FAITH is the oil which fills our lamps and prepares us for Christ’s coming (Matt 25). But how do we attain this faith, or rather, fill our lamps? The answer is through prayer.
Prayer attends to the grace we need… —Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), n.2010
Many people begin the new year making a “New Year’s Resolution” — a promise to change a certain behavior or accomplish some goal. Then brothers and sisters, be resolved to pray. So few Catholics see the importance of God today because they no longer pray. If they prayed consistently, their hearts would be filled more and more with the oil of faith. They would encounter Jesus in a very personal way, and be convinced within themselves that He exists and is who He says He is. They would be given a divine wisdom by which to discern these days we live in, and more of a heavenly perspective of all things. They would encounter Him when they seek Him with a childlike trust…
…seek him in integrity of heart; because he is found by those who do not test him, and manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him. (Wisdom 1:1-2)
EXTRAORDINARY TIMES, SUPERNATURAL MEASURES
It is incredibly significant that after 2000 years, God is sending His mother to this generation. And what is she saying? In many of her messages, she calls us to pray—to “pray, pray, pray.” Perhaps it could be restated another way:
Fill your lamps! Fill your lamps! Fill your lamps!
What happens when we don’t pray? The consequences can be tragic. The Catechism teaches that,
Prayer is the life of the new heart. —CCC, n.2697
If you aren’t praying, then the new heart given you in Baptism is dying. It is often imperceptible, the way a tree dies over a long period of time. Hence, many many Catholics today are living, but they aren’t alive—alive with the supernatural life of God, bearing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity and self-control—fruit which can transform the world within and around them.
The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father’s vine which bears fruit on its branches. —CCC, n. 1108
Prayer is what draws the sap of the Holy Spirit into the soul, illuminating one’s mind, strengthening one’s character, and making us more and more like the Divine. This grace does not come cheaply. It is drawn through a yearning, desiring, and reaching of the soul toward God.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
This is called “prayer of the heart,” speaking to God from the heart, as though you are speaking to a friend:
Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. —CCC, St. Teresa of Avila, n.2709
If grace came cheaply, our fallen nature would soon take it for granted (see Why Faith?).
THE RISK OF APOSTASY
Aside from losing supernatural grace, the un-praying heart risks losing its faith altogether. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus warned the Apostles to “watch and pray.” Instead, they slept. And when they were awoken by the sudden approach of the guards, they fled. Those who aren’t praying and drawing near to God today, consumed instead in human affairs, risk falling asleep. When the time of temptation comes, they may easily fall away. Those Christians who know this is a time of preparation, and yet ignore it, allowing themselves to be distracted by the anxieties, riches, and pleasures of this life, are rightly called by Christ “foolish” (Lk 8:14; Matt 25:8).
So if you have been foolish, begin again. Forget pining about whether you’ve prayed enough or prayed at all. Perhaps a heartfelt cry from the heart today will be more powerful than a year’s worth of scattered prayers. God can fill your lamp, and fill it quickly. But I would not take that for granted, for you do not know when your life will be asked of you, when you will face the Judge and the prospect of eternity in Heaven or Hell.
A PRAYER JOURNEY
I grew up as a very hyperactive child, easily distracted, readily bored. The idea of spending time in quiet before the Lord was a difficult prospect. But at the age of 10, I was drawn to the daily Mass next to my school. There, I learned the beauty of silence, developing a taste for the contemplative and a hunger for our Eucharistic Lord. Through prayer meetings which my parents attended at the local parish, cf. Charismatic – Part VII I was able to experience the prayer life of others who came to have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. cf. Personal Relationship with Jesus
Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. —POPE BENEDICT XVI; Encyclical Letter: Deus Caritas Est, “God is Love”; n.1
Thankfully, I was graced with parents who taught me how to pray. When I was a teenager, I’d come up stairs for breakfast and see my dad’s bible open on the table and a copy of The Word Among Us (a Catholic bible guide). I would read a daily Mass reading and a small meditation. Through this simple exercise, my mind began to be transformed.
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Rom 12:2)
I began to hear God speaking to me personally through His Word. Christ became more and more real to me. I too began to experience a…
…vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. —CCC, n. 2558
Indeed, said St. Jerome, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Through daily reading of the Scriptures, you encounter God’s presence because this Word is living, and this Word teaches and transforms because Christ is the Word! A few years ago, a priest and I spent the week reading the Scriptures and listening to the Holy Spirit speak to us through them. It was incredibly powerful how the Word coursed through our souls. One day, he suddenly exclaimed, “This Word is living! In seminary, we treated the bible as though it were a biological species to be dissected and dismantled, a cold, literary text devoid of the supernatural.” Indeed, modernism has driven out of many souls and seminaries the sacred and mystical.
