Tuesday - 9th Week in the Ordinary Time:Year A - Mark 12:13-17
I always cherish speaking to people. Well, it’s a fact that there are a few people friendlier than others. The intensity of talking to such people is quite different from other larger folk. With some people I feel comfortable to joke, speak and be at ease. This cannot happen with all kinds of people. The more intense is my love better is my relationship. Another fact that I noted is, when there is genuine love, I simply like to listen to them, rather speaking to them. This experience could be applied to experience of prayer too.
Prayer is Dialogue
Prayer is a spiritual activity intensely involving both God and human person in an intimate dialogue. To speak about prayer is to become aware of God to the fullest extent in a dialogue with Him. He is present perennially in our life. We can know nothing about Him except that He is kind enough to reveal Himself to us in various ways and in tiny little things in life. “These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God” (I Cor 2:10). This Spirit responds to us in and through prayer. The Vatican II affirms, “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being”. We can commune with God in prayer. We call prayer, that speech to God, which in spite of all else ultimately asks for the manifestation of the divine presence, for this presence becoming dialogically perceivable.
Prayer is a process by which we come to know God and ourselves through a personal relationship established through dialogue. Without God-knowledge and self-knowledge we cannot pray in an effective manner. Moreover, there is a definite correlation between knowing God and knowing ourselves. God cannot be known unless we know ourselves as we really are. The less we know ourselves the weaker will be our relationship with God. The less we think of ourselves the greater will be our trust in Him. When we make ourselves ‘gods’ we perceive God less and less. This is precisely what we call ‘journey to God’, a journey that leads us to become smaller and God to become ‘bigger’ in us. The friendly dialogue in prayer bridges gaps between God and us.
Prayer and Progress
Prayer is an inward journey. A journey from exterior to interior, from body to spirit, from vice to virtue, from world to God. It is not a journey that takes place in space and time but it is an inward journey that leads us to the centre of our being which is beyond space and time. If accepted through faith, that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, we have no other way than to journey in faith to the depth of our being in order to encounter our God who is secretly dwelling there. Dag Hammarskjold (the late secretary to the U.N.O.) says, “the longest journey is journey inwards” and a religious leader David O. McKay says “The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul”. That is why Jesus told his disciples “when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who sees you in secret” (Mt 6.6). Progress in prayer cannot be measured through the hours, days, months and years we have spent praying. It depends on how far we have been able to penetrate our spirit to discover God’s dwelling within us and to cope up with our daily battles.
Prayer is Communication
It would be fair to say that prayer concerns communication with God, and this should be the starting point for any teaching about prayer. In speaking of human communication, some skills can be taught but essentially the experience is far larger than the skills learnt and used. Should communication with God be any different? Just as it would be wrong to say that nothing about prayer could be taught, so it would be equally wrong to say that everything about prayer can be taught. Those who want to learn to pray, in fact desire to know about the ways to communicate with the Divine.
When we speak of communication, it concerns first of all with ourselves. We speak about ourselves and about our ideas. This is done through words, actions, thoughts, and subconscious activity such as dreams. All of these are various aspects of ourselves. When we speak we focus our attention on ourselves. Hence to pray is to focus our attention on God because these voices make us listen to God. There are many models for explaining communication. In choosing one that expresses the kind of communication that goes on in prayer, it is important to remember that the concerns about prayer are expressed in experiential rather than academic terms and therefore the basic model should reflect a common human experience. The ‘experience of friendship’ and the ‘communication dynamic’ involved in it seem to offer a lot for understanding prayer.
Prayer is Friendship
Speaking of friendship there is a basic principle that holds good for a lasting relationship. This requirement is ‘presence’ which is more important than watching, talking and listening. It is a need that strengthens friendship. If we were to single out the most intimate and touching part of a relationship, it would be the precious moments of passive silence that really matter. When the friendship is shallow in the midst of a conversation, silent moments could be really uncomfortable and degenerating. For intimate friends the moments of passive silence are the most precious ones because it is through these moments of silence that a deeper relationship takes place without any words and gestures. In the midst of talking, listening and spending time together each person tends to become more authentically in touch with what they really are in those precious moments. In the process of communicating with each other, there results a communication with oneself. The same is true of prayer. Understood in this manner, prayer is both interpersonal and intra-personal; the praying and the individuating process are concurrent realities. People have many conscious reasons for praying but if praying is to be understood as concurrent with the individuating process, then it would have to be said that the motive for praying is more than the conscious reason; it is rooted in the unconscious. From the point of depth psychology we know that this attempt to communicate and become authentically oneself is a gradual process of moving beyond conscious limits and becoming more and more vulnerable. Ultimately, then, to pray is to acknowledge limits and though this acknowledgement is at first implicit, it eventually becomes explicit through moments of deep silence. To teach a person to pray is to facilitate a person’s desire to become conscious of limits and comfortable with vulnerability. Whatever the method chosen, it must respond to this desire in order to be effective. Growth in friendship is growth in knowledge and acceptance of our own limitations.
