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Marian Doctrine and Christianity
Fr. Rudolf V. D’ Souza OCD
In the history of Christianity, the periods in which Marian doctrine and devotion have flourished are also the periods when the worship and adoration of her Son were most prominent. There were moments in the history when Mary was exalted and at the same time many heretics tried to bring devotion towards her down.
The first major period of Mariological developments ranges from the second to the seventh centuries when the Christian community reflected on Mary’s role as the New Eve and acclaimed her divine maternity and perpetual virginity in various councils. This was also the period when the great Christological dogmas were debated and defined. This period saw the Councils of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople I (381 A.D.), Ephesus (431 A.D.), Chalcedon (451 A.D.), Constantinople II (553 A.D.), and Constantinople III (681 A.D.).
The second period covers the eighth and ninth centuries when the Second Council of Nicea (787 A.D.) defined the veneration of images. Christians then pondered more closely Mary’s relationship to her Son, her sharing in His resurrection, her freedom from sin and the importance of her intercession.
Third and Forth period on which we try to make a deeper study can be summarized as follows:
The third period was the age of the Scholastics, notably Ambrose, Aquinas and Bonaventure, who provided a systematic framework for Christology and a clearer understanding of Mary’s role in the mystery of salvation. In 1215 A.D., the Fourth Council of the Lateran, and in 1274 A.D., the Second Council of Lyons, made significant pronouncements on the doctrine of the Trinity.
The fourth period stretches from 1300 A.D. to 1800 A.D., from the Renaissance through the Reformation through the Enlightenment. This was a period when many of the great truths of Christianity increasingly came under attack. The lowest point was reached with the so-called Enlightenment Era when atheism was on the ascendant and Christian doctrine was emptied of substance even within various Christian communities. Although the Protestant Reformers had initially tried to hold to some Christological and Mariological truths, many of their heirs gradually came under the influence of the Enlightenment. A famous Lutheran theologian Friedrich Heiler has written that the Marian doctrines were lost by later Protestants because of “the spirit of the enlightenment with its lack of understanding of mystery, and especially of the mystery of the Incarnation, which in the 18th century began the work of destruction.” Another Lutheran scholar, Basilea Schlink, holds that “the majority of us [Protestants] have drifted away from the proper attitude towards her [Mary], which Martin Luther had indicated to us on the basis of Holy Scripture … [partially due to the rise of Rationalism which] has lost the sense of the sacred. In Rationalism man sought to comprehend everything, and that which he could not comprehend he rejected. Because Rationalism accepted only that which could be explained rationally, Church festivals in honor of Mary and everything else reminiscent of her were done away with in the Protestant Church. All biblical relationship to the Mother Mary was lost, and we are still suffering from this heritage.” Despite the clouds of darkness hanging over Christendom, this period nevertheless saw the production of a number of devotional Marian masterpieces.
In 12th Century Feast of the Conception of Mary in France, Germany, Italy and Spain, Normandy are celebrated in many churches. The Feast of the Assumption was celebrated in the city of Rome, and in France.
Between 13th -15th century, called the Late Middle ages, devotion to Mary grew dramatically. Mary was increasingly venerated in popular piety as mediator of the mercy of Christ. Among the popular devotions that came into being at this time were the Rosary.
In 1477 Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, established the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1477 with a feast of with a proper mass and office to be celebrated on December 8. This is a big feast celebrated today by Catholics all over the world.
The fifth and final period ranges from 1800 A.D. to the present day, which will not be the subject of this article. In this period it may be said that God launched a Marian counter-attack on the Enlightenment in its nerve-center through a series of Marian apparitions in France. These were the great nineteenth century apparitions of the Miraculous Medal, La Salette and Lourdes, which continue to exert a tremendous influence as tangible manifestations of the supernatural world denied by the Enlightenment theories of the middle ages. Such influential apparitions have continued into the twentieth century, the most notable example being Fatima, Portugal. Accompanying these reminders of the Marian heritage, there has been a revival of interest in Marian doctrine and devotion that continues even today. But many of the Christian communities who have rejected Marian doctrine and devotion have gradually departed from Christological doctrine as well.
Focus on the Middle Ages
During the late Middle Ages (13th century to 15th century), devotion to Mary grew dramatically. One of the principal reasons was the image of Christ that developed in the missionary efforts of the early Middle Ages. To the extent that the Goths and other tribes of central and northern Europe were Christian, they remained strongly influenced by Arianism, a teaching that denied the divinity of Christ. In response, preaching and the arts of this period particularly stressed Christ’s divinity, as in the Byzantine depictions of Christ as Pantokrator (universal and all-powerful ruler) and in the western images of Christ as the supreme and universal judge. As Christ became an awe-inspiring, judgmental figure, Mary came to be depicted as the one who interceded for sinners. As the fear of death and the Last Judgment intensified following the Black Plague in the 14th century, Mary was increasingly venerated in popular piety as mediator of the mercy of Christ. Her prayers and pleas were seen as the agency that tempered the stern justice of Christ. Among the popular devotions that came into being at this time were the rosary (a chaplet originally consisting of 150 Hail Marys in imitation of the 150 Psalms in the psalter, later augmented by 15 interspersed “Our Father” as penance for daily sins); the angelus recited at sunrise, noon, and sunset; and litanies (invocations of Mary using such biblical titles as Mystical Rose, Tower of David, and Refuge of Sinners). Hymns, psalms, and prayers were incorporated into the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, in imitation of the longer divine office recited or chanted by monks and priests.
Doctrine of Immaculate Conception
The principal theological development concerning Mary in the Middle Ages was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This doctrine, defended and preached by the Franciscan friars under the inspiration of the 13th-century Scottish theologian John Duns Scotus; maintains that Mary was conceived without original sin. Dominican teachers and preachers vigorously opposed the doctrine, maintaining that it detracted from Christ’s role as universal saviour. Pope Sixtus IV, a Franciscan, defended it, establishing in 1477 a feast of the Immaculate Conception with a proper mass and office to be celebrated on December 8.
