Friday, March 28, 2014

Benedictine Advice on Prayer

The Bear would like to share some wonderful advice on prayer that recently came into his paws:

Fr. Archabbot Lambert Reilly, OSB gave many retreats to Mother Teresa’s nuns. Fr. Abbot has a great understanding of prayer and I’d like to share some things that he mentioned in his conferences to the sisters.

-          Prayer is our first duty in life.  Conversion comes through prayer and reflection.  You will not go to heaven without it. 

-          Pray as you can.  If you don’t, your prayer life will get worse.  Don’t stop because you think you are not good at it.  Pray to please God; not yourself.

-          The Eucharist is the best prayer.  Next is the divine office (the Hours).  If the Psalms were good enough for Jesus, they are good enough for me.  Lectio divina comes next as a way to pray.

-          Do not expect to become a prayer expert.  Most of us are not experts.  Saint Teresa of Avila knew one nun who never was able to meditate on her own.  But, she prayed the rosary constantly anyway and she was the most charitable person Teresa knew.

One of the advantages of lay persons associating themselves with sound religious orders is that you have "big brothers" to emulate and get advice from. They deal with these issues constantly and are experts.

"You will not get to heaven without it," isn't something you're likely to hear in a homily -- about anything. Don't stop, whatever you do, and don't expect to become an expert. 

We are results oriented. If we persist at something and find we seem to have no talent for it, the temptation is to give up. Not prayer. The Catholic faith is not about an emotional buzz. Indeed, the old saints are suspicious of apparent extra helpings of God. If that is why you are a Christian, you will cease to be a Christian when the "warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow" wears off, to borrow from Pink Floyd. If that's what you're looking for, just bring a rock band into church.

My reading of The Interior Castle has opened my eyes to how unrealistic our expectations can be. Bearing in mind St. Teresa of Avila was writing for cloistered Carmelite nuns, few of even them could expect to reach the higher slopes of prayer, let alone the prayer of union. What, then, should we expect, mired in the world? (Although she did say that those in the world could still have a rewarding prayer life.)

The letter also said God is always with us, even when it doesn't seem like it. "Et ego semper tecum." This beast is always with You. God is merciful. Pax.


  1. "The higher slopes of prayer" - what a wonderful image. It would make a good title for a poem, short story, article, novel - heck, when you think about it, it could replace the title of just about any literary work of true and lasting merit.

    Lately, I've been dipping into some books about the experience - always perilous in the extreme - of climbers attempting the summit of Everest. That mountain is now littered with bodies, nearly all of them in that lofty, frigid and nearly airless section dubbed "The Death Zone". On the upper slopes.

    I wonder if it might not be said that the upper slopes of prayer - reachable by those content to strive interiorly, where they are - offer a life-giving alternative to a quest whose reward is death. Landscapes and vistas of unimaginable wonder and beauty - where "the air of Heaven" that Therese of Lisieux longed to breathe supplements the air of Earth. The Life Zone.

  2. P.S. Bear, what has happened to the feature that allowed one to edit one's comments?

  3. I read a book, I think it was called Left for Dead?, about a climber who was, well, left for dead and miraculously woke up and staggered back to safety, minus a few appendages, if I recall. I've always thought to voluntarily placing yourself at substantial risk of death for reasons of ego gratification was spiritually unsound. But to read about it is indeed compelling. I wonder how many perfectly preserved corpses are up there until Judgment Day?

    Your thoughts are beautiful, as usual. They don't need editing. The Interior Castle is a guide to reaching those upper slopes of prayer, and every bit as fascinating as mountain climbing. That sort of prayer has its own dangers, but St. Teresa's advice is always practical, even if she struggles to make us understand experiences you really can't understand until you've experienced them.

    Fortunately, not all of us can or need climb those upper slopes, just as few of us will ever climb Mt. Everest. The "life zone" is at the base, accessible to all of us who bumble and mumble through our prayers. I try to think of the canonical hours like each day two or three brush strokes, to change metaphors. They may not seem like much: dip the brush, dab the paint. But over the years something beautiful is gradually being brought forth, and not just in my life.

    Back to editing. Did the ability disappear when I went to unmoderated comments? I don't think there's a "switch" having to do with editing, but I'll look. I know that now your only option is to copy, delete, paste into a new comment and edit, which is not only cumbersome, but leaves a big DELETED BY AUTHOR message which invites all sorts of scandalous speculation.


Moderation is On.

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