Does Obama’s ring really say, “There is no God except Allah”? That would not surprise me, I must say!
A hard hitting piece by Dr. Peter Kreeft on Spiritual Warfare, written about 20 months ago and very suitable for our times. We should never forget this and we should especially keep this in mind as we enter the Year of Faith.
It is our task in life to live in the presence of God continuously; “to pray without ceasing.” It is impossible for man but nothing is impossible for God. So we may think we are incapable but as we have already discussed everything is possible with Christ.
About 3 posts ago I wrote a post that nobody seemed to understand. It didn’t strike me until the comments all had a similar ring to them that belied the intended message I wished to convey. I finally had to give the commenter, Jay, an explanation of what the blog was intended to be and so I apologize: it’s not the reader, it’s the fault of the author when things are not understood.
The post was titled, Failure to Commit, and my explanation could be paraphrased as follows:
My point of reference was myself, as I am the only one I can speak for with any certitude; and as the author I was afraid that if done poorly, it could sound as if I were pointing a finger at my readers. It was written solely for the purpose of showing the reader that we all need God’s grace to accomplish anything: that even simple prayers for an increase in faith, hope and love, may one day help us in this task of making and keeping important commitments. I’m no saint and recognize that most people fall short as well; but that does not mean that any of us have lost the opportunity as long as God continues to hold us in existence upon this earth. I was just trying to get across our real need for increased grace and that I too must be realistic about my own failures. Our failures show a weakness; and the weakness usually resides in our own individual will. Only love can motivate the will sufficiently to make the hardest commitment of all: dying to self. Without this truth indelibly infused into our minds there is no hope of dropping the pose for the true inner experience that we desire. The death of our ego, which we should seek, must begin within us so that God can be allowed to live His life within our souls. He will not accept competition in this regard. Only a very strong love and desire to die to self and to be reborn in Him will allow this to happen. And we will all fail; over and over again. That is why our prayers for each other are so necessary and beneficial for our advancement. My final analysis was that successful commitments need a strong love and a strong sense of sacrifice. In short, sacrificial love.
It is important to get this straightened out at the outset of this post should you have read the last three entries.
So we acknowledge that we need to develop sacrificial love in our hearts, agape love, the type that Christ had for us. As Christ perfects our souls in love through many trials, we continue to work on our virtues and our prayers, failing often but setting out again with the knowledge that Christ is teaching the soul and perfecting our love.
This action of repeatedly traversing from consolations to desolations and back again, occur both in our prayers and in our everyday living. This cycle brings us to a point where we begin to see God in all aspects of our lives. He is there in the joyous moments and even more present when our souls are suffering great torment. It is in this well-spring of spiritual life that God’s presence becomes the living water and an abiding presence that never leaves us.
Only then can our will gain the loving resolve to accept God’s will in all things. We are ready, finally, to surrender ourselves to Divine Providence. A complete abandonment of our self-serving will: I am yours, O Lord, do with me what you will.
How do I start? Personal recollection seems to reveal only a scant and inconsistent hodgepodge of memories and insights into one’s personal human experience. How does one glean the essence of the lessons and the truths revealed during life? The file cabinets of memories we’ve stored away are usually lacking in cohesiveness and resemble an office in complete disarray: piles of memories out of order, faded by age so that they are indecipherable, uncategorized and completely overwhelming. This reality leaves us with the distinct possibility that it may be completely beyond our ability. It is no wonder then that most never try to recollect them and come to a place of peace. Though we thirst for answers, we seldom come away with a cogent picture of who we truly are and to what purpose or end we were set upon this earth to fulfill. We ask ourselves if it is worth the trouble and usually lock the door so that we need not look at the mess that we have created: for the task is truly more that we alone can accomplish.