Marian shrines and places of pilgrimage were found throughout the world. At Montserrat in Spain the Black Virgin has been venerated since the 12th century. The icon of Our Lady of Czêstochowa has been venerated in Poland since the early 14th century. The picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe commemorates an alleged apparition of Mary to Native American Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. In the 19th century a number of apparitions of Mary were reported that inspired the development of shrines, devotions, and pilgrimages – for instance, in Paris (1830, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal); Lourdes (1858, Our Lady of Lourdes); Knock, in Ireland (1879, Our Lady of Knock); and Fatima, in Portugal (1917, Our Lady of Fatima).
Lutheran Attacks and Counter Attacks
The Anglican scholar A. Lancashire shows in Born of the Virgin Mary that a Christianity without Mariology cannot have an orthodox Christology: “A rejection of Mariology must inevitably lead to a rejection of orthodox Christology. … Devotion to Mary, far from leading men away from Christ, draws the Church into a deeper recognition of the mystery of God’s loving activity directed towards man in Christ.”
Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Oneness Pentecostals that accept the divine inspiration of the Bible but reject the doctrine of the Trinity have simply taken Fundamentalism to its logical conclusion. When you reject the binding interpretations of the historic Faith there is no doctrine that is safe. Moreover, the history of doctrine shows that the rejection of Marian doctrine leads sooner or later to the rejection of the Christological and Trinitarian affirmations. It is Marian doctrine and devotion that preserved the truth of the Trinity. When the Christian believer sees the biblical portrait of Mary as Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, he grasps forcefully the distinctions between the Three Persons. The doctrine of the Trinity becomes a reality for him. On the flip side, the idea of “Jesus alone” with no reference to Mary leads to a focus on God only as Father (Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Fundamentalists) or a focus on Jesus that excludes the Father and the Holy Spirit (most Fundamentalists) or an exclusive focus on the Holy Spirit (Fanatic Charismatics/ Pentecostals). With a healthy Marian devotion comes an authentic understanding and a conscious grasp of the doctrine of the Trinity. Marian doctrine is equally important for Christology. For instance, the declaration that Mary is the Mother of God said two clear things about Christ: He is one Person, a divine Person; He is a human being because His mother is human. Once the declaration of Mary’s Divine Maternity was rejected the next step was to reject the affirmation that Christ is a divine Person.
Finally, each one of the Marian doctrines is in reality both a Christological doctrine and an application of Christology to the human condition. The Marian doctrines not only tell us the central truths of Christology but show their application in the life of humanity as a whole. To say that Mary is the Mother of God is to say that Jesus is God and Man. To teach Mary’s Perpetual Virginity is to teach the Virgin Birth and the supernatural nature of the birth of Jesus. To proclaim the Immaculate Conception is to proclaim the reality of the redemption wrought by the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world – to realize moreover that the redemptive effects of His death transcend time. To acclaim the Assumption of Mary is to celebrate the fact that the Resurrection of Christ not only took place but that it opens the door to our own resurrection from the dead. To affirm the mediation of Mary is to affirm both the supreme mediation of Christ and the possibility and the obligation of our participating in this mediation.
Martin Luther and Marian Doctrine
Contrary to popular belief, Martin Luther basically did not reject major Marian doctrines although some of his immediate followers and present day heirs have done so. This point is well argued by the Lutheran Charles Dickson: “After five centuries of Church history since the period of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants alike assume the reformers downplayed the role of the Virgin Mary in God’s plan of salvation. Actually the facts are otherwise. While it is true that many of the radical leaders who followed the original reformers sought to eliminate the Mother of our Lord from their theology, and in many cases were successful in all but doing so, this does not represent the position of the early leaders. … Perhaps in no other place is the discrepancy more evident than in the example of the viewpoints of Martin Luther contrasted with the practices and beliefs of modern Protestants. What did Luther really believe about Mary? For an answer to that question, we must search through his original writings. Some interesting points emerge as a result of that investigation. First, Luther referred to Mary as “the workshop of God” and decried Protestant antagonism toward her as an offshoot of Church conflict. Luther believed in the help of the Virgin Mary for all worthwhile endeavors. In his letter to Prince John Frederick, duke of Saxony, in 1521 as a prologue to his commentary on the Magnificat of the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, he wrote, “May the tender Mother of God herself procure for me the spirit of wisdom profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers.” Not only did Luther believe Mary helped Christians who call on her for assistance, he also supported prayers to her. Again, in his commentary on the Magnificat, he wrote, “O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, what great comfort God has shown us in you by so graciously regarding your unworthiness and low estate.” For those who would follow in the faith, he desired a continued honor of Mary by stating, “The Virgin Mary means to say simply that her praise will be sung from one generation to another so that there will never be a time when she will not be praised.” While he was concerned about any beliefs or practices that might tend to make her equal with Christ in our redemption, in accord with Catholic theology throughout history, he referred to Mary as “Queen of Heaven” and called this a “true enough name”. Luther’s belief in the position of Mary in salvation history is summed up in his conclusion to the commentary on the Magnificat where he states, “We pray God to give us a right understanding of this Magnificat, an understanding that consists not merely in brilliant words, but in glowing life in body and soul. May Christ grant us this through the intercession and for the sake of His dear Mother Mary.”
It is a hard fact of history that Marian doctrine and devotion have been an indivisible part of Christian belief – both in the East and the West – for 20 centuries. The primary sources of Marian doctrine and devotion are the following: Sacred Scripture, the divinely inspired inerrant Word of God; the earliest Teaching of the Apostolic Community which in the first four centuries served as the main framework of instruction for believers prior to the fixing of the canon of Scripture; the inner dynamic of Christianity as this emerged through the authoritative interpretation of Scripture by the Councils and Creeds; the liturgy which reflected the Apostolic Faith; the reflections of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church; the testimony of the Holy Ones and Martyrs; the consensus of the faithful. United with all of this also was the living experience of Mary enjoyed by millions.
