RCIA CLASS 27 - 28
THE PRAYER LIFE,
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS AND CATHOLIC CULTURE
I. Prayer and the worship of God are at the height of human creativity. It is in prayer that the mind rises to the realm of the angels and can converse with God.
A. In Genesis, the
seventh day, the day of worship brought the order of creation to its
height. As the Holy Father Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal
Ratzinger, points out in his book In the Beginning, the worship
represented by the seventh day holds everything else in order.
B. St. Benedict calls prayer "the work of God," the highest effort of the human spirit.
- It is the regular,
steady life of prayer that has made the order he and his sister Scholastica
founded, the Benedictines, last through since the sixth century when
all other human institutions of the time have faded.
- Jesus said
that Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, had chosen "the better
part" of spending time with Him amidst the business of the world.
See Luke 10:38-42.
C. The liturgy, the
universal worship of Jesus Christ in the Church, and especially the
Eucharist are, as the Vatican II Council calls it, the "source and
summit" of our faith. All Catholic prayer should be related
to the Eucharist is some way. Vatican II Council, Lumen
Gentium, (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) (1965) 11; see also
Vatican II Council Sancrosanctum
Concilium (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy) (1963)10.
D. However, it should
be noted that the highest does not stand without the lowest. Thus,
a solid prayer life must be based upon an attempt to live out the rest
of one's life well and to allow God's grace to work in all ways.
As Archbishop Anthony Bloom of the Eastern rites put it "Unless they
(prayers) are lived, unless prayer and life become completely interwoven,
prayer becomes a sort of polite madrigal which we offer to God at moments
we are giving time to Him." Likewise, a crucial sign of an authentic
prayer life is that it supports one's vocation in life. As St.
Francis de Sales puts it in his classic Introduction to the Devout
Life, "Every vocation becomes more agreeable when united with
devotion." As John Paul II emphasized in Dies Domini,
his 1998 apostolic letter on the Sabbath, serving others through works
of charity does not diminish, but in fact enhances, the prayerfulness
of that day.
II. Preparation for prayer
A. Although prayer can be offered anywhere, sacred space is very helpful. For we are influenced by our surroundings, and thus places set aside for God are needed to focus attention on Him. As the Catechism section 2691 says "The choice of a favorable place is not a matter of indifference for true prayer."
- Even setting aside a place
in one's home or yard can be helpful.
B. Sacred time is
crucial. The Sabbath was set aside as a day of the Lord to make
the week sacred. It is also helpful to have specific time each
day set aside to make the day sacred. Consistency of time is often
more important, especially at first, than the amount of time.
C. It is also important
to remember the effect of posture on prayer. As a commentator
on St. Dominic said in one letter, "The manner of praying stirs
up devotion, the soul stirs the body, and the body in turn stirring
the soul." The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic.
D. Trying to be right with God is also important in prayer. As the Psalmist says "Who can approach the mountain of the Lord? . . . Only the man with clean hands and a pure heart." Ps. 24:3-4. That is one reason why we begin Mass with the Penitential Rite.
- However, we
need also prayer to make us more worthy to be with God and should not
wait until we feel ourselves worthy before beginning to try to pray.
As Evagrius Ponticus, one of the early desert monastic fathers pointed
out, God extends to the unworthy soul the ability to delight in prayer,
as He did with Isaiah; if the person responds in prayer and repentance
God makes Him more worthy to be in prayer. St. Theresa of Avila
said in her autobiography that she finally realized if she waited until
she was worthy of deep prayer to engage in it, she would never become
worthy and would be waiting until judgment day.
E. Increasing knowledge
of God is also important that our souls may in fullness ascend to God.
Otherwise, we tend increasingly to be praying to our image of God, without
seeking God Himself. Of course, we also understand that there
is a mystery of God beyond all human learning. In book IV, chapter
1 of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out compares the spiritual
life to a journey and says that learning and theology are to faith and
prayer as a map or knowledge of a land is to travel.
