Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Spirituality and Prayer

Father John J. Lombardi

"Pray without losing heart" (Lk. 18:1). "The more firmly the creature is established in it's origin, the eternity of God, so much the more fully does it receive in eternity, by God's free, eternal decree, a share in the inner divine movement of the Trinity, the procession of the three Persons." -H. Von Balthasar "Between the humble and contrite heart and the majesty of heaven there are no barriers; the only password is prayer." -Hosea Ballou

One of the most necessary things in life is prayer, you know--communication. Prayer is the communion of the Soul with God-the-Blessed-Trinity, transporting and animating the Soul into Love with Him. Now, think about this paradox: A lot of people have varied, modern communication devices-cell phones, pagers, computers, tv and cable-station access, literature and magazines, palm pilots, etc. Yet it seems many are so busy they cannot "find time for prayer". Or they are not giving the time to God for prayer. Huh? This is modernity? Unfortunately, many people in our modern Church have not learned to pray. And yet we Catholics have a myriad of mystical treasures of prayer. Have you taken advantage of this rich Treasure of Grace? As for this Chaplain, I learned meditation-- "unfortunately" or not-- from Eastern traditions. It seems few in the West or in the present-day Catholic Church are able or sufficiently knowledgeable to teach about spiritual depth and meditation. We have, therefore, a kind of "metaphysical black hole"-a lack of the contemplative-prayer tradition, right within the richest spiritual Church in the world. Some may emphasize "getting with the times." Others encourage orthodoxy (rightfully so). And still others favor social justice. But, who emphasizes the depths of prayer and Communion with God?

Another irony: prayer is the most difficult thing in the world (because of human distractions, and the "transcendent-above-ness"- of God, etc.) and yet it is also the simplest. Jesus says: "When you pray… say, 'Our Father…'" (Mt. 6: 9), and: "become as a child" (Mt. 18:3). Our Catholic religion teaches us there are many ways of prayer (see below) and yet, the "highest" form is also the simplest one - contemplative prayer - wherein we are totally abandoned of self and "agenda" and simply rest in God as a child rests and suckles at the breast of its mother. St Teresa of Avila says: "Think not much, but love much."

In this Sunday's Gospel (Lk. 18:1-8) Jesus teaches a parable about prayer. Be persistent-never give up in prayer. Our tendency is to lose heart, to expect immediate gratification when we pray: put quarter in, God deals out. No, not so fast! Our emotions, wrongful thoughts, passions, and earthy expectations can all get in our way of Communion with God in prayer, so we need to be purified and patient.

In the First Reading (Ex 17:8-13) Moses interceded for the Israelites against the Amelekites. On one level this means: Moses was an interceder, which means, "to pass between." That's what an interceder does-to go in-between God and another person to seek help. Catholics surely believe this - on two levels. Just as Moses was an official interceder, our priests and bishops are liturgical-ecclesial-official intercessors. However, everyone is called to intercede and pray for others. On the other hand, the passage may mean we have enemies-"spiritual and physical Amalekites"-whether they be people who do continual conscious evil, who deplore the Church; or these enemies might be interior ones like our passions, egoist desires, or inordinate attachments. Like Moses, we need to overcome all these oppositions by prayerful persistence. So, ask: Am I battling in prayer-and not relenting? When the going gets tough the holy keep praying and going! The Second Reading (II Tim 4) shows that we must persist, in season and out of season, in believing and passing on all that the Lord and the Catholic Church-Jesus' Bride-teach. Sure, it's hard to preach pro-life in a culture of death; to deny contraceptives in a throw-away society; to live purely amidst immodesty; to live a life of prayer and poverty, even when, within some parts of the Church, bank account incentives loom large.

What are some more lessons of prayer?

ACTS is a spiritual acronym for the most basic forms of prayer: Adoration means loving God and telling Him you love Him all the time. Contrition means telling Him you are sorry for your sins and asking forgiveness. Thanksgiving means thanking Him for all of His blessings (every night count three graces). Supplication means praying for others. Interesting, eh? All these elements of prayer are in the Mass. So-go to Mass more often and pray more!