By establishing its basis in Scripture and the apostolic community’s interpretation of Scripture, Mariology seeks to show that Marian doctrine and devotion are (a) fundamental to historic Christianity and (b) acceptable to all Christians regardless of denominational background. Differences on other issues such as the Papacy and the Sacraments, important as these may be, are not the subject of these volumes since the objective is simply to introduce Bible-believing Christians to their common Mother. Fortunately, there is today a cross-denominational rediscovery of Mary and a renaissance of Marian thought among Protestant Christians. The Ecumenical Society for the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in 1966, has played an influential role in the contemporary rediscovery. Among the most important recent books on Mary by Protestant Christians are Mary for all Christians by John Macquarrie (Anglican); Down to Earth: The New Protestant Vision of the Virgin Mary by John de Satge (Evangelical); A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary by Charles Dickson (Lutheran) and Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Neville Ward (Methodist).
We Catholics know that the importance of Mary will be truly rediscovered only if the doctrine is based on the unity of their faith. They must resolve considerable discrepancies of doctrine concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church, and sometimes also concerning the role of Mary in the work of salvation. The dialogues begun by the Catholic Church with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West are steadily converging upon these two inseparable aspects of the same mystery of salvation. If the mystery of the Word made flesh enables us to glimpse the mystery of the divine motherhood and if, in turn, contemplation of the Mother of God brings us to a more profound understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation, then the same must be said for the mystery of the Church and Mary’s role in the work of salvation. By a more profound study of both Mary and the Church, clarifying each by the light of the other, Christians who are eager to do what Jesus tells them as their Mother recommends (cf. Jn. 2:5) will be able to go forward together on this “pilgrimage of faith.” Mary, who is still the model of this pilgrimage, is to lead them to the unity which is willed by their one Lord and so much desired by those who are attentively listening to what “the Spirit is saying to the Churches” today (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17).
 Friedrich Heiler, “Die Gottesmutter im Glauben und Beten der Jahrhunderte,” Hochkirche 13 (1931), p. 200.
 Basilea Schlink, Mary, the Mother of Jesus (London: Marshall Pickering, 1986), 114-115.
 This feast was extended to the whole Western church by Pope Clement XI in 1708. In 1854 Pope Pius IX issued a solemn decree defining the Immaculate Conception for all Roman Catholics, but the doctrine has not been accepted by Protestants or by the Orthodox churches. In 1950 Pope Pius XII solemnly defined as an article of faith for all Roman Catholics the doctrine of the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven.
 A. Lancashire, Born of the Virgin Mary, London: The Faith Press, 1962, pp. 142-3.
 Charles Dickson, A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary, 40-2
Jesus, the Great Teacher
Dr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. Teaching is a divine task. Teaching ensures future of humanity. Being a good teacher is a task of transmitting wisdom of God himself. Although the teaching ministry of Christ lasted only three and a half years, during that time He showed that He was the world’s master teacher. He performed great miracles and taught a new way of life. His teaching was simple. He used words the common people could understand, and took His illustrations from the things with which His listeners were familiar. Many of His principles were set forth in parables. A parable is a true-to-life story with a special meaning.
The things Jesus taught are more important than His methods. He gave us a complete way of life, which He summed up in one sentence, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”[Mt 7.12]
One of the great themes of His teaching was God’s kingdom. His claim was, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”[Mk 1.14-15]
This is a reminder to all of us that the world is not out of control. God is still in charge, but He has given us free-will. We are not like machines wound-up by God. Rather we are free and yet ruled by a King, and that is God. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God it was to invite people to submit themselves to it. Jesus told parables to illustrate what He meant by God’s kingdom.
The Parable of the Sower
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”[Mt 13.3-8]
Obviously the resulting crop depended on the kind of ground that the seed fell into. What Jesus meant here is that if our hearts are hard, bitter, and filled with pride and self sufficiency, then even if the good seed comes to us, even if we hear and learn about His kingdom, we won’t accept it. However, if we accept God’s will in our lives, the Kingdom of God will be within us.
A Hidden Treasure
On another occasion Jesus told of a treasure hidden in a field. A merchant found it “… and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.”[Mt 13.44] It is true that when we find the Kingdom of God, we receive much joy, but there is a price to be paid. Our becoming a member of the Kingdom of God, and following Jesus may offend many people. Our honesty may well make some people around us uncomfortable. We may lose friends, brothers and sisters. Our families may well turn against us. Joining this Kingdom of God may mean the loss of a job, imprisonment, or even death. Jesus recognizes that you may have to pay a high price to come into this Kingdom but it is still well-worthwhile.
Once some of the Jewish leaders from the sect of the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come.[Lk 17.20-21] Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in you.” Many people who were listening to Jesus were longing for a political revolution. They wanted Jesus to be their Messiah in a political sense, to overthrow the Roman rulers and release Palestine from its bondage. Jesus refused such a demand because that was not the real problem. Mankind’s fundamental problem is not political. it is sin. Jesus came to deal with sin. [Jn 6.15] According to Him, God’s kingdom was a universal kingdom, not restricted to any particular people. Therefore He told them that this kingdom is within men’s hearts. It was not something that was going to be established in the future, but something that was being established there and then. One can become a member of this kingdom by following Jesus and His commandments.
The Parable of the Lost Son
Jesus did not tell this parable just to entertain the people who were around Him. He intended to show that God receives even the wicked person who repents and turns to Him, because He wants everyone to be saved and come to him through Jesus. In this parable we see how one may turn away from God to find his own way of adventure and folly. However God in his mercy and kindness awaits and leaves the door flung open for every sinner.
Have you ever wondered what makes a great special education teacher? What separates a mediocre teacher from a terrific teacher? It’s not easy to define, however, here’s a list of qualities:
Through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the teacher, who is our master teacher, gives us good counsel on the way to true happiness, the settling of quarrels, how to avoid immorality, how to deal with those showing enmity, the true practice of righteousness free from hypocrisy, the right attitude toward the material things of life, confidence in God’s generosity, the golden rule for right relationships with others, the means for detecting religious frauds, how to build for a secure future. The crowds were “astounded at His way of teaching; for He was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt 7:28-29).
