SOUL FOOD Talk # 1 – Expressions of Prayer


From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Simplified
[1.] Prayer is the life of the new heart. If we are to be faithful to our new life, we must be vigilant to establish TIME, PLACE, and OPPORTUNITIES for prayer on a daily basis. In this way we will maintain composure of heart. We do not progress from one expression to the other; rather, we use all three expressions at different times of the day, of the week, or periods in our lives. As we remain faithful to our prayer lives, however, the Holy Spirit honors our efforts with deeper love, commitment, and unity with the Blessed Trinity. At times we are blessed with sweet consolations; at other periods, we may suffer dryness and darkness; but as long as we are faithful to Him, He is faithful to us. (2697-2798)

[2. ]Three Major Expressions (2699)
Each believer responds to God’s promptings according to his own prayer expression. There are three major expressions of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. All three are based upon vigilance in dwelling in God’s Word and Presence.

[3.] Need for Words (2700-2702)
God speaks to us by his Word and our prayer takes flesh by words (vocal or mental). Most importantly, our prayer being heard depends “on the fervor of our souls” (St. John Chrysostom). Vocal prayer is essential. Jesus prayed aloud in the synagogue and (as the Gospels show) he raised his voice in blessing and even in his agony. Even interior prayer must involve the senses. We need to express our feelings externally and have our whole being participate in prayer. [genuflect, kneel, stand, beads, pictures, crucifix, etc…]

[4.] Words – Beginning of Contemplation (2703-2704)
God wants worshippers in Spirit and in Truth, i.e. prayer rising from the soul’s depths and expressed by the body. Vocal prayer (being external and so human) is readily accessible to groups. However, even personal prayer needs vocal prayer. We must be aware of him “to whom we speak” (St. Teresa of Jesus). Vocal prayer can become an initial form of contemplative prayer. [As Elsie said to me about the Jesus prayer, “The Holy Spirit comes in between the words.”]

[5.] Meditation (2705-2706)
By meditation the believer seeks to understand so he can respond to the Lord. Attentiveness is often difficult and we can be helped by books (Bible, Gospel, spiritual books, etc.) Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion and desire as we meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. Meditation mobilizes our inner faculties and deepens our faith to bring about conversion, and enables us to go further to a union with Jesus. As meditation confronts us, our hearts are moved. We then ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

[6.] Contemplative Prayer (2709-2719)
Contemplative prayer is a “close sharing between friends, taking time frequently to be alone with him whom we know loves us” (St. Teresa of Jesus). In contemplation, we seek Jesus in a pure faith and live in him. Although still meditating, we fix our gaze on the Lord.

[7.] Determination to Pray (2711-2715) [St. Teresa of Avila said that anyone hoping to reach any depth of prayer must be willing to devote a couple hours a day to it.]   By a determined will, we choose the time and duration of prayer, not giving up prayer during trials and darkness. The believer can always enter into this inner prayer, independent of conditions (internal or external) and of emotional states. Contemplative prayer is a “gathering up,” a recollection brought about by the Spirit. By this awakening we enter into the presence of the ever-awaiting Lord. We give our hearts to the Lord to be purified and transformed. Contemplation is a humble surrender to the Father’s will in union with Jesus. Contemplative prayer must be accepted in poverty. It is a Covenant relationship, a communion in which the Trinity conforms the believer to God’s image. [Contemplation is always a gift.]

[8.] The Gaze of Contemplation (2715-2716)
In the intense moments of contemplative prayer, the Father strengthens us so “Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith” (Eph 3:16). “I look at him and he looks at me” (a peasant at Ars). This gaze is a renunciation of self. It purifies us and teaches us to see everything in the light of truth. Contemplation turns our gaze to the “mysteries of Christ.” It gives interior knowledge, “the more to love him and follow him” (St. Ignatius of Loyola).
THE CLOUD: “ This is what you are to do: lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him…Do all in your power to forget everything else….and so diligently persevere until you feel joy in it. For in the beginning it is usual to feel nothing but a kind of darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing. You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked intent toward God in the depths of your being. For if, in this life, you to hope to feel and see God as he is in himself it must be within this darkness and this cloud…. For the intellect of both men and angels is too small to comprehend God as he is in himself.” [48-49,50] “Thought cannot comprehend God. Though we cannot know him, we can love him. By love he may be touched and embraced, never by thought. Let your loving desire, gracious and devout, step bravely and joyfully beyond [the cloud] and reach out to pierce the darkness above. Yes, beat upon that thick cloud of unknowing with the dart of your loving desire and do not cease come what may.” [54-55] “Learn to be continually occupied in the blind, reverent, joyful longing of contemplative love….” [110]

[9.] Various Aspects (2717-2718)
Contemplative prayer is an active hearing and an unconditional acceptance of the Word of God. We participate in the “Yes” of Jesus and the “Let it be” of Mary. It is “silent love” (John of the Cross). In this silence, the Father speaks his Word and the Spirit helps us to pray as Jesus did. This prayer is one with Christ’s prayer. Through it, the believer participates in Christ’s mystery which is celebrated in the Eucharist and is made alive by contemplation.

