Sunday, January 15: "Lord teach us to pray - Put ourselves in the presence of God"
Last week we saw the difficulties encountered when we want to pray a little longer. Today, I wish to set up with you the first time of prayer. But first I want to touch on some important points that will help to bring God into the presence of God.
First of all, the question of location. I am not telling you anything by telling you that this place must be quiet and silent. Should we pray in a church? Yes, of course, since it is the house of God, Christ is present in his tabernacle; as the Curé d'Ars liked to remind us: He is there! We can also pray in our room, in a secluded place of the house as Jesus himself recommends; we can also pray in front of a beautiful landscape; Saint John of the Cross recommended it to his novices.
Those who have been to the Holy Land know how much these landscapes where Christ lived help us to contemplate: the Lake of Tiberias, the Mount of Temptations, the Judean Desert, the Shepherds' Field, Mount Tabor and many others.
You can also pray in the subway, walking or cycling; but beware of ecstasies, it can be dangerous. However, for prayer, it is important to withdraw to the inner cell.
Then the question of the time; you have to be awake, so never at nap time for those who take a nap! Not too late for those who go to bed early! And not too early for the late risers! You must specify the time and do not hesitate to mark your love date on your diaries. What is important is to respect the schedule, otherwise you will run after the time and the prayer may disappear from your day. If some feel a call to pray in the middle of the night, especially if they answer it. It is always a grace to pray in the great silence of the night.
How to pray with your body? Let us not forget that we pray with all our being; thus the bodily attitudes express something of our prayer. Saint John Mary Vianney liked to have his hands crossed to express and support the prayer of the heart. Some people like to get down on their knees, others sit down, others lie down, but this is dangerous, because our prayer can become that of Saint Peter! What I am sure is that you have to be well settled to avoid cramps.
Just as on pilgrimage, we pray with our legs and feet, in prayer, it is the whole being who enters into the secret of God.
A few words now on the preparation before the actual time of the prayer. First of all, the distant preparation: is our day punctuated by the presence of God. Our lives are so agitated that we have trouble thinking about God all day long. It is good then to have like a red thread; for example, between two activities, a fast time for the Lord; there is grace before meals; there is angelus; it is little and yet it is much, because our heart is as if rhythmic by these winks to the Lord.
As for the preparation, just before the prayer, it takes a sieve before the prayer time begins. There must surely be a transition between a feverish activity and the presence of God. Be careful, it is not necessary to clear the air, because I can go to the Lord with all my worries. The purpose of prayer is not to empty the mind, nor to forget the daily concerns; I will pray to meet God, to dialogue with him from what I experience. The definitions of prayer by the great mystics do not say anything else. For example, the great Therese: "Mental prayer is, in my opinion, only an intimate business of friendship where we talk alone with this God whom we know we love. "(Life, 8) or Saint Ignatius: "a friend who speaks to a friend and who knows how to keep quiet to listen to him", without forgetting the answer of the good peasant of Ars to his priest: "He informs me and I inform him. »
If we open the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the 4th part, we are given some advice such as the choice of the time and duration of the prayer. "We do not do prayer when we have time" (CCC n° 2710) because you will not do prayer often.
How long will it take? At least twenty minutes; it's a matter between you and God! "Prayer," says the catechism, "is the humble and poor surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son. "(CCC No. 2712)
This union between the Son and each of us presupposes a fairly long time, for it requires a presence of God which is not done in two minutes; we will return to it, but in conclusion, we take up the definition of catechism: "mental prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, a listening to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves union with the prayer of Christ insofar as it makes us share in his mystery. (CCC No. 2724).
It is time to chart a course. We will start at the Carmelite school, relying, among others, on the teachings of Teresa of Avila, little Teresa, Elizabeth of the Trinity and many others like Blessed Father Mary Eugene, founder of Our Lady of Life.
We will especially start from the prayer of recollection which is accessible to all. "The soul," wrote Teresa of Avila, "gathers all its powers there and enters within itself with its God. " (Road to Perfection ch. XXX).