Why should learning from Jesus be the only way to inherit the Kingdom of God? It is because He is the king of the kingdom. He did not act like worldly teachers. He introduced a totally different concept of leadership through his practical life of teaching. He advised his disciples: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mk 10.43-45] He demonstrated this concept by washing the feet of His disciples [Jn 13.4-17]. Later He gave his life for them and for us. On the other hand He did prove His authority and trustworthiness by the many signs He provided, and by the many prophecies He fulfilled particularly by getting out of the tomb [Rom 1.4; 10.9]. This is what the Master Teacher has taught us.
MOUNT CARMEL FEAST
An Invitation to Prayer and Spiritual Empowering
Dr. Rudolf V. D’ Souza OCD
On 16th July the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Mount Camel, and on 20th July the Feast of St. Elijah. Both these commemorations spell out the importance of prayer and spirituality; and the significance of “CARMEL”. The word ‘Carmelite’ is derived from the Old Testament; and precisely its mention is found in the I Kings Chapter 18, where the adventurous Prophet Elijah has a religious appointment with the prophets of Baal. On Mount Carmel he gives witness to the Living God offering Him a true sacrifice and massacring the false prophets of Baal after they had failed to prove the existence of their deity. The prophet shows himself a man filled with zeal for the living God and has several encounters with Him later in his life (I Kgs 19). Mount Carmel is not a single mountain, rather a mountain range that provides a scenic beauty to the beholder and compels one to contemplation, prayer and solitude. It is here that the disciples or the sons of the Prophet Elijah begin their life of total dedication to and communion with the Lord.
The Birth of Carmel
The Carmelite Order, the cradle of Carmelite spirituality was born when a group of dedicated holy people lived together trying to experience the presence of the living God after the maiden example of Prophet Elijah. In their undying quest for God-experience they faced squarely all the difficulties and trials and got settled on the western slope of Mount Carmel, determined to live in obedience to God and sought to live the Christian life in imitation of Jesus Christ.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, some of crusaders who had come from France, England, and other Western countries, to fight and re-conquer Palestine, decided to settle on the slopes of Mount Carmel, dedicating themselves to “meditation on the law of the Lord, day and night, and watching in prayer.” Most of them were scarcely literate soldiers, who got converted to a more spiritual warfare, took up an eremitical form of life, and professed a special devotion to Our Lady, styling themselves, Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
In their tryst venture at living a totally dedicated life to God, they felt something was missing and they approached the Patriarch of Jerusalem for some guidelines around which they could organize their daily life. The Patriarch of the time (1206-1214) was Albert the Great, and he obliged the holy people to offer them some important guiding principles. Being himself a Canon regular of St. Augustine, and quite experienced in the monastic way of life, gave them a program of life in a short document succinctly explaining the characteristic features of the new lifestyle they wished to embrace. This is what has come to be called The Carmelite Rule, a document that was to become the basis and point of reference for all who subsequently joined this new religious family. The Carmelite School of Spirituality has its roots in this very rule given to those hermits.
The Initial Essentials
Since the holy hermits had decided to embrace the eremitical life as a group (and not as individuals) they had to elect one among them to preside over their life affairs. The elected one is to be called the Superior and will then govern the daily affairs with the agreement and collaboration of all. He will live in the cell nearest to the entrance to their settlement so as to be more easily accessible to anyone seeking to join the group or meet the group or individually. He would be responsible for assessing candidates and making due provision for their admission to and initiation into their particular way of life. He is to regard himself as the humble servant of the rest, while they in turn are to honour and obey him as the representative of Christ in their midst.
Each hermit is to live in a cave or cell of his own meditating the word of God and watching in prayer, unless otherwise other duties required their attention. Every morning they are to come together to celebrate the Eucharist. All they possess is to be held in common and distributed to each according to ones age and needs. At least once a week, they are to come together to discuss the observance of the main points of the Rule and what concerns the salvation of their souls. This was the time to draw attention to any fault, be it in an individual or in the community as a whole, with a view to progress in spiritual life.
They are to be austere in their eating habits: no meat at any time, a fast from the Exaltation of the Holy Cross to Easter was to be strictly observed. It was accepted that delicate health, illness or any just cause could excuse one from the fast or abstinence, as necessity knows no law. The Patriarch then goes on to exhort them to live by faith, hope and charity and never to forget that life is an ongoing battle. Their whole energy must be directed towards loving God above everything else and loving their neighbours; and they were to look to the Lord alone for their salvation and inspiration. Manual work or any other type of work was essential in the whole monastic tradition, and therefore it was to be regarded as an integral part of their way of life. Following the example of St. Paul, it was to be a means of earning their livelihood as well as a means of avoiding idleness that created the occasions of so many temptations.
If they are to ponder God’s law day and night, then silence was indispensable. During the day they must avoid all unnecessary speech and at night from Vespers till next morning all useless communication had to be severed. Should anyone wish to do even more than is required here, concludes Albert, he may do so, and the Lord will reward him when He comes. Let everything be done with that moderation which is the hallmark of all true virtue. From these primitive rules sprout forth the initial shoots of Carmelite Spirituality that gradually become the mighty branches of the spirit of this family.
The Birth of Spirituality
Due to persecution in the Holy Land the Carmelite hermits were forced to escape to Europe for their survival in the thirteenth Century. The Carmelite life spread rapidly in various parts of Europe and especially in Spain.