Prayer, a Habitual Attitude
All prayer is inspired in the depth of our own nothingness. It is the movement of trust, of gratitude, of adoration, or of sorrow that places us before God, seeing both Him and ourselves in the light of His infinite truth, and moves us to ask Him for the mercy, the spiritual strength, the material help that we all need. All true prayer somehow confesses our absolute dependence on God.
Here are a series of expressions by known theologians regarding prayer. They cannot be considered definitions because a true and exhaustive definition of prayer cannot be given. These expressions will help us clarify many wrong notions of prayer. Prayer is “an existence which is directed towards God, it is the contemplative approach, a general attitude of reverence which permeates the day’s activity” (Guardini, pp. 123-124). “Prayer is simply an inward grace of knowledge and love turned towards God… It is possible to remain in this attitude of loving attention to God even in the midst of the most absorbing occupations… Application to the task is perfectly compatible with a permanent inward attitude of love for the beloved” (Dujat pp.116-117). “Times of prayer set up a frame of mind which remains through all our activities, so that, all our work and play is coloured by a prayer-like attitude” (Macquarrie, p. 38). “The presence of God simply describes the principle of the praying attitude, the inner attitude of the praying person” (Bernard C.A., p. 362). “Underlying each diverse manifestation of prayer is a radical attitude” (Hassel, p. 1). “Prayer without ceasing, as a continuous state of soul, is primarily an attitude of the heart and will… Love without ceasing is not a series of acts, but a continuous attitude and state… Prayer without ceasing is first of all an attitude of the will” (Wright, pp. 167).
Prayer therefore is an inward, inner, general, essential, radical, permanent, constant, continuous, habitual and prolonged attitude. Thus, prayer eventually becomes identical with the essential attitude of our being in front of God and neighbour, a habitual attitude of reverent worship of the divine truth, a continuous state of being, a constant attitude by which we walk with God and live in Him and with others.
Very often in prayer we are distracted by our practical difficulties, such as the problems of our state of life, the duties we have to face etc. It is not possible to avoid such distractions all the time, but if we know what prayer means, and know Who God is, we will be able to turn these very thoughts into motives for prayer. It is good to turn distractions into material for petition, but it is better not to be distracted, or at least not to be drawn away from God by our distractions.
Summing up all that we have said above about prayer, we must admit that we cannot offer an exhaustive definition to prayer. Each one of us has a personalized definition of ones own prayer through our intimate contact with the Lord. Giving a definition in academic terms is not our concern here. When prayer becomes life and the life we live expresses our prayer, we can hope to say that we are ‘praying’. That in fact is prayer.
(to be continued…)
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouer - Canada
 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 119.
Acts 21-11; 1 Cor 12.3b-7, 12-13, Jn 20.19-23
I observed the father of a lad giving him a Dollar just before entering the Church. I asked him why he gave money to the lad before entering the Church? He told me that the child is trained to be generous towards God and people. I was impressed and was really appreciative of the attitude of the father.
There is a story of identical twins. One was a hope-filled optimist. "Everything is coming up roses!" he would say. The other twin was a sad and hopeless pessimist. He thought that Murphy, as in Murphy's Law, was an optimist. The worried parents of the boys brought them to the local psychologist.
He suggested to the parents a plan to balance the twins' personalities. "On their next birthday, put them in separate rooms to open their gifts. Give the pessimist the best toys you can afford and give the optimist a box of manure."
The parents followed these instructions and carefully observed the results. When they peeked in on the pessimist, they heard him audibly complaining, "I don't like the color of this computer... I'll bet this calculator will break... I don't like the game... I know someone who's got a bigger toy car than this..."