This recollection does not fall from the sky; it requires an effort of will to obtain it: to tear oneself away from external things to bring oneself towards the centre of the soul; this is what we call the bringing into the presence of God. This recollection leads the soul into the Lord's most intimate temple, to make contact with him, to take care of him. But beware of the lazy inactivity in prayer, which is no longer divine.
How to achieve this recollection?
First of all, start with a well-made sign of the Cross, not too fast; our prayer is Christian. The sign of the Cross plunges us both into the Trinitarian mystery and into the gift of the Son to all men. So do not hesitate to heal this sign by doing it more slowly and thinking about what you are doing.
Then, we must take an act of faith: to become aware that God is there. Therese addressed her sisters and said to them: "She who does not consider who she is talking to and what she is asking for and who is the one who is asking, and to whom I do not call it prayer". (Houses 1, 7)
It is not enough to meditate on God, there must be a personal relationship with the Lord, a relationship where there is direct contact, a face-to-face relationship.
A Carmelite father, before entering his cell, knocked on the door and said, "Are you there? "and he entered; a way like any other to remember that the Lord is waiting for us and that he is there.
So if the Lord is in our room, should we not recognize ourselves as sinners; I am only a poor creature wounded before Him who is the Almighty and the three times holy, but who comes to beg for our poor love.
It is a matter of examining one's conscience and asking forgiveness for all the lack of love; we can say again a "I confess to God" or "Psalm 50" or any penitential act that the Holy Spirit will blow into us.
"The request for forgiveness is the first moment of the prayer of request. It is the prerequisite for a just and pure prayer. Confident humility puts us back in the light of communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, and with each other: then "whatever we ask of him, we will receive it from him". The request for forgiveness is the prerequisite for the Eucharistic liturgy, as well as for personal prayer", the catechism tells us again. (CEC n°2631)
It is not a question of recognizing oneself as a sinner for the pleasure of recognizing oneself as a sinner; nor is it a question of false humility; it is a recognition of who I am: a loved creature, and one who takes everything from God.
"The prayer of the man who humbles himself will pierce the clouds. " (If 35, 21)
Reconciled, then we can invoke the Holy Spirit, for it is he who comes to the aid of our weakness and prays in us. The simplest and most traditional prayer is the Veni Creator or the sequence of the feast of Pentecost: "Come into us, Father of the poor; come giver of gifts; come light into our hearts. »
But here again, any other prayer to the Spirit is possible. Be docile to the Inner Master and "pray at all times, in the Spirit" reminds us of Saint Paul (Eph 6:18)
Finally, it is the act of offering of all of us to the Lord. This time is given for God, that is why we are in gratuity and not efficiency. Remember St. Paul in chapter 12 of the epistle to the Romans: "I exhort you, brothers, by the mercy of God, to offer your persons as a living, holy, acceptable host to God: this is the spiritual worship you have to render. »
To make this act of offering at the beginning of the prayer is to say to the Lord: "May it be your will and not mine"; it is at the same time an act of obedience and abandonment. What are we going to offer? Our freedom, because God will do nothing without this gift. To offer your freedom is to open your heart and let God act.
After these different stages, "the soul gathers all its powers and returns to itself with its God". It is a question of entering into God's silence. To do this, we must renounce the activity of the external senses.
"Remove the senses from these external things and move away from them so well that we close our eyes without our knowledge so that we don't see them. (Path of Perfection XXVIII, 6)
It is therefore necessary to find favourable external conditions of silence and solitude. Any concern, other than the search for the presence of God, is discarded: "alone alone with God"; it is then that the eyes of the soul acquire more acuity.
To go down into our hearts, we can use a book that helps us to gather quickly, like the Gospel; we can also "have an image or portrait of Our Lord, not to carry it on our hearts without ever looking at it, but to speak to it often." (Way XXVI, 3)
It may indeed be good to put an icon in front of us. Sometimes we can recite a "Our Father" or a "Hail Mary". Little Therese liked to say that the Virgin could be a good sacristan and that she knew how to clear souls.
To go down into his heart, yes, but to remain there, for the Lord dwells in our hearts.