The Great Teresa of Avila, a woman of determined determination launches into renewal of Carmelite life in Europe, especially in the Castile region of Spanish territory after she felt a deeper longing for living exclusively for God alone. Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515. She died in Alba, October 4, 1582. Her family origins have been traced to Toledo and Olmedo. Her father, Alonso de Cepeda, was a son of a Toledan merchant, Juan Sanchez de Toledo and Ines de Cepeda, originally from Tordesillas. Juan transferred his business to Avila, where he succeeded in having his children marry into families of the nobility. In 1505 Alonso married Catalina del Peso, who bore him two children and died in 1507. Two years later Alonso married the 15-year-old Beatriz de Ahumada of whom Teresa was born. On Nov. 2, 1535, Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila, where she had a friend, Juana Suarez. Her father resigned himself to this development in the life of Teresa. The following year she received the habit and began wholeheartedly to give herself to prayer and penance. Shortly after her profession she became seriously ill and failed to respond to medical treatment. As a last resort her father took her to Becedas, a small village, to seek the help of a woman healer famous throughout Castile, but Teresa’s health did not improve. Leaving Becedas in the fall of 1538, she stayed in Hortigosa at the home of her uncle Pedro de Cepeda, who gave her the Third Alphabet (Tercer Abecedario) of Francis of Osuna to read. This reading triggers in her a novel enthusiasm for God-experience.
Her great work of reform began with herself. She made a vow always to follow the more perfect course, and resolved to keep the rule as perfectly as she could (Life 32.9). However, the atmosphere prevailing at the Incarnation monastery was less than favorable for a perfect type of life to which Teresa aspired. A group assembled in her cell one September evening in 1560, taking their inspiration from the primitive tradition of Carmel and the discalced reform of St. Peter of Alcantara who proposed the foundation of a monastery of an eremitical type.
The Spiritual March
Teresa’s writings are an indication to the development of the Spirit of Carmel and her march towards deeper experience of God. Among her writings three can be indicated as the depositories of her spiritual teaching: her autobiography, the Way of perfection, and the Interior Castle. Readers must exercise some caution, however, and resist the temptation to hastily synthesize the doctrine in these books, because St. Teresa wrote from her personal experience at different stages of the spiritual life according to the need of the time. For example, the doctrine of prayer found in the autobiography is not identical with that in the Interior Castle. One is the offshoot of the other and more than a decade had elapsed between their final compositions. Teresa had meanwhile attained a higher degree of spiritual maturity with its simultaneous deepening of experience. The autobiography, written primarily as a manifestation of her spiritual state for her spiritual directors, was later elaborated for benefiting her own sisters. Chapters 11 to 22 inclusive are devoted exclusively to the discussion of prayer, although additional comments and examples are scattered throughout the remaining 28 chapters. Teresa depicts different stages of the life of prayer in metaphorical terms taken from the manner of drawing or carrying water to irrigate a garden. The “first water” is laboriously obtained from a well and carried in a bucket to the garden; this is in reference to beginners who, liberated from the more flagrant mortal sins, apply themselves to discursive prayer of meditation, although they experience the daily fatigue and aridity from time to time. After speaking at length of meditation in its stricter meaning, Teresa makes a brief reference to “acquired” contemplation before beginning her discussion on the “second type of watering the garden”. In this second stage, the gardener secures water through use of a windlass and bucket or container. Here Teresa refers to the “prayer of quiet, a gift of God through which the individual begins to have a passive experience of prayer. The third method of irrigation is channeling the water from a stream or river. This application made in reference to the “sleep of the faculties or powers during prayer.” Although Teresa considered this an important stage in the evolution of prayer, she later compares it to a simple intensification of the “prayer of quiet” in the Interior Castle. The fourth method of irrigation is a downpour of God’s graces i.e., the rain. Teresa uses this metaphor to describe a state of union in prayer in which the soul is apparently passive and drinks quietly all that God gifts to the soul.
In her Way of Perfection Teresa teaches the major virtues that demand the practice of prayer, and using the Pater Noster as a true means for teaching prayer at greater depth. This book is sometimes referred to as the apex of Teresa’s ascetical doctrine. The Interior Castle is the principal source of mature Teresian thought on the spiritual life in its integrity. Chief emphasis is laid on the life of prayer, but other elements like charity, service and apostolate are also integrated. The Interior Castle is the soul, in the center of which dwells the Trinity. Growth in prayer enables the individual to enter into deeper intimacy with God marked by a progressive journey through the mansions of the castle from the outermost to the luminous center. When a man has attained union with God in the degree permitted to him in this world, he is “at the center” of himself; in other words, he has integrity as a child of God and as a human being. Each of the mansions of the castle is distinguished by a different stage in the evolution of prayer, with its consequent effects upon every other phase of the life of the individual.
The Master and Teacher of Mysticism
The next level of Carmelite Spiritual School is to be attributed to the scholarly exposition of spiritual theology and mysticism in the writings of St. John of the Cross. John was contemporary of Teresa of Avila. Spiritually he was the right hand of Teresa, guiding her and strengthening her in her discernment of the will of God. He delves deeper into the mystery of God’s love and dedicates his energy and talents into discovering the profound center of God in the human heart. In his writings he never lets down the reader, rather leads him to the culminating experience of God until one is totally saturated.
Among the Church’s contemplatives, John is one of the acknowledged masters of mystical theology. Indeed, no other writer has had greater influence on Catholic spirituality than John of the Cross. Together with Teresa of Avila, he reformed the Discalced Carmelites, an order devoted to the service of the Blessed Mother through prayer and penance.
Born at Fontiveros, Spain, in 1542, John had to face many uncertainties in his childhood. Though he was the son of a wealthy silk merchant, Gonzalo de Yepes, and a poor weaver girl, Catalina Alvarez he became a pauper because the Yepes family disowned John’s father for marrying a girl not of their wealthy standard. The young couple lived in hardship, following the ordinary trade of silk weaving. John was the youngest of three sons. Shortly after his birth, Gonzalo died due to a prolonged illness, and Catalina struggled heroically to provide for her sons, settling in Medina del Campo. Young John attended a school for poor children, gaining a basic education and the opportunity to learn skills from local craftsmen. When he was 17, he began to work at the Hospital de la Concepción, and its founder offered to let him attend the Jesuit College, so long as he did not neglect his hospital duties. From 1559 to 1563, John studied with the Jesuits, learning Latin, Greek, and other subjects. He was offered the chance to study for the secular priesthood, which would have given him material security, but he felt God was calling him to Religious life. At age 20, he entered the Carmelite Order, being clothed with the habit on February 24, 1563, and taking the name Juan de Santo Matia (John of Saint Matthias). John continued his studies notably at the University of Salamanca, which was known for its excellent professors of Thomistic philosophy, an influence which is apparent throughout his writings. An outstanding scholar, John taught classes while still a student. He was ordained in 1597, and said his first Mass in Medina del Campo. During that trip, he first met Teresa of Avila, and she encouraged him to promote her reform among the men’s Order.