Tiptoeing across the corridor, the parents peeked in and saw their little optimist gleefully throwing the manure up in the garden. He was giggling. "You can't fool me! Where there's this much manure, there's got to be a Rose!"
The event of Pentecost was to fill the pessimist disciples with the Spirit of courage and joy. In our life there are so many things that happen. We tend to take them simply without analyzing their importance to us. At times we are so accustomed that we do not even think that they are from God. Are we filled with the hope of the Resurrected Lord? Or do we worry about things that matter only concerning our material life? Are joyful? Or do we make things sadder as we pass through them?
There are events so wonderful, and so full of mystery, that ordinary language cannot describe them. Such was the Pentecost event which we celebrate today. In our first reading Luke, the writer, uses symbols to describe something beyond the power of words to portray. The coming of God’s Spirit, he writes, was “like a strong driving wind.” “Tongues as of fire” rested on these first Christians, who suddenly received power “to speak in different tongues.” These three symbols – wind, fire, tongues – are not arbitrary. Each tells us something about God and his mysterious work in the world.
This divine breath gives the Church an astonishing power of self-renewal. Again and again in history the Church has become so corrupt through the sins of its members that people have predicted its imminent demise. Yet time and again the Church has risen, through the power of this divine Spirit-breath, renewed and purified. For this recurring phenomenon there is but one possible explanation the fact that the Church lives not from its own strength, and certainly not from the strength of its members, but from the continual in-breathing of God’s Spirit, who is the Church’s life-breath.
Fire warms because it burns. If combustible material is nearby, fire spreads rapidly. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught. Are you burning with that fire? Are you handing it on to others?
Fire also gives light. God sent his Son into a dark world to be the world’s light. This light shines today through God’s continual gift of his Spirit to his Church and to each of its members. He wants us to serve as lenses or prisms of that light. “Your light must shine before others,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5.16). And in John’s gospel Jesus warns. “Bad people all hate the light and avoid it, for fear that their practices should be shown up. The honest person comes to the light, so that it may be clearly see that God is in all he does” (John 3.20f).
When we fear God’s light, we need to ask God burn away whatever causes us to shun the light, whatever stands in the way of our spreading the light, fire, and warmth of his Holy Spirit.
That is the message which we have to proclaim. Does any of that message come through in your life? If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you? And if mere presence at Sunday Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?
That we are Christians in a land undreamed of by anyone on that first day of Pentecost is proof that the Spirit’s “strong driving wind” did not blow in vain. Those first touched by that wind were blown into places, and situations, they never dreamed of. Even those who never left Jerusalem found their lives utterly changed.
This same wind of the Spirit is blowing in the Church today. Is it blowing in your life? Or are you afraid of that wind – of what it might do to you, and where it might blow you? Cast aside fear. The wind of God’s Spirit, like the winds of the sky, blows from different directions. But in the end this wind blows all who are driven by it to the same place. The wind of God Spirit blows us home – home to God.
The Spirit of the Lord has given us the spirit of love, truth, joy, peace, patience, generosity, kindness, goodness, self control and humility. We need to bear witness to them. Then perhaps we could say boldly that we are the children of God and children of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
“(The laity) work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven … (making) Christ known to others especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity. (Lumen gentium, 31)
“The laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth.”
There are people here who are doing those things every day. Are you? One day the Lord will examine us about how we have responded to the call to be his messengers to others. Here, ahead of time, are some of the questions in that examination.
God won’t ask what kind of car you drove; he’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation.
God won’t ask the area and beauty of your house; he’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.
God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your cupboard; he’ll ask how many you helped to clothe.
God won’t ask what your highest salary was; he’ll ask if you cut corners to obtain it.
God won’t ask what your job title was; he’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.
God won’t ask how many friends you had; he’ll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.
God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived; he’ll ask how you treated your neighbors.
God won’t ask about the color of your skin; he’ll ask about the content of your character.
The testimony of deeds before words is powerful. You probably know the saying. “What you are speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.” Words are cheap and our world is inundated by words. People today are more impressed by deeds than by words.
Bearing witness to Jesus Christ in daily life is difficult. If you doubt that, it probably means that you have never seriously tried it for any extended period of time. With our own resources alone, the task is impossible. But we are not alone. We have an unseen companion in the missionary task. the same divine master and Lord who is saying to us right now, as he said to that little band of weak sinners and doubters on a Galilean hilltop two thousand years ago. “Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCG
Vancouver - Canada