We will be able to maintain this contact with the Lord, thanks to our faculties. Through imagination, we can live the evangelical scene by contemplating Christ's attitudes. To represent Christ in his humanity, not imaginative but of a living faith that perceives without seeing the presence of Christ. "As if you were blind or in the dark" (Life 9:9) so close that you don't need to raise your voice (Way XXIX:5) to be heard. This representation can be transformed into a kind of intuition through experience: "to withdraw with your God into your inner paradise" (Way XXIX, 4).
Therese liked to say to her sisters: "I only ask you to look at him" (Way XXVI, 1 and 3). The soul's view of Christ or Christ's view of the soul. This mutual gaze expresses in fact a personal, immediate, living relationship of mutual presence. A simple activity, of an intuitive nature with the vivacity of faith; a desire for union with God, for his service, for his glory, in a word: the desire for God.
Desire concerning the soul itself, the salvation of souls, the realization of the Father's plan of love; a look animated by love "as here below two people who love each other very much and understand each other well seem to hear each other without exchanging a sign, just by looking at each other", (Life XXVII, 10) this is what the tradition of the Fathers calls loving attention.
"Redi ad cor", "take in your heart", Saint Augustine used to say. But this descent faces obstacles such as distractions.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity commenting on the episode of Zacchaeus writes: "The Master incessantly repeats to our soul this word that he once addressed to Zacchaeus: Hurry down. But what is this descent that it requires from us if not a deeper entry into our inner abyss? This act is not an external separation from external things, but a solitude of the spirit, a release from all that is not God. (Heaven in Faith, 7 p. 102)
Last week, I told you not to chase away distractions because we might feed them. On the other hand, you have to know where they come from? Distractions are in the opposite direction to recollection. Indeed, recollection is a concentration of the activity of our faculties on a supernatural reality; distraction is an escape from our faculties to another object that suppresses recollection.
When distraction is no longer only temporary, it becomes an inability to focus on a subject; it is almost habitual and constitutes a state of drought that is accompanied by sadness, impotence, a decrease in the ardour of the soul, agitation. Distraction can become a cause of suffering; drought creates a state of desolation.
Let's not worry about it! Let us listen to Thérèse d'Avila's remark: "Very often, for several years, I was much more concerned about the desire to see the hour of prayer completed and to hear the clock strike! "Encouraging for all of us.
What are the causes of these distractions? Some of them are voluntary, we know the cure. On the other hand, if they do not come under human will, they may be due to the character of supernatural truths which are essentially obscure; because the penetration of intelligence being limited, quite quickly it has exhausted the lights it can perceive.
There may also be diseases and pathological tendencies. You have to be in good shape! Melancholy, scruples, imagination, unstable agitation are real obstacles.
Are there any remedies? Probably discretion in the effort; I say discretion so as not to fall into voluntarism. Maybe we need to change the time, the place.
It also requires perseverance. Discretion does not favour laziness, but must make possible perseverance, which will focus on prayer, but also on the asceticism of meditation that must accompany it, especially throughout the day by keeping our senses and returning to others.
Finally, we must grow in humility, in the school of the Lord.
When you are in your hearts, you must remain in them, just as Christ dwells in our souls. If we ever get back to the level of intelligence, then we have to go down immediately. Sometimes this movement can be done many times; but as long as I am not stabilized in my heart, I can say that I am not totally in the presence of God.
I must enter into an inner silence, into the heaven of my soul.
This confrontation does not take place in a day. You have to practice it. Sometimes our prayer consists in bringing ourselves together. That's good enough.
"Remain in me", it is the Word of God who expresses this will. Remain in me, not for a few moments, a few hours that must pass, but remain in a permanent, habitual way. Remain in me, pray for me, adore in me, love in me... penetrate ever deeper into this depth. This is indeed the solitude in which God wants to attract the soul to speak to it, as the prophet Hosea said. " (Heaven in Faith, 4, p. 100)
May these words of Elizabeth of the Trinity nourish us this week and help us to remain in the heaven of our souls.
Born on October 11, 1951, Patrick Baldt is ordained priest of the Diocese of Paris in 1980 by Cardinal François MARTY. Professor of French, Latin and Greek from 1972 to 1975 at the Holy Cross Institution of Neuilly, where he becomes chaplain after his ordination. He was appointed in September 1984 director of the Séminaire Saint-Sulpice in Issy-les-Moulineaux. Professor [...]