The Discalced Carmelites
In November, 1568, John and three other friars take up the observance of the Primitive Carmelite Rule in a farmhouse near Duruelo. At that time, he changed his name in religion to Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross). The small band soon came to be known as “Discalced” (shoeless) Carmelites, because they went barefoot as a sign of their commitment to poverty. Their poverty was very real: the first house was barely more than one room, and the young community suffered many privations. When Teresa was ordered to return to the Convent of the Incarnation as its superior, she called upon John to assist her in renewing the large community, which had grown quite lax. Arriving there in 1572, he became the spiritual director of the nuns, including Teresa herself. For unknown reasons, the attitude of the original (“Calced”) Carmelites began to change toward the reformers. Initially they had agreed and even encouraged the movement. In the Chapter of 1575 the members placed severe restrictions on the reform and forbade any further foundations and ordered Teresa to choose one monastery as her permanent residence and remain there.
In 1576 the Discalced Friars convened their own Chapter; and the Calced friars moved stringent restrictions on the Discalced. They arrested John and another friar and imprisoned him in a Calced monastery in Toledo in a windowless 6′ x 10′ room. Scourged and humiliated, he nonetheless refused to renounce the Reform. He passed the time in his cell composing the sublime lyric poems that form the basis of his mystical treatises. After some months, he managed to escape to south of Spain, where he was elected Prior of the monastery at El Calvario and appointed director of the nuns at Beas. In 1579, he became Rector of the new Discalced Carmelite college near the University of Baeza.
The Holy See granted the Discalced the permission to erect their Province in 1580, although complete independence from the Calced did not come until 1593.
During these “middle years” of John’s life, he filled a variety of offices within the reformed Order, wrote the commentaries on his poems elucidating the mystical life, gave spiritual direction, and lived a life of deep union with God. Toward the end of his life, he disagreed with the new General, Nicholas Doria, about some changes in the Order. He was sent to the solitude of La Penuela in August, 1591 – in truth overjoyed to be relieved of administrative duties for the first time in years. But his peace was disturbed by news that a move was on to expel him from the Reform he had founded. His critics tried to gather evidence against him to defame his character.
John fell ill. When urged to seek medical attention, he went to the monastery at Ubeda, where the Prior received him coldly, placed him in the worst cell in the house, and complained bitterly about the expense of caring for him. John grew worse, and, realizing his time was short, he called for the Prior to beg forgiveness for all the trouble he had caused him. Instead, the Prior, realizing John’s holiness and his own hardheartedness, wept. John died as he had prayed to: without honors, without material comforts, and with great suffering. He was 49. He was beatified in 1675, canonized in 1726, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1926. Among his classic works are The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, and The Living Flame of Love.
From Ascent to Living Flame of Love
John’s life and writings reflect and bear witness to the deepest and concomitant elements of the Christian Spirituality. The Ascent of Mount Carmel helps the reader to savor the taste of true love of God and intimacy with Him. The Dark Night of the Soul is an authentic picture of a soul suffering the tortures of a life lived only in intense longing for God. The Spiritual Canticle is a masterpiece of the beauty of the spiritual journey and a true legacy of the lovers in union with one another. The Living Flame of Love is a document of the experiences between the living God and the creature enjoying the eternal bliss here on earth in the most intense encounters between them.
St. John of the Cross systematically presents his spiritual doctrine step by step to those who would seriously venture into experiencing God. He is well versed in the Christian Scriptures and grounds his teaching on solid philosophical principles. He quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and makes references to the philosophy of Aristotle and Plato. He is very close to our age expressing his views and convictions in an idiom of thought and language that is not completely foreign to us. Reading through his commentaries one can easily discover that he was an expert psychologist who is able to understand the mind, the unconscious and the various dynamic of man’s spirit.
The religious and spiritual condition of the people of the time of John was very complex. The popular devotions ranged from regular pilgrimages to St. James of Compostela (Northern Spain) to frequent and touching manifestations of popular processions to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was the time were religious extremist movements like “alumbrados”; recogidos, etc. sprouted and infected the minds of the people. Practically there were religious movements and counter movements at every nuke and corner of Spanish territory. St. John of the Cross through his well balanced and solidly grounded spiritual writings silently combats against all these popular, superstitious and emotionally charged devotions and pilgrimages, and offers those who wanted an authentic life with God as a challenge to delve deeper into the mystery of God and of Christ.
The writings of John witness a strong reaction to what was going on in Spanish religious history. His writings do away with all popular devotions, even though he admits that they are a help to the beginners. The spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola also were a help to people to exercise themselves in spirituality, side by side with the writings of John and Teresa of Avila.
His main spiritual principle is that the soul must “empty” itself of self in order to be “filled” with God, that it must be “purified” of the last traces of earthly dross before it is fit to become united with God. In the application of this simple maxim he shows the most uncompromising logic. Supposing the soul with which he deals to be habitually in the state of grace and pushing forward to better things, he overtakes it on the very road leading it, in its option for God, and lays open before its eyes a number of sores of which it was altogether ignorant, viz. what he terms the spiritual capital sins. Not until these are removed (a most formidable task) is it fit to be admitted to what he calls the “Dark Night“, which consists in the passive purgation, where God by heavy trials, particularly interior ones, perfects and completes what the soul had begun of its own accord. It is now passive, but not inert, for by submitting to the Divine operation it co-operates in the measure of its power. Here lies one of the essential differences between John’s mysticism and a false quietism. The perfect purgation of the soul in the present life leaves it free to act with wonderful energy: in fact it might almost be said to obtain a share in God’s omnipotence, as is shown in the marvelous deeds of so many saints. As the soul emerges from the Dark Night it enters into the full noonlight described in the “Spiritual Canticle” and the “Living Flame of Love“. John leads it to the highest heights, in fact to the point where it becomes a “partaker of the Divine Nature”.
