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“Within me there is a spring that is very deep. And in that spring is God. Sometimes I am able to reach it, more often it is covered with stone and sand: in that moment God is buried, so one must dig him up again.” – written in the diary of Etty Hillesum, a 29-year old Dutch woman whose life was dissolved a few months later in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on November 30, 1943.
This quote comes from the introduction to a book I began last night. The Encounter: Discovering God Through Prayer by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. Released only yesterday by Saint Benedict Press I happened upon it by chance in Gloria Deo, our local Catholic bookstore. Prayer has increasingly become a large area of interest for me. My bookshelves and the books stacked next to my bed bear witness to this.
My favorite prayers are the Mass, the Divine Office, the rosary and the Amina Christi – probably in that order. As I’ve aged and my years of being able to wage a physical war begin to wane I have realized that the real war is that fought against the principalities and powers of this world through prayer. Prayer truly is the one weapon I wield. It is not a weapon forged for conquest or domination or punishment. Those are the weapons of this world. As this is not my world and I am but an exile…a stranger in a strange land…my interest in staying connected with that truth has multiplied. Hence the books, the study and the practice of prayer.
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12
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In his book Cardinal Ravasi describes the four verbs of prayer: Breathe. Think. Struggle. Love.
“The ancients rightly said that prayer is breathing. This shows how foolish it is to talk about the reason why one must pray. Why do I breathe? Because otherwise I would die. It is the same way with prayer.” – Sǿren Kierkegaard, philosopher (1813-1855)
The greatest book on prayer we have received is the Psalter: those 150 hymns/prayers are something that I’ve come to appreciate and to fall in love with since I began to pray the Divine Office over ten years ago. I began to not only pray them but to study them through the aid of several books and commentaries purchased through the years. In time they do become something I breathe. When I pray them I think, I experience struggle, and deep, deep love. Just this morning at dawn as I prayed Psalm 77 during Friday Matins I noticed something I’d not “seen” before:
…and in the gleam of the dawn they came to Him,
Remembering that God was their help and the Most High God, their redeemer.
That’s precisely the what and the why of what I do during Lauds, or Morning Prayer, each day.
Prayer, especially the prayers of the Divine Office, convey the rhythm of our day and our week. They are truly the rhythm of life. In Pius Parsch’s book The Breviary Explained (a book on the Divine Office) he writes:
The Breviary should be the ladder on which the soul mounts to heaven. As the seasons of the year have their effect on nature, giving the trees growth and blossom and fruit, so too the Church year with its course of feasts and seasons should affect the soul. Through contact and “exposure” to the Church year, our soul matures for heaven; no book offers more contact with the life of the Church’s liturgical year than does the Breviary. With this prayer book, moreover, the Church accompanies us through the day, and for each hour of the day she gives us a sword and a shield to spread and defend the kingdom of God in our soul: all this accomplished by the marvelous arrangement of hourly prayers.
The Breviary is prayer on the hour. As the prayer that paces with the Church year, it is in a sublime sense our guardian angel, our guide through life.
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One more quote from The Encounter:
We as well can echo the “You song” that the Hasidim, the “pious,” the Jews of Central Europe intoned in contemplating their landscape, even when this was overshadowed by the terror of the pogrom, the anti-Semitic massacres.
Wherever I may go, You;
wherever I may stop, You;
Wherever I turn and look, only You,
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Seen on my Twitter feed this week from Sr. Lisa Marie Doty (@Sr_Lisa): Ten ways to Love. My Mom’s list next to her computer.
#Bible A good list for all of us!
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As an aside I have started to read The Iliad by Homer. This passage from Book II stood out as I read it the other night:
His separate troops let every leader call,
Each strengthen each, and all encourage all.
It is obvious that this ol’ world is in desperate need of prayer. For prayer is the conveyance of love onto and into the world. It is a direct line of communication from our heart to the very heart of Love itself. Our world needs people of humility and a selfless poverty to lend their mind, soul and heart to this love. It is the one way that all of us may step forward and be counted. These are the troops to which I now belong. Through prayer let us “each strengthen each, and all encourage all.”
As Jean-Baptiste Chautard recounts in his book The Soul of The Apostolate, Pope St. Pius X was conversing with a group of his cardinals one day. The pope asked them: “What is the thing we most need, today, to save society?”
“Build Catholic schools,” said one.
“More churches,” said another.
“Speed up the recruiting of priests,” said a third.
“No, no,” said the pope. “The most necessary thing of all, at this time, is for every parish to possess a group of laymen who will be at the same time virtuous, enlightened, resolute, and truly apostolic.”
Apostles are men and women of prayer by the way.