Three Types of Prayer (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church):"Vocal prayer, founded on the union of body and soul in human nature, associates the body with the interior prayer of the heart following Christ's example of praying to His father and teaching the Our Father to his disciples. Meditation is a prayerful quest engaging thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. It's goal is to make our own faith the subject considered, by confronting it with the reality of our own life. Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in His mystery." (#2722-2724). You want to progress in school, work and social circles; now, ask yourself: Do I want to progress in prayer and Communion with God?

Pray without losing heart: St Augustine encourages us to persevere in prayer, especially when we do not receive what we want, or when we want it. He counsels that God may have something different or even better for us. He answers our prayers, or listens, or will deliver. Do not despair...Pray unceasingly (I Th 5:17). "Prayer is not an argument with God to persuade him to move things our way, but an exercise by which we are enabled by His spirit to move ourselves His way." (Leonard Ravenhill). Remember in the Our Father "Thy Will be done." Keep praying and meaning it!

Aspiration: The Devil cannot catch a short, loving prayer sent to God in love: Jesus, I trust in You. Mary, I Love you…Lord, Have mercy, etc. Repeat often.

Persist in Meaning: Often we may pray with the lips but not the heart. Slowly, perseveringly pray with your conscious heart and feeling heart-don't give up: slow down, image them going thru your heart and pray what you mean.

Prayer with Others: your family, friends, and community: don't give up your alone time or praying with others. Begin praying with others with a decade of the Rosary, Grace before meals with family, a short heart-felt prayer- persist!

Memorize Prayer: memorizing is out of vogue. But, we forgetful and fallible humans need reasonable "security words" we can always trust in-whether in a hurry or under pressure-so we can express and focus on our loving sentiments to God. Memorize prayers: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Grace before Meals; Guardian Angel and St Michael the Archangel prayers.

Spiritual BookEnds: Make a morning offering as soon as possible when you wake up-"Lord God, I offer you, this day, all my thoughts, words, and deeds, as a gift to you, thru the Blessed Virgin Mary. Amen." At night, close with meditation and prayer, make an act of contrition: "Lord, I am sorry for all my sins…"

Dryness in prayer: St Teresa of Avila experienced 15 yrs of starkness; St Therese of Lisieux underwent trials and doubts-they did not lose heart but because of the virtuous holy habits implanted in their souls from previous times-their disciplines-- they persevered.

Grace (cf. Rm 8) - God is the interior Sustainer, Master, and goal of all prayer. Pray for the Grace-Godly-Dynamic-Actualizing-Life within-to guide you.

Sacred Music: Listen to St Hildegarde of Bingen's works; Bach's Mass and Passion; Handel's works; some chant or Beethoven's Ninth Choral Symphony. Be inspired and make this a prayerful experience.

Sonorously Sacred: This describes the Rosary when prayed devoutly, slowly, with the heart and soul. Don't rush. Pray first with the heart and then the lips. Persist in this beautiful prayer, to Jesus, thru Mary!

Surrender to Win: St Gregory Naziazen writes: "I have not yet begun to think of the unity when the Trinity bathes me in splendor. I have not yet begun to think of the unity when the Trinity seizes me." Though this is against our human nature-to be overtaken, to surrender, to be seized-it is supernatural and necessary in the spiritual life: to allow, permit, yield, and grant consent to God to envelop you. Therefore: Release and Receive, let go of all evil and receive all light, space and Blissful grace. By more conscious offering of self and soul, become supra-conscious and re-virgined, like the Virgin Mary, and thereby magnify Him (cf. Lk. 1:46)

