I've devoted a lot of time this summer to the topics of gay "marriage" and abortion, as those issues touch profoundly on our cultural (mis)understanding of love and life itself. We are obligated to speak and fight for Truth, of course, and I have no intention of stopping, but there is something that must undergird all of our attempts to herald the Truth to the world, something essential and not incidental or optional for the disciple of Christ. Something I have not spent nearly enough time discussing. You all know what it is: prayer.
Some of you will read that word, "prayer", and click away now. Many no doubt skipped this post after noting the title. I see the stats, and I understand. The most popular posts deal with controversy and sex and blood and death. Back when I thought prayer was boring, I would have skipped the posts on prayer, too.
But now, it's the topic I most want to write about. It's what I'm most excited about, and the thing that orders my life these days. Long ago, I told you about the "bomb" that dropped in my spiritual life when I discovered the three traditional stages of holiness, and I'd like to say that my excitement was more than mere intellectual glee, but I'm not sure that would be accurate. To be fair to myself, I suppose there was spiritual advancement in some ways, but until prayer becomes the anchor of daily life, the joy sort of dances around in the intellect but cannot permeate to the depths of one's soul where it belongs.
Fast forward: In the past year, I have learned more spiritually (thanks to the gift of true suffering) than I had in the previous 20 combined. I have so much to say, and I keep alluding to what happened to me last summer, but I haven't yet written about it. My apologies for that; it'll come soon, God willing. What I can tell you is that a fruit of the past year has been a steady desire to pray and pray well. I consider myself a beginner at prayer, and I am excited to give a recommendation to those of you who are beginners like me.
The spiritual journey is breathtaking and full of surprises, but it is not unpredictable. We have true masters of prayer in our Catholic tradition, saints so well-known for their knowledge and experience of prayer that even non-Catholics and non-Christians turn to their wisdom. St. Teresa of Avila (16th century) is one of those masters. Teresa, both before and after she became a Carmelite nun, was by all accounts beautiful, brilliant, and charming. She was energetic and magnetic. She had it all -- except that she did not undertake serious prayer until she was already in her 40s, after many years in the convent!
However, once she committed to persevere in prayer, which was extremely difficult for her to do, she rose to the highest heights of union with God.
And my friends, once you and I commit to persevere in prayer, our hope of success is assured. Teresa and the saints tell us as much.
To that end, we have to know where to begin and what this prayer, this conversation, looks like. We need an expert guide like St. Teresa to help us as we take those first steps. The book I'm reading is a standard primer for those who need it laid out simply, clearly, systematically:
Conversation With Christ: The Teaching of St. Teresa of Avila about Personal Prayer, by Peter Thomas Rohrbach*, is accessible and basic. You will leave the book knowing what to do, and you will realize that it's not complicated.
Let me repeat: This is not a long, difficult theological book for those already advanced in the spiritual life. It is a starting point for beginners in prayer. And you will be relieved to discover that having a fruitful conversation with the God of the Universe, the Bridegroom of your soul, does not require fancy methods, nor any "method" at all. You will not have to empty your mind of all thought or use centering mantras (things which are, in fact, not advised!) in order to advance to infused contemplation and union with the Lord.
Yes, union with the Holy Trinity, infused contemplation, spiritual marriage -- these are accessible to all who persevere in prayer, seeking holiness and true friendship with God. This means that if you desire the Lord with all your heart, if you will to give your whole self to Him, He will honor that desire and give Himself to you.
Yes, you. God will give Himself to you.
You only need persevere. As St. Teresa said: "It is essential, I maintain, to begin the practice of prayer with a firm resolution to persevere in it." If you enter an intimate relationship with Christ and don't turn back, Heaven will be yours and you will taste it here on earth.
The world is swirling with sin and evil and darkness and confusion and chaos and brokenness and wounds, and we can become overwhelmed by it all. The battle we fight is not against flesh and blood, but powers and principalities. The battle is a supernatural one, and the greatest weapon -- and the path to inexplicable interior peace -- is prayer. As St. John Paul II said, prayer is as essential to a Christian as breathing.
Start breathing, then, and receive the fullness of life promised by Christ!
I challenge you to commit now to serious prayer, and see where God brings you, spiritually, six months or a year from now.
My friends, the Lord is about to do wonderful things in your life. Let us pray!
*Not to be confused with Fr. Richard Rohr, whose works I would never recommend.