My first thought is that I am totally inadequate for the task – I will need an expert at organizing and prioritizing the scraps of memories strewn throughout my life so recklessly. I never knew that the smaller bits of my experiences during this pilgrimage on earth might actually have importance. They may have significance beyond my understanding and therefore more than likely to have been lost to the dust-bin of my unconscious. Retrieving them and making sense of them is certainly a supernatural undertaking.
This then leads me into the realm of the supernatural and the movement of faith in a man’s life. It seems that prayer and reflection hold our only hope if we are to find peace and make restitution for the wrongs we commit now or committed in our past. A true sense of sin and a firm commitment to amend one’s life seems to be the crux of any true recovery from our fallen state. But more importantly divine help must necessarily be sought from the one who has been witness to our every action and capable of retrieving everything lost to our unconscious: bringing them to the forefront of our minds for a thorough examination – and eventually to seek mercy for our wrongs and develop that supernatural hypersensitivity to anything that makes us less than the creation we were meant to be.
But even the above notions have a hidden danger. The danger is explained well in Dietrich von Hildebrand’s classic, Transformation in Christ. It is the danger that we go about our examination of self much like a psychologist; viewing it from afar in a disinterested matter. We have an objective look at ourselves without the true reality of our selves. We are almost watching a movie or a caricature of ourselves.
For real recollection of self to occur, it is necessary to confront yourself with the perfection of Christ and see the infinite chasm between ourselves and our Lord. Our goodness no longer seems good as only God is good. Our sins are against the unfathomable Good and separate us if by an impassible chasm. It is only in our true realization of self that we see the ultimate unbounded Good that made us for Himself.
Should we be lucky enough to glimpse this infinite difference between us, we might begin to feel and recognize the humility (a word that comes from the Latin root for humus or dirt). We are no more than clay pots who humbly pray for God’s grace and Goodness to fill our lowly beings with Himself. It is the only way that our worth might be realized as it really is and to recognize that our gifts and good works are a gift of the spiritual graces that Our Lord has deposited within us. We need not take pride in our successes but always be cognizant of a loving God’s care for those who seek His help and by an act of freewill seek to be transformed by Him to be worthy sons and daughters.
Truly being recollected for prayer is a stripping away of the façade of who we are and replacing it with a true representation of ourselves in the Presence of Perfection Himself.
Prayer has a twofold end: worship and petition. The prayer of worship can be divided into three distinct sentiments that are offered to God, adoration, thanksgiving and reparation, while the prayer of petition is principally a request for the effective operation of God’s Grace. Therefore, even petition is an act of confidence in Him and can be viewed as a form of homage to a loving God Who hears His creatures and pours His Grace upon them.
Prayer further can be distinguished by its form: mental, vocal, private or public. Mental prayer has no outward expression but is a silent conversation of the soul with God. All interior acts that tend to unite us with God can be considered mental prayer. This includes, recollection, consideration, reasoning, self-examination, loving thoughts of God, contemplation or a simple longing of the heart for God. These acts deepen our convictions, exercise our virtue and train us for our heavenly life: the eternal, loving contemplation of God. (See Chapter V, Sect. IV of Tanquerey’s, The Spiritual Life)
Vocal prayer expresses itself in word and in act stimulating devotion by the very sound of the words or the use of pious gestures. Therefore, we are called to be serious, attentive, and pious in the recitation of our prayers and the use of prayerful gestures; genuflection, kneeling, bowing, etc. One must be constantly aware of Who it is that this conversation is between. Further, such attentiveness helps our neighbors, who become more devout when exposed to people who are especially devout in their prayer. Therefore, devout and pious prayer is contagious; an act that reinforces one another’s faith and confidence.
As mentioned earlier, vocal prayer can be either private or public according to whether it is offered by an individual or by a group of individuals. “The prayers of the many cannot go unheeded when they unite in one.” __ St. Thomas’s commentary on Matthew 18:20. It is for this reason that we are urged to join in common prayer frequently and why the Church calls us together for Holy Mass and other religious liturgies every day of the week. The Church has always recommended our participation in Her daily prayer to God for Her people. Even so, a priest is urged to say Holy Mass even though the faithful cannot be present. Even so, this prayer is offered for all the people. Further, priests and religious recite daily the Divine Office, often in private, but always for the entire Church. We too are urged to join this prayer of the Church privately or publicly with a prayer group.
