Learning the Secret of Persevering Prayer
We are all called to persevering prayer, no matter what our state in life or vocation. Preparing ourselves for such prayer means learning to silence the clamor of the age, stop the ever accelerating pace of the futile quests that so often occupy our hearts, and live in the eternal now by surrendering ourselves – and even our best aspirations- to the One who created us -and now re-creates us- in His Son Jesus Christ. It is there, in the emptied place, in the stillness of the eternal now, where we prepare a room for the King of all hearts. And, in that encounter, we will find the longing of our heart fulfilled.
In the Gospel of St Luke we read a parable through which Jesus taught his disciples to persevere in prayer. As His contemporary disciples, we need to hear this parable. We need to learn to persevere in prayer.
“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
“For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.'”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)
Jesus connects persevering in prayer and living faith for good reason. Prayer is a direct consequence of such living faith, a sign that we truly believe that the Lord really hears our prayers and cares about us. Do we? We need to grow in our understanding of the ways of prayer, including this kind of persevering prayer of which the Lord speaks.
In an age of fast food, fast cars and fast internet, we seem to be running all the time. Yet, even with our digital calendars, we risk missing the most important meeting of all, our appointment with the Lord. We place our very selves at risk when we do so.
Yesterday’s relationship with the Lord is not sufficient for today. Yesterday’s prayer cannot keep us in the presence of the Lord. We need to cultivate an ongoing relationship with the Lord if we hope to see clearly with the eyes of living faith. We need to regularly and continually talk to Him. When we have a need, we need to present that need to the One who is not only a just Judge, but a loving Father.
When I was a young man I had a wonderful Franciscan priest who taught me much about persevering prayer. Newly married, I thought I had the worries of the world flooding upon me.When I did not see quick answers to my prayer; I grew confused as to whether I should even continue asking. He told me, with such practical wisdom, “Pray until what you seek is given, or the Lord changes your mind about what you are asking”.
Jesus persevered in prayer. In His Sacred humanity in that Garden called Gethsemane, we witness the greatest example of perseverance. We also witness the perfect fruit of surrendered love which embraces the Father’s Will out of loving trust. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that he offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. (Hebrews 5:7)
Sometimes we do not ask for the things which we really need. But God, the loving Father which he is, loves to hear from his sons and daughters. He welcomes all of our requests. However, He gives us what we truly need to flourish and find our way home. The best prayer transforms our desire into His desire. We move from our will to His Will. As we learn to turn our human freedom toward His Loving Will, we find it fulfilled and perfected.
We are all called to persevering prayer, no matter what our state in life or vocation. Preparing ourselves for such prayer means learning to silence the clamor of the age, stop the ever accelerating pace of the futile quests that so often occupy our hearts, and live in the eternal now by surrendering ourselves – and even our best aspirations- to the One who created us -and now re-creates us- in His Son Jesus Christ.
It is there, in the emptied place, in the stillness of the eternal now, where we prepare a room for the King of all hearts. And, in that encounter, we will find the longing of our heart fulfilled.
On Sunday, October 9, 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI presided over Second Vespers with the Carthusian monks at Serra San Bruno. From the Chapel of that Carthusian monastery he shared some beautiful insights on silence and prayer. His words brought me back to the days surrounding his election to the Chair of Peter.
When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger chose the name Benedict he sent a signal concerning the centrality of prayer. One of the young priests offering commentary during those historic days noted that then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger visited Subiaco before all the events in Rome began. He prayed and rededicated himself to the work of the Church for the future.
Interestingly, a short while later he was called to occupy the chair of Peter. He took the name Benedict. He spent his pontificate teaching us all about that centrality of prayer.
Saint Benedict was the father of Western Monasticism. As a young man he fled a decadent and declining Rome to give his life entirely to God and went to Subiaco. The cave that became his dwelling is now a shrine called “Sacro Speco” (The Holy Cave). It is still a sanctuary for pilgrims. The Pope who took his name went to that same cave for prayer just before he was elected.
The Pope told the monks: “Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus’ invitation: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Every monastery – male or female – is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw “living water” to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation.
Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always a lingering background noise, in some areas even at night. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.”
That is not to say that technological advances have to be an impediment to the encounter with the Lord called prayer. Rather, that when we allow them to become our measuring stick for satisfaction in every area of our lives, we will look for quick prayer and quick “results”, from what we believe are “our” efforts. Prayer is not about results or even our efforts, but about Love.
There is a growing fascination with books about prayer and the monastic life across the entire Christian community. There is also a resurgence of interest in the Rule of Benedict and the writings of the early fathers of the Church about prayer.
It all reflects the deep hunger in our hearts for God. We were made for communion with Him. Benedict XVI reminded us all of the way we can all find the intimacy of that communion in the midst of our daily lives and be changed in the encounter. That way proceeds through prayer.
Now, years later, Pope Emeritus Benedict lives as a Monk, praying for the whole Church. How very fitting. He still points us on that way. We are invited to build a virtual monastery in the midst of a world which has lost its soul. The Holy Spirit is calling for a generation of contemplatives in every state in life and vocation in Christ.
We tend to believe that the contemplative life is reserved for those who, by special vocation, can “leave” the world, such as contemplative monks and nuns. They are a true treasure and a prophetic sign of the life to come. However, all who are baptized into Christ are called to the same encounter with a different response.
Isaac of Ninevah was an early eighth century monk, Bishop and theologian. For centuries he was mostly revered in the Eastern Christian Church for his writings on prayer. In the last century the beauty of his insights on prayer are being embraced once again by both lungs, East and West, of the Church. He wrote these words in one of his many treatises on Prayer:
“When the Spirit dwells in a person, from the moment in which that person has become prayer, he never leaves him. For the Spirit himself never ceases to pray in him. Whether the person is asleep or awake, prayer never from then on departs from his soul. Whether he is eating or drinking or sleeping or whatever else he is doing, even in deepest sleep, the fragrance of prayer rises without effort in his heart. Prayer never again deserts him.
“At every moment of his life, even when it appears to stop, it is secretly at work in him continuously, one of the Fathers, the bearers of Christ, says that prayer is the silence of the pure. For their thoughts are divine motions. The movements of the heart and the intellect that have been purified are the voices full of sweetness with which such people never cease to sing in secret to the hidden God”.
Let us learn to pray at all times – and not grow weary. Let us join the song with a pure heart.