Tag Archives: prayer

Apart from God is nothingness

Thinking about prayer, my desire to pray and the priest’s duty to be man of prayer, I found this reflection on prayer, dependence on God helpful. I think Dom Augustin’s essay is quite good at getting the heart of reality. Perhaps it be helpful for you, too.

The reasons for
praying are as numerous as they are imperative. They correspond to all our
needs without exception, and to all occasions. They are also in accord with the
favors we receive in answer to our prayers and to God’s rights over His
creatures.

Our divine
Master’s word has explored and lighted up everything, our human world and God’s
world. He revealed the powerlessness of the first when He said: “Without Me,
you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

contemplative.jpg

We have read
these words often enough, but without penetrating them. We no more understand
the “nothing” than we do the “all.” The nature of our being does not allow us
to understand it. We do not look at our tiny being as it actually is in the light
of the “all.” We do not compare the hours of our life, so short and transient,
with God’s changeless eternity. We do not see the place we occupy in the
universe as compared to His immensity, which infinitely overflows our tiny
universe, and could embrace numberless others, far greater than ours. Above
all, we forget that our being is not ours. 

Moment by moment we receive the tiny
drop of being that God designs to give us. The only reason we have it is
because He gives it to us; and having received it, immediately it begins to
dissolve; it slips through our fingers and is replaced by another which escapes
us with the same rapidity. All this being comes from God and returns to Him; it
depends upon Him alone. We are like vessels into which He pours that being drop
by drop, so as to create a bond of dependence upon Him, whereby His Being is
manifested and made known and, when lovingly welcomed, is glorified.

Prayer is this
intelligent vessel, which knows, loves, thanks and glorifies
. It says, in
effect: My God, the present moment and the light by which I am aware of it,
comes from You. My mind, which appreciates it; the upward leaping of my heart
which responds to that recognition and thanks You for it; the living bond
created by this moment — all is from You. Everything comes from You. All that
is within me, all that is not You; all created beings and their movements; my
whole being and its activities all is from You. Without You nothing exists;
apart from You is just nothingness; apart from Your Being there is merely non-
existence
.

How this
complete dependence, upon which I have so often and so deeply meditated, ought
to impress me! I feel that it plunges me into the depths of reality, into
truth
. Nevertheless, it does not completely express that reality. There was a
time when this nothingness rose up in opposition to “Him Who is”. It wanted to
be independent of Him; it put itself forward, refused to obey Him and cut
itself off from Him. It made war on Him and became His enemy. It destroyed His
Image in the heart’s citadel where hitherto He had reigned, and usurped His
Throne. These are only metaphors, and they do not do justice to the real horror
of the plight created by sin; but we must be content with them, as they are all
we have. We must remember, however, that they are completely inadequate.

And every day we
add to this predicament, already so grave. Every personal sin of ours is an
acceptance of this state: we choose it, we love it and prefer it to union with
God
. We lap up, as it were, these sins like water. We take pleasure in plunging
into them as into a stream, the waters of which rise persistently, and in time
overwhelm us and carry us away. They toss us about like a straw, and submerge
us. Thoughts, feelings, words, really bad acts and innumerable omissions fill
our days and nights, and intermingle, more or less consciously, with our every
movement, and at all hours. They spoil the purity of our ordinary actions such
as eating and drinking; they introduce themselves into our sleep and mix with our
waking movements, and with our external acts as with our most intimate
thoughts. Because of our fallen state, everything becomes matter and occasion
to drag us down further into evil.

Dom Augustin Guillerand, O. Cart. (1877-1945), The Prayer of the Presence of God

The Pope’s brief thoughts on the sacred Liturgy, prayer and belief

Pope Benedict spoke of “teaching the art of prayer, encouraging participation in the liturgy and the Sacraments, wise and relevant preaching, catechetical instruction, and spiritual and moral guidance. From this foundation faith flourishes in Christian virtue, and gives rise to vibrant parishes and generous service to the wider community” to the Nigerian bishops making their ad limina.

 

Later the Pope said: “The celebration of the liturgy is a privileged source of renewal in Christian living” and “to maintain the proper balance between moments of contemplation and external gestures of participation and joy in the Lord”.