Sheer Faith/ Naked Faith/Dark Faith: These are terms of the Mystical doctor-St John of the Cross (+1597). He describes Faith this way because it is our "supernatural sonar." Faith cannot perceive as we normally, sensually see. But, within prayer, we must trust and "see" supernaturally, learning to sense anew in God's terms, not our own. This takes patient persistence, new learning, and transformation of normal knowing into Divine Knowledge: God, therefore, will lead you into the dark-"unknowing"-so as to bring you into Divine Light.... "Nada" in St John's spiritual vocabulary means "nothing," "not-this, not that," which means anything created is not the Creator and the need to negate all which is not God-any concept or inner image, sentiment or supposed message (which our sensual selves usually want to lean on). St John's "nada-counsel," instead, impels us to seek the Lord who is above all sense and perception, beyond any human grasping-and so he also uses the term, "Dark Faith." Within prayer, we usually want to feel something, sense "Someone," and cling to some kind of "content" of religious experience in our prayer-whether it be a perception or mental, inner image or a feeling. This is normal, but not supernatural. For this reason St John counsels-Naked Faith-embracing God alone without anything else to stabilize or support us. God will help us mature in prayer -but we must show Him we are willing to lean on sheer faith alone!

Divine Metaphysics: Pope John Paul has declared this to be the Year of the Eucharist. So as he recommends, practice Adoration thru Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist: He is Light and Love. Think: the sunshine is material light without love, and other people's love is sincere but without Divine Light. Christ sends both Divine Light and Love to you in the Holy Eucharist, with the Real Presence entering into and pervading and transforming your body and soul. How? The species (inner essence) of Jesus in the Eucharist in front of you can enter your being if you remain still; give Him your soul--like camera film, to impress within you His Divinity. Then: your very being is changed-His image is impressed within you. Remember, here, the "sister principle": Sit In Stillness-Till-Everything-Rests. This is Spiritual Metaphysics 101: Sit, Receive, Commingle. Persist in this.

Meditations: Take time to think about, and love within, the following: "The Godhead is incorporeal, without configuration or parts, not quantitatively measurable or limited by position, but fills all and exists in all, being infinite by its very nature." Even when a baby, seen in swaddling clothes at the bosom of the Virgin who bore him, {Christ} still filled the whole creation as God and was co-regent with his sire -- for deity is measureless, sizeless, and admits no bounds. (Cyril of Alexandria). God is pure spirit and can be prayed to anytime, anywhere; and even when God becomes incarnate as Christ, He is still pure spirit, infinite and beyond time, yet commingling with it. Only He, God, can do and become the paradoxical! So: Pray over these Mysteries without losing heart.

Stages of Spirituality: Purgative means eliminating evil thoughts and desires in prayer. In this stage, pray straight from the Heart. Illuminative means allowing God's light and Love to foster virtues (persistence, meditation, focused-ness) into habits. In this stage, keep it simple. Union means being One with Him without barriers or barrage of human, limited thoughts which can never "capture" the Infinite Lord. Here: Less Is More. Persist.

Spiritual reading: this should be your spiritual diet-the saints, Bible and holy writings-or is it secular reading? Spiritual reading is like fuel that ignites your soul into a burning fire.

Teach your young to pray: No brainier-kids love to pray; older kids who don't pray often will fight prayer. So help children to pray often, at every age, and persist in prayer.

Creation leads to the Creator. Read the Bible and give praise to Him yourself by reflecting on His world: "Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Stars of heaven bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Every shower and dew, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you winds, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever." (Dn 3:63-66)

Continuous Conversation: God is infinite, omnipresent, omniscient (all-knowing) and all loving- but are you present to Him? Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, talk and listen to Him. Practice continual conversation when washing the dishes, walking, driving in the car. Don't divorce any activity from Him.

Surround Yourself with Sacramentals: like Rosary beads, a Crucifix, candles, sacred music, holy water, scapulars and Icons/holy pictures. All these can inspire and remind us to pray. They are visual reminders of the Unseen World.

October is the Month of the Rosary: Praying without losing heart means praying each Sacred Syllable of the Rosary with your heart. Master this Marian sacred rhythm. While in Tibet I viewed and heard several hundred Tibetan monks chanting sacred texts. Many thought this mystical and magical, and paid thousands of dollars to see and hear it. We Catholics have our own sacred rhythm and chant in the Holy Rosary: pray and spread it with devotion; persist in it without losing heart.

Enemies to Prayer: Constant communication with mortals and media…Fostering distractions in life (daydreaming) and in prayer…failure to learn about prayer… "To love God is something greater than to know Him."-- St. Thomas Aquinas…Prayer is love. Love is prayer.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi