Prayer is like learning a new language, the language of God.
When we learn a new language, it helps to be quiet and listen. This entails not only physical silence but also psychological. In fact, the interior silence is more important than the exterior. If we’re not judging events and people, if we’re not calculating, if we’re not thinking too much, we listen better. Children learn from their parents because they have trust and abandon; they just absorb what is said and don’t question too deeply. It is an assimilation based on confidence in the other. Adults, on the other hand, have barriers to this kind of assimilation of language. They get caught up on an analysis or a judgment. This happens to greater or lesser degrees depending on the particular child and the particular adult, but the general truth remains a general truth nonetheless.
Isn’t this like contemplation? The more we are silent inside, confident in God, abandoned to him and his providence, not passing judgments on people and on the course of events beyond what is absolutely necessary, then we listen. Jesus asks us to become as little children, to let ourselves be grabbed into the arms of the one we trust. Then we can listen better. Our prayer is better, less noisy, more full of simplicity and trust. We can learn the language, which is Infinite Love, with which the Blessed Trinity communicates within Itself and which is the substratum on which the entire world is made and from which the entire world derives its being:
Listen to them speaking
“I love you,” says each to each
Living in me
Perfection does not consist especially in contemplation… Perfection consists in charity. However, the loving contemplation of God is here below the most efficacious means to attain the perfection of charity. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP (1877–1964)
Today, in the first reading at Mass in the Latin Rite, Saint Paul urges us,
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. (Eph 6:18)
This is similar to the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing”. How is this possible? How can we pray at all times? Does this simply mean, as I’ve heard it sometimes said and used to sometimes say myself, that all of our actions must be compatible with prayer? Or does it mean something deeper or more? I’d bet on it meaning something deeper or more than simply having actions that are compatible with prayer.
According to Saint Catherine of Siena,
The soul keeps vigil, I say, not only with the eye of the body, but with the eye of the soul; that is, the eye of the intellect never sees itself closed, but remains opened upon its Object and ineffable Love, Christ crucified… Then the soul uplifts itself with deepest devotion, to love what God loves and to hate what He hates. And it directs all its works in God, and does everything to the glory and praise of His Name. This is the continual prayer of which Paul says, “Pray without ceasing.”
In a simple, contemplative gaze of Christ crucified, our God and our brother, which can be continual when particular acts of prayer are not continual, we find the answer. That is how to pray continually. It doesn’t simply mean that activity must be compatible with prayer. It means that the deeper part of all our action is prayer, the ability which allows us to “direct all our works in God”.
For fans of Doctor Who, there’s a pretty well known quote that sums up the show’s fun approach to time travel:
Now, I don’t know about time travel (it rather goes against the meaning of time in Aristotle’s view of material being, not to mention the direction of time implicit in thermodynamics). But is there somewhere where all of this could be true? Is there somewhere where we don’t always have to go from cause to effect in time?
Sure. In the person of the Church, which is hidden in the eternal life which begins now inchoately in the life of faith on earth and reaches plenitude in the Church of Heaven.
Not that the Church is disordered! No! The Church has being in Christ and is fully ordered and alive as she ought to be.
But it is simply that her being derives entirely from eternity, for her life (as Pope Paul VI puts it) is none other than the life of grace; grace is participation in the divine nature, which is eternity. So, in the Church, while time matters, it is not determinant. Just as Christ’s merits offered redemption to the human race as far back as Adam and Eve, so also I can pray about anything about which I do not have definite knowledge to the contrary (which would destroy the hope of my prayer). Time is not the boss of the Church. I can pray that my parents will have a certain grace tomorrow or, at some day in the future, a happy death. I can pray that my friend’s flight, which took off five minutes ago, was safe. I can pray that grace was poured out on my friend Jacques Maritain as he watched his wife die. I can pray that, at all moments of death in this world, God both does and did everything, every possible thing and bestowed every exceedingly great grace and miracle to convert hearts so that, if they accept these great riches poured out from an infinite Love and based on the infinite merits of Jesus, none die in mortal sin and cross the threshold into death without faith.
Being completely purged of all sensory inclinations and appetites leads to a freedom of the spirit in which the twelve fruits of the Spirit ripen. It gives security against the three enemies: the devil, the world, and the flesh. These can do nothing against the soul; she has “escaped unnoticed” [a reference to the Dark Night of John of the Cross] from them. And now that the passions have been calmed, and the natural sensory appetites have been lulled to sleep, her “house lies” now “at rest so still”. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Make great efforts to live your life of prayer. If you don’t, you risk living by fantasy and caprice. And that would compromise the very idea of “leaven in the dough” (cf. Lk 13:21; Gal 5:9). Little Sister Magdeleine (1898–1989)