We are prodded to practice all types of prayer on a continuing basis: to offer God our homage and thanks, to make amends for our sins, and to ask for help with our special needs. We are invited to make our prayers mentally throughout our waking day and to join our voices and gestures to public acts of worship whenever possible. The purpose of our prayer life should reflect the reality which St. John the Baptist declared so aptly in John 3:30, “He must increase: but I must decrease.” For prayer is the soul’s preparation on Earth for our life with God in Heaven: a focus necessary to our eventual realization that God is All in all and we are merely unprofitable servants in dire need of His Divine Mercy.
Prayer presupposes faith and knowledge of God and the soul’s desire to seek change. It therefore contains within itself some degree also of self-knowledge, which makes us long for the perfection possessed only by God. Prayer acknowledges the fact that we are far from perfect and a realization that without supernatural help we are unprofitable servants in regards to the attainment of our intended end – that for which we were created. Since all our actions and strivings toward the Good are worthless without God’s help, humility must likewise be the foundation upon which prayer rests – a readiness, even an eagerness, to be radically changed.
Prayer is also an expression of our hope, which leads us to believe that change is possible; not merely by our own effort but by our cooperation with the Grace that only God can provide. Prayer is a natural conversation with our supernatural end, which is God Himself – it is that which places God at the center of our lives.
Like a moth that circles a candle we are attracted by the Light of Truth and transfixed by the Warmth of Love. The bright, warm air that we live and breathe is prayer – our connection to the Holy Immortal Flame, to which we are not yet capable of being fully united. Without this air we could not fly near the Flame nor examine its beauty from many different angles. We would merely have to content ourselves by gazing at the tiny flicker from afar. We could not move closer to our goal and would thereby exist without feeling the warmth or witnessing the brilliance of the light. The warmth of God’s Love and the Light of God’s Truth fills us with energy for living a Spiritual Life – this we gain through prayer.
Prayer is the lifting of the soul to God. It is the exercise of our mind and heart in Divine Converse. God Himself initiates this conversation with the consent of our freewill. In humility we bring ourselves before the Almighty King, our Loving Father. We praise Him Who is our All in all and beg Him for His Mercy. We thank Him for His generosity towards us, and plead with Him for all that we need – everything according to His Holy Will.
Just as a green log thrown into a fire begins to warm and exude unclean smoke and blackness so too is the soul that moves closer to God in prayer. It is purged of its foulness and tried in the crucible of Divine Love. Eventually, just as the log, the soul catches flame and takes on the qualities of fire itself – emitting its own light and warmth. Without prayer the soul, like a log on a stack of wood, could never exercise its potential to become likened to God, the Living Flame of Love. We must will that the Hand of God place us in His Holy Fire and we do this through prayer.
“Faith believes, hope and love pray, but these could not exist without faith; hence it is, that faith also prays.” (St. Augustine, Enchirid. VII) Prayer, then, exercises the three theological virtues and relies on acts of humility, obedience, fortitude, and constancy such that our soul becomes united with God in a most perfect manner. It is prayer that detaches us from creatures and places us in the presence of God that we might become transformed to His Image and Likeness. (See The Spiritual Life, A. Tanquerey, 517 – 519 B.)
It is through the continual practice of prayer that we grow in holiness; take the mundane occurrences in life and transform them into worthy acts of praise. Our very actions in life become part of our prayer. All holy and good actions proceed from the practice of prayer and progress in the spiritual life is impossible without it.
What a gift is prayer that acts as an oxygen tank for those who wish to venture into the rarified airs of Heaven.