St Teresa of Avila: The “Prayer of Quiet” is imageless, languageless.
See Maloney, p. 20-21 & The Canticle, 1/1: It is the desire of Christ which is burning your heart. “Christ kisses us with the kisses of his mouth by giving us the Holy Spirit who makes possible this most intimate union between us individually and Christ…This is what it means to be charismatic: to be fervently desirous to receive the kisses, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that the individual Christian may enter into the transforming union through love with the Holy Trinity. [p.21] “It is not ecstatic feelings you long for. It is the total fulfillment of the desires God’s Spirit has placed deep within the fibers of your being. Your plea for the kisses of Christ, your spouse, is God’s own desire which he constantly expresses in you through his Spirit. God gives you the power to utter such a seemingly naïve prayer. This union of all unions with the God-man, Jesus Christ, is the very prayer he utters continually from within you. Do you think it is your own burning desire for this union with Christ?” —You love him because he first loved you. [20]

[10.] Night of Faith (2719) (See Thomas a Kempis – “exile of heart” & the darkness of the cloud of unknowing )  Contemplative prayer, if it abides in the night of faith, becomes a communion of love. It passes through the agony, death, and tomb of Jesus’ Passion. We must “keep watch with him one hour” (Mt 26:40).

[11.] Responding to the Gift (2725)
Prayer is a gift to which we must respond. This presupposes effort. All the great scriptural figures (including Christ himself) show that prayer is a battle, both against ourselves and against Satan the tempter. We pray as we live because we live as we pray. Therefore, we must habitually live by the Spirit so we can pray in the Spirit.

FROM THE CLOUD: Signs that we are called to contemplation– Interior sign: a growing desire for contemplation intruding into your daily devotions—“a blind longing of the spirit and yet there comes with it, and lingers after it, a kind of spiritual sight which both renews the desire and increases it.” Exterior sign: “…manifests itself as a certain joyful enthusiasm welling up within you, whenever you hear or read about contemplation. It will rise with you in the morning and follow you to bed at night. With this blind desire, you will be hard-pressed to say what it is that you long for.” [181]

[12.] Four Problems in Failure (2728)
There are four failures in prayer:
1. Discouragement from dryness
2. Sadness caused by material attachments (like the rich young man of the Gospels)
3. Disappointment over not being heard
4. Refusal to accept prayer as an unmerited gift
All these lead to the conclusion “What good is it to pray?” Three virtues are needed – humility, trust, and perseverance–2730)

[13.]  Distractions in Prayer  [St. Teresa of Avila says to “swat them away like flies.”]   Distractions in prayer are an habitual difficulty. The secret is to turn our heart away from their causes (our attachments). We must have a preferential love for the Lord. This leads us to a purified heart and a choice to serve the right master. This battle demands vigilance (a sobriety of the heart). Jesus spoke of his own coming, each day and on the final day. Even if the bridegroom comes at midnight, our lights must be lit. “Come, seek his face” (Ps 27:8).

[14.] Dryness in Prayer (2731)
The problem of dryness belongs to contemplative prayer when the person has no taste for thoughts and feelings, even spiritual ones. In this moment of sheer faith the person must cling to Jesus. If this dryness comes from “lack of roots,” the battle requires a conversion.

[15.] Lack of Faith (2732)
The most common temptation is a lack of faith which comes from the thousand cares which vie for priority in our life. What is our real love? Do we really believe in the Lord? Do we really believe his words? “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

[16.] Spiritual Sloth (2733) ( Sign: You quickly lose your sense of prayer and of His Presence)   Presumption can lead to acedia (spiritual sloth), a depression coming from lax ascetical practices and decreased vigilance. Discouragement, although painful, is the reverse of presumption. For the humble, this distress can lead to greater constancy in prayer.

[17.] Need for Trust (2734)
Filial trust proves itself in tribulation. The person should ask, “Why do I feel that way?” and “How is my prayer heard?”

[18.] Not Being Heard (2735-2736)
We don’t worry if our prayers are acceptable to God, but we demand to see results from our petitions. Is God just an instrument to be used? We must be convinced that “We do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). The Father knows what we need and (respecting the dignity of our human freedom) he gives us the Spirit to ask for what he wants.

[19.] Problems Listed by St. James (2737)
St. James (4:1-10) notes many problems in prayer:
1. We ask wrongly, to spend it on our passions (4:3)
2. We are “adulterers,” asking with divided hearts (4:4)
3. We don’t realize that God jealously yearns for our spirit (4:5) and we will only be heard if we have the Spirit’s desires.
“Don’t be troubled if you do not immediately receive. God desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer” (Evagrius Ponticus, Christian monk 345-399 A>D>, Father of the Church). “God wills that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give” (St. Augustine).

