Wednesday, 13 May 2015
When You Pray, part 3, by Rev. Robert Nash; S.J
So if we are praying together, let us be in time, let us not begin till all are in their places and there is going to be no stampede up the Church, let us say the public prayers so that they can be heard and understood, let us take our time. Do this and see how prayer will grow into our lives and awaken in our hearts some of the convictions which were such dynamic truths in the lives of the men and women who gave themselves much to prayer. Of prayer, more than anything else, is it true that if it is worth doing at all it is worth doing properly.
Everybody who speaks to us or writes about prayer invariably stresses, as has been done in this little paper, the necessity of a spirit of self-denial if there is to be depth in our prayer. Perhaps the idea may cross our minds that this is a “hard saying.” After all, if the Lord is so concerned to establish this holy intimacy with us why does He make the way of approach so uninviting? A simple parable will help with the answer.
Suppose you are working at a piece of carpentry and that you catch your hand in a rusty nail. You give yourself a bad cut, and next morning when you examine the wound you find that the hand has swollen considerably and a quantity of poisonous matter has gathered during the night. It looks serious, and forthwith you go to the doctor. The poison is causing you much pain. You cannot use your hand. You cannot allow anybody else to touch it. The doctor decides that your only chance of escaping even more serious trouble is to have the hand lanced on the spot. Presently, an ugly knife is produced, and suddenly, when you are not expecting it, the doctor plunges it well into the centre of your swollen hand.
It is most painful, and the sight of that knife nearly made you ill. Nevertheless you now heave a sigh of relief. For, the moment the wound has been opened, out comes the poison. The operation was disagreeable, indeed, but how glad you are now to have had it! It is certainly worth the price to rid yourself of this poisonous matter.
In some such way you heart needs to be purified before it can live the life of intimate prayer and companionship with God. Christ is the way to the Father. “No man cometh to the Father but by Me.” The task of the soul, therefore, is to come in closest possible contact with the Heart of Christ. As we saw, there is a fund of pride and self-sufficiency in every one of us. Sin and selfishness in their myriad forms are like the swellings that surround the heart of that man who embarks on the way of prayer. He has to bring that heart of his in close contact with the Sacred Heart in order that virtue pass from Christ into him. But what happens? The Sacred Heart is surrounded with thorns, and the moment the contact is made these must necessarily pierce the heart that is swollen with pride, with sin and with selfishness. This is necessary if the poison is to be drawn off. It is painful, but it is certainly well worthwhile. And the closer the contact the more deeply those thorns will force themselves in, and, as a result, the greater will be the pain and the more thorough the cleansing.
That is why Jesus asks us to do hard things. It is not that He delights in seeing us suffer. It is not that sacrifice in itself is of any great value. But “there is no detour around the hill of Calvary.” The divine life can flow into the soul only in the measure in which the soul is emptied of selfishness and sin and sinfulness. And there is no weapon more effective to slay selfishness and sin and sinfulness than the sword of self-sacrifice. “If the grain of wheat die, it will bring forth much fruit.”
Finally, let it be said that there is no great enthusiasm in your present-day world, for all this doctrine about prayer. Visible results are our great goal. We estimate success by what we can see and touch. Materially minded as we are, our standards of value have altered sadly. More thought is given to what a man does than to the reason why he does it. More applause is won by his conquests over others than by his conquest over himself.
Christ’s standards are very different. Thirty years hidden away in despised Nazareth and only three in the public eye. Thirty years, as your modern efficient world would put it, “wasting time” in the midst of shavings and sawdust, doing very ordinary things which could be done just as well by any ordinary person.
It is not so much what we do that matters as why we do it. It is not so much what we do as what we become that is of value in God’s eyes. His design for the soul is that it become transformed interiorly. The walls of selfishness and sin must be levelled. The poison of pride must be drawn off. Then there will ensue that “more abundant life” which flows into the soul from its close contact with Christ. And those walls begin to totter when you set yourself to pray. And that poison begins to escape according as you plunge in the knife of self-sacrifice. A very marvellous and beautifying work begins in the interior of the tabernacle, which is your own soul, when prayer begins to acquire the ascendancy.
If there is one lesson more than another to be learnt at Nazareth, it is the importance of prayer. If there is any course of action that condemns our modern rush and breathlessness, it is the course pursued by the Son of God for that thirty years of His hidden life. The work of the sanctification of an individual soul is of more importance in the eyes of God than the material welfare of the nation. And all the soul’s sanctification comes from contact with Christ. And contact with Christ is made by prayer. That is why He is so exacting in laying down the conditions that will enable you to pray. Prayer is the life of true achievement. Prayer is the instrument best fitted to do God’s work in the soul. Deep knowledge of God; sincere contempt of self; burning love for the Man-God-these are the three precious stones which beautify the life of him that prays. These are the interior adornment set up in the soul by the operation of grace which works within you when you pray.
Carolus Doyle, S.J.,
Censor Theol. Deput.
FRANCISCUS J. WALL, Vic. Cap.
Dublini, die 16 Januarii, 1941.