The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

An Exercise of Desire

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
(Romans (RSV) 8:25-27)

Often, the call to prayer presents one of the greater challenges of the Christian life. This exercise in talking to God routinely takes on the characteristics of just another daily task, and like so many of life's burdens that seem to yield little if any fruit, it becomes easy to slowly lose interest and perhaps even resist spending precious time that could be used for so many other seemingly more pressing matters. God will just have to wait.

...we do not know how to pray as we ought...

Prayer is a manifestation of hope which leads to a deeper, more intimate communion with God and with His Mystical Body of Christ. To pray is to supplicate oneself and allow the Spirit to soften one's heart which has been hardened by this fallen, temporal existence. Through one's entreaty to God one begins the process of emptying self and allowing the grace of Christ to fill in the empty space created. The technique employed varies given one's circumstance at the time of entering into prayer. A simple Our Father is no less efficacious than a lengthy session of lectio divina. In fact, one's prayer life should be a mixture of public prayer, such as in the mass, and private prayer that might be offered in the quiet of the day.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks directly about this intimate prayer experience in his encyclical Spe Salvi as he writes:

It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. “But who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults” prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12 [18:13]). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Numbness of conscience plagues modern man. The twenty-first century reveals a time when the thought of humanity has largely been shaped by erudition and the political agendas of those who have arrogantly compartmentalized and reduced God to one's personal belief. Faith, hope, and love are nice sentiments, but hardly a basis for structuring one's life in this world of knowledge and perceived mastery of nature.

Is it any surprise then that prayer becomes stridently difficult amidst the myriad of voices that compete for one's attention, even for the faithful believer? One can hardly find a moment when a television, radio, telephone, Internet connection, or even a loud speaker is out of earshot. Each medium broadcasts a voice with an opinion on a wide range of topics from politics to the best bath tissue. Information in general, even the most mundane, has taken on a false sense of urgency, and God has gotten lost in the mix or conveniently scheduled to the confines of a Sunday morning activity.

And when one does find the time to pray, how often is that prayer one of petition for some form of material comfort instead of an intimate conversation with the Almighty? How often does one allow God to get a word in edgewise amidst the persistent requests for things? A lot of time gets spent asking, thanking, praising...but very little time is taken for simply listening. There's too much noise and seemingly not enough hours in the day for such things.

The Pope points out one more very important fact to describe the close relationship between prayer and hope that so easily gets neglected in the day to day rat race:

Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

As the Lenten journey continues, let all humanity take time to listen for the voice of God and come to realize the greatness for which they have indeed been created.


Blogger Stina said...

Wonderful post. Thank you.

4:53 PM  

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