III. We are meant to be attentive in prayer, but also be receptive to the inspirations of God.
A. As St. Francis
de Sales also says, no one would go to a great king without knowing
what he is to say. Likewise, we should enter time of prayer with
an idea of what we are praying for or about, and some plan for approaching
God. (The next two weeks will cover some of the great spiritual
traditions that give some of those plans for prayer.)
B. However, it is also important to listen to God in prayer and thus to have what is often called "receptive attention." Sometimes this sort of attention requires more effort that the most intense for of thinking.
St. Bede once said,
"On hearing Christ's voice, we open the door to receive Him, as
it were when we freely assent to His promptings and when we give ourselves
over to doing what must be done."
C. At a higher level,
there is even an "ecstatic attention" or a self-forgetful attention,
being drawn up into a strong sense of God Himself. This level
of attention does not primarily involve any emotional feelings, although
they may be there, but is rather a motion of the soul towards God beyond
the usual level of thought. This is at the same time the greatest
attention, and yet also a certain forgetfulness as well. St. John
Cassian, a fourth and fifth century desert monk who is often considered
the father of Eastern Monasticism, once said, "As long as a monk understands
that he is praying he has not yet attained perfect prayer."
D. As we are trying to allow God to speak to us, images from art and literature, music and other means of assistance in prayer help our spirit focus on God. We are meant to rise even further to have a sense of God Himself beyond images, but to do so we usually also need material or sense-based things.
- The likes of icons
or Gregorian chant are a middle level. They are sense-based aids
but they are, by their very nature, meant to have an other-worldly aspect
E. Allowing God's
presence to sink into the soul more and more beyond the directly analytical
level allows there to be a continual spirit of prayer even when one
is not directly praying. This sense of prayerfulness is one meaning
of St. Paul admonition, "Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances
give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."
1 Thess. 5:17-18.
F. The presence of
other people help us in prayer, both by praying with us and by combining
their efforts with ours. Reading or hearing of other people's
experiences in prayer can also assist our own. And, of course,
we invoke the angels and saints to assist us in our prayers.
IV. The different ways of prayer are meant to bring us closer to God.
A. All liturgies are the prayer of Jesus Christ, offered with His whole Church, in heaven and on earth. See Catechism 1073; Sacrosanctum Concilium 7-8. They have specific rubrics, or rules, so that we know we are joined with all of the Church under Jesus= own prayers.
- The Mass and all the sacraments are
- The Liturgy of the
Hours, also called the Divine Office, is also a high liturgy of the
Church, required for clergy and consecrated religious and encouraged
for all others. This liturgy is meant to consecrate the whole
day at different times (with the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer,
Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer) with prayers that have
united the People of God, old and new throughout the centuries.
B. Lectio Divina
is a prayerful reading of Scripture. The idea is that one prayerfully
prepares to read Scripture (or another spiritual writing), reads over
it carefully, prays over it, trying to apply it to one's life, and
then reads it again in the context of that prayer. One frequently
does so three or four times to combine prayer and learning, hearing
the voice of God and the saints attentively. One does not rush
through a work, but does try to complete it.
C. The rosary, the
Divine Mercy Chaplet and other well known devotions tend to use repetition
to create a background and make prayers more and more a part of the
soul. They combine those repetitions with some images to draw
one more and more into the mystery of God. They are not premised
on the mere idea that repeating prayers make them heard more, see Matt
6:7, but rather an attempt to draw closer to God by focusing the mind
D. It is important
to offer to God the concerns of the current moment as well as those
of all time, and to make specific resolutions as well as general ones.
St Francis de Sales recommends ending daily meditation with a specific
resolution that can be carried out within the next day. As the
Catechism says in section 2660, "It is right and good to pray so that
the coming of the kingdom of justice may influence the march of history,
but it is just as important to bring the help of payer into humble,
E. Prayer is meant to
be both individual and common. In common prayer, we must sacrifice
some of our own preferences, but the prayer of others strengthens our
own, and we are drawn more into a sense of the communion of saints praying
together throughout time and space. The Bible, from the prayers of the
people at the Temple to the Psalms to the common prayers of the early
Christians in Acts to the joining of the saints in prayer in the Book
of Revelations, emphasizes the importance of praying together.