Evangelization & Prayer

St Paul preaching.jpgEvangelizing is an act of service done out of love, like parents when they teach their children to pray. They are giving their children the best they have. They are giving them the foundations of their faith. This is the reason that should impel the growth of … the Church: to grow more so as to evangelize more; to grow in holiness so as to be better witnesses of Christ in the world. To grow in holiness, to grow in love, to grow in hope so as to bring others to faith, love, and hope.

What would Saint Paul tell us today if he came to see us? What would he ask of us? What would he pass on to us? Certainly, he would remind us of the words he once wrote to the community in Corinth: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor 9:24)Saint Paul insists very much on prayer. He said: “Pray always.” Prayer is conversation with God; it is the nourishment of the apostle, of the evangelizer. Today, in these times when we live in such adverse environments, prayer becomes even more important. Prayer shows us that our commitment to evangelization comes from Christ. To evangelize is to give what we have received; it is to preach the Christ I have met in prayer. Saint Paul began his work of evangelization after three years of solitude and prayer in the deserts of Arabia. Contemplation and apostolate always go hand in hand.

Prayer helps you “to know the love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled to measure of all the fullness of God”[viii] and makes it so that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you may be rooted and established in love.” (eph 3:17)

Cardinal Franc Rodé, CM

December 14, 2008

Pope Benedict reproposes the practice of fasting for Lent

As you heard in the Epiphany Proclamation Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 25th. The Holy Father, with the following letter, is giving us a plan on how to fruitfully observe Lent.

Battle of carnival & lent Brueghel.jpgAt the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian tradition – prayer, almsgiving, fasting – to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God’s power that, as we shall hear in the Paschal Vigil, “dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride” (Paschal Præconium). For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting. Indeed, Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry” (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah’s fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter.

We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that “fasting was ordained in Paradise,” and “the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam.” He thus concludes: ” ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence” (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God. Such was the case with Ezra, who, in preparation for the journey from exile back to the Promised Land, calls upon the assembled people to fast so that “we might humble ourselves before our God” (8,21). The Almighty heard their prayer and assured them of His favor and protection. In the same way, the people of Nineveh, responding to Jonah’s call to repentance, proclaimed a fast, as a sign of their sincerity, saying: “Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?” (3,9). In this instance, too, God saw their works and spared them.

In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the “true food,” which is to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.

The practice of fasting is very present in the first Christian community (cf. Acts 13,3; 14,22; 27,21; 2 Cor 6,5). The Church Fathers, too, speak of the force of fasting to bridle sin, especially the lusts of the “old Adam,” and open in the heart of the believer a path to God. Moreover, fasting is a practice that is encountered frequently and recommended by the saints of every age. Saint Peter Chrysologus writes: “Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself” (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).

In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to “no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him … he will also have to live for his brethren” (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).

The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.

At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, Saint John admonishes: “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him – how does the love of God abide in him?” (3,17). Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est, 15). By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger. It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive attitude towards our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the Word of God, prayer and almsgiving. From the beginning, this has been the hallmark of the Christian community, in which special collections were taken up (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27), the faithful being invited to give to the poor what had been set aside from their fast (Didascalia Ap., V, 20,18). This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.

From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: “Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.”

Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 21). May every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Causa nostrae laetitiae, accompany and support us in the effort to free our heart from slavery to sin, making it evermore a “living tabernacle of God.”

With these wishes, while assuring every believer and ecclesial community of my prayer for a
Pope blesses.jpg fruitful Lenten journey, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 11 December 2008.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

The Acceptable Prayer

prayer1.jpgQuestion: How can a person know that his prayer is acceptable to God? (1 Pt 2:5)

Answer: When a person makes sure that he does not wrong his neighbor in any way whatsover, then let him be sure that his prayer is acceptable to God (see Ex 20:16-7; Mt 19:19). But if someone harms his neighbor in any way whatsoever, either physically or spiritually, his prayer is an abomination and is unacceptable. For the wailing of the one who is being wronged will never allow this person’s prayer to come before the face of God. And if indeed he does not quickly reconcile with his neighbor, he will certainly not go unpunished  his whole life by his own sins, for it is written that whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven (Mt 18:18).

Tim Vivian, ed., Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers. (Collegeville: Cistercian Studies, 2008).

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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