John has often been represented as a grim character; nothing could be untrue. He was indeed austere with himself, and, to some extent, also with others, but both from his writings and from the reports of those who knew him, we see in him a man overflowing with charity and kindness, a poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive.
His writings are a direct indication to the people that the way to God does not mean “a multiplicity of considerations, methods, manners, and experiences – though in their own way these may be a requirement for beginners – but demands only the one thing necessary: true self‑denial, exterior and interior” (Ascent II,7,viii). He corrects certain of people’s wrong understanding of religion when they were blindly carried away by certain extraordinary phenomena like experiencing visions, revelations, locutions and messages from saints and holy people. He corrects their understanding concerning their attachments to statues, relics, paintings, processions, pilgrimages etc. When spiritual pursuit is limited to certain external acts like penance, mortification, detachment without any noble and interior thrust it does not lead a person anywhere than to satisfy his own egoism. Through his writings John presents systematically the way one has to journey towards God with pure love and total self-surrender. God experience and union with God is not the result of self-efforts, rather it is to be merited through one’s utter resignation to God’s will.
We have summarized the whole Carmelite Spirituality in the above text. One can certainly notice the progression of the spiritual heritage received on/from the heights of Mount Carmel to our times. The Spirit of Carmel has spread throughout the world like the clouds and showering all over its incessant riches. Perhaps we still could add a few more stages/pages, but that would only add a few more reflections to the present article. Our intent here was to give a complete picture of Carmelite spirituality inspired on Mount Carmel. We have tried to give the essentials of this School that attracts millions to its inexhaustible source. We have noticed that Prayer and contemplation form the crux of Christian Spirituality. Nonetheless, the other dimensions of spiritual life are taken care of throughout the rich tradition of Carmel through insistence on balanced detachment, mortification, humility, fraternal charity throughout the writings and legacy of the masters of this school.
In all the above-mentioned pillars of the Order of Discalced Carmelites through various stages we notice a deep thirst for God right from the beginning on the ranges of Mount Carmel. The serenity and beauty of those mountains reflect thoroughly in the writings of the Spiritual masters of this Order. Their passionate desire for God is a direct going back to the spirit of Prophet Elijah who is filled with zeal for the living God. The first hermits’ desire to live in a community according to the rule given by Albert the great is another milestone in the Carmelite School Spirituality that bears witness to community living and sharing. In addition to this the desire for holiness through the reading of the Word of God is an essential element of Carmelite School. Furthermore we notice the deep desire for intimacy with God through prayer and contemplation seen in the life of Teresa of Avila is a deepening of the gift granted to each one of us in baptism. Her writings are a true witness to a life that is totally dedicated in the service of the Church and in the service of the neighbour.
The life and writings of John, again remind that one has to work for personal sanctification through asceticism and prayer. Detachment and prayer are the hallmarks of Christian spirituality. There is no point in diluting this seed of charism, which has its roots in the Primitive Rule given to the early hermits on Mount Carmel. Then the modern saints Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and Elizabeth of the Trinity who through their life, prayer, and writings have influenced the Carmelite charism and enriched it thoroughly. The words ‘Carmelite’ and ‘Prayer’ seem closely related due to their historical background. The historical association of Mount Carmel with the spirit of prayer is an accepted fact. We cannot find any better example than our forefather Prophet Elijah who combined in himself the very characteristics of Mount Carmel that is beautiful, affluent, silent, strong, contemplative and mystical.
Before I conclude this article I would strongly draw your attention to the stunning fact of modern discovery of the intricacies of brain mechanism. We know that prayer and meditation is as old as history of mankind itself. However, modern scientists and experts on brain have come to a conclusion that it is through meditation and prayer that one can become healthier, wholesome and integrated. They may not give a religious flavour to their discoveries, but they are fully convinced that for emancipation and for fuller experience of love in human life, prayer and meditation are a must. We can bet that prayer and contemplation show the right path towards fullness of love in human life. Praying on a regular basis can have an enormous effect on your psyche by stabilizing your moods, giving you a feeling of well-being, both physical and psychological, improving how you interact with others, and positively changing how you conduct yourself.
Prayer can be a boon to physical health too, in addition to emotional health. The physiological benefits of praying can be very far-reaching. These benefits have been studied and fully documented in medical journals. There is also a wealth of information on the benefits of praying before risky medical surgery. In a number of important studies, patients who prayed before surgery came through their operations in much better shape than those who did not pray.
Some of the most powerful and successful political leaders all over the world have professed to praying on a regular basis. The power of prayer has helped them to overcome poverty in their countries, keep their people together, and stand up to their enemies with courage and resolve.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD, is the parish priest of Guardian Angels Parish (Vancouver – Downtown – CANADA) He has authored and co-authored 20 books on spirituality and prayer
Eucharist and Prayer
Dr. Rudolf V. D’ Souza OCD
The Eucharist, which the Dogmatic Constitution “Lumen Gentium” defines as “the source and summit of Christian Life” (LG 11), makes us “really share in the body of the Lord”: in it “we are taken up into communion with him” (LG 7). That is where we realize Eucharist is prayer. There is no doubt about it. When we participate in the Eucharist, we experience the total essence of prayer and praise. One can term without hesitation that Eucharist is the best form of prayer, which carries a direct impact on us and in our relationship with God. It’s a sacrifice that enables us to go beyond every imperfect way of our daily prayer and praise because we commune with God through the best channel of grace.