F. The forms of prayer express the desire to be with God in different ways.
1. Vocal prayer,
whether set prayers such as the Our Father or more spontaneous prayers
in words, responds to God in human language. Vocal does not necessarily
mean out loud, but rather in organized words and sentences; it can be
external (i.e., out loud) or internal (i.e., silent prayer in sentence
form.) It has the limitations of language, but it also can frequently
be the best for groups in praying together. It can also be helpful
when one has trouble focusing on any one subject for prayer.
2. Meditation seeks
to understand more about God and His will for us, especially focusing
one some specific subject (e.g., a passage of Scripture, or a theme
such as repentance.) It is more general than vocal prayer and can appeal
more to the intellect. Lectio Divina, or reflections on the lives
of saints, are examples of meditation. One should always remember
that the purpose is not merely to engage in an academic exercise, but
rather to grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
is more simply being with God and trying to go beyond the images and
ideas we have, instead being infused with grace and holiness by God
Himself. It is at the height of prayer, but is often difficult
to achieve. Any prayer requires the grace of God, but deep contemplation
is especially a gift of God. One can and should make the effort to
be available for deeper contemplation, but in the end one cannot achieve
it by effort alone, even aided by ordinary graces. God decides
when He wants to draw one deeper.
V. The Church promotes a union of our prayers with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angels and saints, joining earth and heaven.
A. There is a communion between all of the faithful on earth and all of those who have died in the grace of God. AThe venerable faith of our ancestors [believes] in the living a communion that exists between us and our brothers and sisters who are in the glory of heaven or who are yet being purified after their death. Lumen Gentium 51.
1. Saints in
heaven can pray for us and join in our worship of God. "Being
more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven consolidate
the holiness of the whole church, add to the nobility of the worship
that the church offers to God here on earth, and in many ways help in
a greater building up of the church." Lumen
Gentium 49. Scripture has examples of the saints praying with
and for God's people. "Each of the elders held a harp and
gold bowls filled with incense which are the prayers of the holy ones."
Rev. 5:8. Judas Maccabeus "cheered them all by relating a dream,
a kind of vision, worthy of belief. . . . What he saw was this.
Onias, the former high priest, a good and virtuous man . . . was praying
with outstretched arms for the whole Jewish community." 2 Mac.
2. The Church
also venerates saints as models of Christian life. "When we
look on the lives of these men and women who have faithfully followed
Christ we are inspired anew to seek the city that is to come. . .
God speaks to us in them and offers us signs of His kingdom."
Lumen Gentium 50.
3. We can also help the faithful departed who still need to be purified from their earthly attachments before entry into heaven.
who die in the grace of God, but still partially attached to sins and
sinful desires, undergo a state of purification called Purgatory before
entering into heaven, a state that involves both the pain of being cleansed
and the certainty of approaching heaven. "All who die in God's
grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified are indeed assured
of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification
so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven."
Catechism 1030. For "who may go up to the mountain
of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place? The clean
of hand and pure of heart." Psalm 24:3. Purgatory makes
the departed who wish to be clean of hand and pure of hearth in fact
b. We can help souls who need to undergo this purification do so more easily by praying for them and offering meritorious actions and sufferings on their behalf. "From the beginning, the church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them. . .. So that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God." Catechism 1032. Judas Maccabeus and his soldiers "made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." 2 Mac. 12:46. Thus, for example, Masses are often offered for the dead.
B. Veneration of Mary
1. Mary is venerated
by the church as the Mother of God and the Queen of the saints and angels
because of the grace and favor God gave her and she freely accepted.
"Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and humanity to a
place after her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved
in the mysteries of Christ." Vatican II Council, Lumen
Gentium 66. "From now on, all generations will call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name."