[20.] Basing Our Prayer on Jesus’ Gift (2738-2739)
From revelation, we know that faith in prayer rests upon what God has already done for us, namely, the supreme gift of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Paul teaches that we must boldly trust the Spirit’s prayer (within us) and the Father’s love (which has given us Jesus). God’s first response to prayer is always to transform our hearts.

[21.] Jesus – Praying in and for Us (2740-2741)
Jesus is our prayer model. He prays in us (seeking only the Father’s will). Jesus also prays for us, gathering up our petitions and always interceding before the Father (Heb 7:25). United with Jesus, our prayer will obtain even the Holy Spirit himself who contains all gifts.

[22.] Praying Always (2742)
“Pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). “Pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph 5:20). “We have not been commanded to work constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing” (Evagrius Ponticus).

[23.] Three Truths from Tireless Fervor (2743-2745)
This tireless fervor opens us to three enlightening facts about prayer.
1.       It is always possible to pray because Christ is with us always. “It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public, while buying or selling, or even while cooking” (St. John Chrysostom).
2.        Prayer is a vital necessity. “It is utterly impossible for a man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin” (St. John Chrysostom). “Those who pray are certainly saved. Those who do not pray are certainly damned” (St. Alphonsus Liguori).
3.         Prayer and Christian life are inseparable. “He prays without ceasing who unites prayers to works and works to prayer” (Origin).

[24.] AN OVERVIEW OF THE JOURNEY: From Ralph Martin’s book p. 5, THE FULFILLMENT OF ALL DESIRE  [ I apologize for the blurriness of the chart; see the book itself, if possible.]

[25.] Song of Songs: 6,2-3:
“ My lover has come down to his garden, to the beds of spice,
To browse in the garden and to gather lilies.
My lover belongs to me and I to him;
he browses among the lilies.”

[26.] Song of Songs, 1, 2-4 “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth!
More delightful is your love than wine!
Your name spoken is a spreading perfume—that is why the maidens love you. Draw me! REV. MALONEY, pp. 19-22.

[27.] Song of Songs: 4,9: “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride;  You have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one bead of your necklace.”

[28.] Reading in Conchita:  A Mother’s Spiritual Diary, I came upon this statement by her editor/biographer, Rev. M.M. Philipon, O.P.: “There is not one sole form of transforming union but a thousand varieties, or rather an infinity of possible realizations, according to the creative freedom of the Spirit of God and the various needs, according to the epochs, of the Mystical Body of Christ.”

What a powerful and rich statement—we need to ponder it well. I think we all realize to some extent, at least, what he means by “transforming union”. This is the pinnacle of holiness. We associate it with the great mystics and saints of the Church; we dare not think of ourselves in their company since we imagine that we ourselves are totally unworthy of such perfection or are not called to such perfection.

Yet the whole point of Father Philipon’s statement (as does his entire discourse on Conchita’s spirituality) is to assure us that the Holy Spirit works in His creative freedom to lead all souls to union, each soul in his unique way of holiness, according to the needs of the times in which each one lives. To read of Conchita is to know her as mother, wife, grandmother, and yet led to the heights of theology and mysticism equivalent to any of the doctors of the Church, a founder of religious orders, a victim of love for the sanctity of priests and of the Church which she so loved. Not that any one of us may aspire to be a doctor of the Church!

But the Holy Spirit will lead us individually and uniquely to the transforming union to which God has called us from all eternity. He knew our name before we were even formed in our mother’s womb; and He draws each of us to that union in which He says to us as in the Canticle of Canticle or Song of Songs: “How beautiful you are, how pleasing, my love, my delight!” (Song 7, 7)

When our Immaculate Mother appeared to St. Catherine Laboure, she explained that she had so many graces for us, but that most of them remained UNCLAIMED. We do not ask, so we do not receive. If you desire holiness with all your heart, ASK that the Holy Spirit lead you to transforming union with God; then follow His lead. If you are ready to give all for the Pearl of Great Price, He will grant you your heart’s desire. God longs for you in all your uniqueness; His delight is in you. Your contributions to the Church through your holiness of life magnifies the holiness of the Church and the glory of the Blessed Trinity.

[29.] James, 4,5: “Surely you don’t think scripture is wrong when it says: the spirit which he sent to live in us wants us for himself alone.” Jerusalem Bible

30.] THOMAS A KEMPIS: “It is a great thing…for the love of God willingly to bear exile of heart.” Second book, chapter 9.
[31.] GEORGE A MALONEY, S.J.: Singers of the New Song (book)
[32.] CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, an anonymous classic of mystical theology: Ch. 3, pp. 48-49; Ch. 6, p. 54-55.

[33.] RALPH MARTIN, The Fulfillment of all Desire, (book).
[34.] BIBLE: St. John, Chapter 14



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