sit down, even if only briefly, after they have finished distributing Holy Communion. And this time, as a proper thanksgiving, is much too short. So on your way home, and at home you should sit or kneel down and really thank Jesus for the Gift of Himself. You may imagine Him kneeling with you because He is there. He is in your soul. This is a time of great intimacy between you and Him. This is a time for praise and thanksgiving.
The Bishop writes, “The idea of reward should not enter into your service. Always and everywhere people want something, even in prayer. You want, at least, to experience the quiet satisfaction of feeling you have accomplished something in having become so devout. Rather you should serve Almighty God, purely from motives of honor and worship, and not at all for any satisfaction of your own.”
Bishop Gross makes a very important point here. Our prayer should be a message of love, reciprocating the love Jesus gives us. Sure, you may express your requests for other peoples’ healing and well being. Don’t begin a Holy Hour with “I want.” Start it by expressing your love for Jesus, and glory and praise Him. Then meditate on His greatness perhaps and eventually get around to praying for others and one or two requests for yourself.
A time of prayer could be divided into four parts, 1) Adoration, 2) Penance (request for forgiveness), 3) Intentions and Petitions, and 4) Thanksgiving. About 10-15 minutes for each part isn’t very much time but it’s a solution to organizing your prayer time. One way of praying is before the Blessed Sacrament and this is often called a Holy Hour. Can I pray the Rosary during a Holy Hour? Of course, but try to meditate on the Mysteries of the Rosary and think about what you’re praying. Try to keep your eyes focuses on Jesus in the tabernacle or monstrance, as long as this helps you express your love for Jesus and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Bishop Gross writes, “Progress depends entirely upon the attitude you have taken up towards Almighty God. If you are cold, perverse, our Lord will seem cold to you.” But, if your relationship with God is one of loving attention and a continual effort to sin not more then great graces will help you do even better.
If you experience dryness in prayer, and that can happen from time to time, you will be strengthened by grace to weather the desert. Then your prayer will be one of dedicated faithfulness and not feelings.
A very important point—when you desire to pray well (prayer, because it is a gift from God, needs only our yes, so it is an act of the will) and nothing comes to mind due to dryness or grief—you have prayed because you willed it. Sometimes the most effective prayer is “Jesus, I love You. I’m not doing so well. Please help me. Thank You!”
Our devotion to Our Lord Jesus is the most important part of our lives. Our love for Jesus must be total and unique. Jesus loves each one of us in “a union of wills so perfect that but one will, one spirit, one heart, is to be discerned,” writes Bishop Gross. The bishop describes the life of interior prayer, specifically of contemplation in a very complete way. But not having experienced this depth of interior prayer myself, it is difficult to describe.
I know some lay people who have experienced contemplation. Those who have shared this or these experiences with me have spoken of total detachment of the senses, total detachment of anything not from Jesus. The mind should be totally free from self-seeking experiences otherwise they will not be able to recognize God’s true love to its fullest extent.
Bishop Gross, in speaking to contemplative nuns, writes, “You should cultivate a greater leaning toward suffering, at least to mortification (penance), than to consolation. This is a very important point. Immolate your longing for the sweetness of the inner life at the feet of Jesus, and try, with all your hearts to become quite indifferent as to whether comfort is accorded you, or dryness and desolation. Have no other desire but that Jesus should possess Himself of your entire being, and wholly reign in your heart.”
If you really think about his last statement, it makes sense. If a person suffers without complaint, we are better able to detach ourselves from the suffering—so suffering does not become a source of distraction in prayer. If one is detached from little complaints (suffering, etc.) and inconveniences one can truly elevate oneself to the mind of God.
Bishop Gross writes, “The only real love is that which spends more than it possesses, and does more than it can, which is never content with its performances, but even longs more and more to give—to give all—and never asks if it has done enough.”
We are called to perfection. All of us! Love of God, deep love, is what makes saints. Jesus made this very clear when he was on earth. He said, “Abide in my love. …This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:9,12) The bishop writes, “Our sanctity is determined only be the degree of love we entertain for Christ.”
If we have ever loved anyone, be it a parent, spouse or sibling, we know what true love is (or, at least, what it should be). We also know that those whom we love like to hear us say that. Jesus also likes to hear us tell Him that we love Him. If we tell Him “I love you, Jesus,” but you commit frequent sins, then we are really just paying Him lip service. Sin takes away His grace and without God’s grace we simply can’t accomplish anything. Tell Jesus that you wish your love for Him to grow all the time. Your aim must be higher. Become “so steeped in devotion to Jesus, so enlightened by His Radiance, so captivated by His Will, so influenced by His love, so dependent upon His leading, so at one with His outlook, so in accordance with His inclinations, so receptive to Him that there is not a simple moment in your life spent away from Him or independent of Him.”
All this cannot be attained quickly. For some it takes years, for others a lifetime. The sooner you start, the better. Start by making use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then building on that by attending Holy Mass when you should and more often, by receiving the Holy Eucharist whenever you attend Holy Mass and by attempting to lead a sin-free live. God will give you the grace to pray. The ego must be silenced, the self must take 2nd place and all this is possible because the goal is so sublime and the deeper relationship with Jesus so desirable that those who attain this level of interior prayer life will find a piece of Heaven on Earth. Joy! It takes childlike confidence in God, total trust. In your ascent to interior prayer, please remember this writer who loves Jesus very much, too. Thank you.