2. The Church
also teaches that Mary was without sin, was a virgin her entire life,
and, at the end of her earthly life, and was assumed body and soul into
heaven. "Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from
all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished,
was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord
as Queen over all things." Pius XII, Munificentisimus Deus
3. As she does
with the saints, but even more so, the Church both looks to Mary as
an example and seeks her intercessions. "By her motherly love
she cares for her Son's brothers and sisters who still journey on
earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties. . . . She shines forth
on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope
and comfort to the people of God." Lumen
Gentium 62, 69. "A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman
clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head
a crown of twelve stars. . . She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations. . . . The dragon became angry with
the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring,
those who keep God's commandment and bear witness to Jesus."
Rev. 12:1, 5, 17.
4. In Treatise
on the True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis Marie de Montfort drew a
famous analogy for asking for the intercession of Mary, which is also
applicable by extension to all of the saints. He said that a farmer
who had only an apple to offer to a king may ask the queen's assistance;
and the queen would put the apple on a gold plate, dress it up well,
and then present it to the king on his behalf. Likewise, we offer
our prayers to Mary and the saints to present them in greater perfection
to God Himself.
VI. There can be many motives and subjects of prayer. One should be open to all of them, for while such motives as adoration and worship are, in a way, higher, all are a part of the human life.
A. Blessing and adoration
recognize the greatness of God and His favors towards us, acknowledging
God's actions in our lives and in all the world.
Closely related is thanksgiving for specific things God has done for
C. Prayers of praise
try to rise to a sense of the glory of God in Himself, for who He is,
surrounded by holiness and the choirs of angels.
D. Prayers of petition ask for things in our own lives. Prayers of intercession are for others. Jesus encourages such prayers, for as long as they are for things that are good, they involve an acknowledgment of God's goodness and power. Those things that are more certainly "in His name" are more likely to be granted.
- Included in prayers
of petition (and often springing from adoration and praise) are prayers
of repentance, asking God to forgive us and purify our own lives of
those things than are unworthy of Him.
VII. Maintaining prayerfulness
is, as the section 2725 of the Catechism puts it, a continuous battle.
God does not tempt us as the world or the devil does and sometimes wants
us to struggle that our prayer may be all the more valuable. For,
as St. Augustine says, when we struggle more, we love more. Sometimes
difficulties at prayer can be a result of voluntary laxness, but also
sometimes God is calling us through a more difficult time to deepen
our prayer life and not rely as much on easier methods. As St.
Ignatius, the 16th century founder of the Jesuit order points
out in his Spiritual Exercises, when one is feeling no comfort
at prayer, it is particularly important to keep up old resolutions,
try to purify one=s life, and be open to the voice of
VIII. There is a Catholic culture that surrounds our practice of the faith giving it a radiance and pleasantness that is an image of the kingdom of heaven.
1. T.S. Elliott,
the twentieth century British and American poet and literary master,
once wrote in Religion without Humanism that, when culture and
faith are separated, one ends up "a sentimental tune, an emotional
debauch, . . . a soulless political club or a skeleton dance of fleshless
dogmas." Culture and the Church, like faith and reason should enrich
2 Roman Giardini,
a leading theologian and liturgist of the twentieth century said in
The Spirit of the Liturgy, "Religion needs civilization. . .
. Individuals, in a short surge of enthusiasm can often dispense with
learning and the arts. But, generally speaking, in the long
run, a fairly high degree of learning and culture is needed for the
spiritual life. . . . Spiritual life retains it energy, clarity and
C. However, culture needs the Church and the moral law lest it decay into, as best, a waste of time and effort, and at worst a promotion of immorality or an appeal to the lowest common denominator. "The Church, our Mother, knows that if these media are properly used, they can be of great benefit to mankind. . . . But the Church also knows that man can use them in ways that are contrary to the Creator's design and damaging to himself. Indeed, she grieves with a mother's sorrow on the harm all too often inflicted upon society by their misuse." Vatican II Council, Inter Merifica (Decree on the Mass Media) (1963) 2; Communio et Progressio 53.