“we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.” —Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Ch. 2, On Revelation: Denzinger 1786 (3005), Vatican I
I continued to attend Mass in university. But I was greeted with temptation after temptation and began to discover that my faith and my spiritual life were not as strong as I thought. I truly needed Jesus more than ever. I went to Confession regularly, experiencing the constant love and mercy of God. It was in the crucible of these trials that I began to cry out to God. Or rather, I was faced with either abandoning my faith, or turning to Him again and again, despite the bitter weakness of my flesh. It was in this state of spiritual poverty that I learned that humility is a way to God’s heart.
…humility is the foundation of prayer. —CCC, n. 2559
And I discovered that He will never turn me away, now matter how sinful I am, when I come back to Him in truth and humility:
…a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn. (Psalm 51:19)
Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet… A soul’s greatest wretchedness does not enkindle Me with wrath; but rather, My Heart is moved towards it with great mercy. —Divine Mercy in My Soul, Diary of St. Faustina, n. 699; 1739
Confession, therefore, is and should be an integral part of your prayer life. John Paul II recommended and practiced weekly confession, which has now become one of the greatest graces in my life:
It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this Sacrament of conversion and reconciliation. —BLESSED JOHN PAUL II; Vatican, Mar. 29 (CWNews.com)
Later in life, I began to pray the Rosary consistently. Through this relationship with Christ’s mother—my Mother—my spiritual life seemed to grow by leaps and bounds. Mary knows the fastest ways for us to achieve holiness and a deeper relationship with her Son. It’s as though, by holding onto her hand, nb. I often think of the Rosary beads, wrapped around my hand, as her hand in mine… we are permitted access to chambers of the Heart of Christ that otherwise we would have difficulty finding. She leads us deeper and deeper into the Heart of Love where its Sacred Fires transform us from light to light. She is able to do so because she is so intimately united to her Spouse, our advocate, the Holy Spirit.
I have no doubt that Mary has played a role in choosing spiritual directors for me—men who, despite their weakness, have been vessels of tremendous graces. Through them, I was led to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the prayer of the Universal Church outside the Mass. In those prayers and patristic writings, my mind is being further conformed to Christ’s, and to that of His Church. Furthermore, my directors have guided me in such decisions as how to fast, when to pray, and how to balance family life with my ministry. If you are unable to find a holy spiritual director, ask the Holy Spirit to give you one, and then trust in the meantime that He will lead you to the pastures you need to be in.
Lastly, through spending time alone with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I have encountered Him in ways which are often inexpressible, and heard His direction directly in my prayer. At the same time, I also face the darkness which the refinement of faith requires: periods of dryness, fatigue, restlessness, and a silence from the Throne which causes the soul to groan, begging for the beatitude of seeing God’s face. Though I do not understand why God works this way or that, I have come to see that it is all good. It is all good.
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
We have to be patient with ourselves. But we must keep praying. Don’t give up! To learn to pray, pray often. To learn to pray well, pray more. Don’t wait for the “feeling” to want to pray.
Prayer cannot be reduced to the spontaneous outpouring of interior impulse: in order to pray, one must have the will to pray. Nor is it enough to know what the Scriptures reveal about prayer: one must also learn how to pray. Through a living transmission (Sacred Tradition) within “the believing and praying Church,” the Holy Spirit teaches the children of God how to pray. —CCC, 2650
Make prayer without ceasing your goal (1 Thess 5:17). And what is this? It is a constant awareness of God, a constant communing with Him in whatever state of life you are, in whatever situation you are in.
The life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him… we cannot pray “at all times” if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. —CCC n. 2565, 2697
Do not think this prayer without ceasing is a constant chatter. It is more like the glance of a husband towards his wife across the room, a “knowing” of the other present, a love which speaks without words, an abiding that is beyond, like an anchor fifty fathoms below in the deep stillness of the sea, while a storm rages on the surface. It is a gift to pray like this. And it is given to those who seek, those who knock, and those who ask.
So, what are you waiting for? Be resolved to pray.
First published January 2nd, 2009.
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