There are no definite definitions for prayer. All the mystics and saints admit this fact. Prayer cannot be just limited to certain acts or words or gestures alone. Whoever may give an explanation or define prayer, it will fall short in its content and essence. We know that prayer is our efforts at being with God, conversing with him in order to comply with his will. Through our own experience we know that prayer can always help us live better, learn things well, relate with God and neighbour at a deeper level and do our work pretty completely.
Regarding our prayer, we have to be aware not to project our own judgment on God. God responds to each of us where we are, and takes into account what we are capable of. Everyone of good will who offers prayer of any kind is certainly going to be heard. We do not have to wait until we have reached deep interior silence in order to pray. We must do the best we can and hope for the mercy of God. It is precisely by praying we can be raised to a higher state of prayer. After all, the fundamental purpose of prayer, including the prayer of petition, is not to get something from God, or to change God, but to change ourselves. When we have changed, God can give us everything we want, because our will, will be one with his, and we will want only what he wants.
It has been clearly specified in documents and Encyclicals of Popes that Eucharist is the essence of Christian life and culmination of our worship. There is no argument against it. How can Eucharist be the essence, nourishment, and the centre of Christian life? We draw explanation from Jesus’ words: “Unless you eat his flesh and drink his blood you will not have life in you” John 6.53.
1. Eucharist is a Prayer of Blessing and Thanksgiving
The word “Eucharist” is made up of two roots Eu and Charistia, which come from the Jewish concept berakah, which means ‘blessing’. ‘Blessing’ the Latin word is “Bene-dictio” signifies “good word”, which literally means ‘a word of appreciation’. The first part of the word ‘Eucharist’ comes from Greek root ‘Eu‘ means Eulogia signifying ‘praise’, ‘good word’. The root Charis comes from Charism and Charismatic. Summarizing we can say that the word ‘Eucharist’ signifies ‘good word’, ‘good grace’, and ‘thanks’.
To elaborate the Hebrew word berakah in relationship with ‘Eucharist’ is ‘blessing’. Blessing is given and blessing obtained or taken. Ultimately ‘Blessing’ forms the integral essence of prayer. Eucharist is a blessing insofar it contains grace, thanks and praise. These elements certainly form the part of any type of prayer experience.
When we make efforts to understand these words, we begin to realize its essence as ‘comfortable atmosphere’, ‘pleasant surrounding’, ‘gracefulness’, and ‘thanksgiving’ and perhaps even to the extent of conveying a ‘word of appreciation’.
Through a blessing we obtain something and we are strengthened. That means blessing contains a power. Usually whatever the power experienced in the presence of the divine, we term it ‘grace’. We know that grace is not a part of God, but God himself descending in our life to strengthen us, to encourage us and to make us happy. God’s grace in our life is of three types: the presence by essence: presence by grace and presence by friendship. In the Holy Eucharist, precisely, all these three types of presence are clearly seen or experienced.
Thanksgiving is an act of gratitude and appreciation. Jesus’ Last Supper was an act of thanksgiving prayer to the Father for all his help and closeness during his earthly life. Every meal for that matter is an act of thanksgiving. Of course life itself is an act of thanksgiving. We see in the Gospels, Jesus thanking the Father for his disciples, for his teaching, and other things in his life.
2. Eucharist is a Prayer of Memorial
‘Do this in memory of me’. The work Zikkaron in Hebrew signifies ‘memorial’. In memory of something or someone helps us to recall the past. It’s a reminder to us; reminder of the past in the present and as miserable we are, on our part a reminder to God. Every prayer is a memorial of the one, who created us, sustains and sanctifies us and it is a memorial to the one who has created and continues to sustain us. All the Psalms are a reminder of God’s deeds and a reminder to God that we are still alive through his mercy.
Memory – memorial is to recall to mind the wonderful deeds of the Lord. In the Eucharist we remember the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord as we remember through paintings and photos our dear and near ones who are abroad, or dead and gone before us. Memorial brings out all that we want to recall about a person: we become nostalgic, sad, happy, serene, upset, are filled with emotion etc.
Sin is forgetfulness: Israelites forgot God’s deeds and they sinned. We forget and we sin. We forget many good things of life and we sin. Forgetfulness means amnesia. Anamnesis is remembrance. Eucharist is Anamnesis, which means remembrance = do this in memory of me.
3. Eucharist is Berith, a Covenantal Prayer
Covenant means a concentrated relationship at a deeper level. Whatever our relationship with God may be, he on his part will never fail to honour it. In the history salvation we see God making covenant with Noah; a covenant with Abraham; the covenantal fiery pot passing through the sacrifice; his covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 19.16-22); and new covenant with Jeremiah (31.31-33) and his renewal of that new covenant with Ezekiel (36.26ff).
Jesus opening a way to the new covenant says “The time is coming neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship God, but in spirit and in truth” (John 4.23-24); he affirms that the experience of the new covenantal kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17.21); and this reality is clearly spelled out by St. Paul who says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit of God (I Cor 6.19; II Cor 6.16). The fruits of the Spirit of God Gal 5.22-23 are an indication of this covenant. Covenantal relationship always culminating in “LOVE” because in Jewish tradition there were three ways a covenant was made By Blood = to shed blood, to drink blood, to give blood = Blood was important; By Meal = sharing, speaking and then acting; By Marriage = sharing life; It’s a meal, its with the body and blood, and it’s a marriage with the participant; and all these pointed to a definite growth in love relationship.
To look at the celebration of the Eucharist in a realistic and beneficial way, for instance, if it begins with a few moments of silence and ended with silence, or if the readings were preceded and followed by silent pauses, the experience of the sacred words emerging out of silence would be much more powerful and effective. It would make the hymns of praise and the prayers of petition much more meaningful to the congregation. There is an essential relationship between silence and speech, because everything comes out of silence indicative of a real covenant-taking place in faith. When our life emerges from periods of silence, it is a more genuine life; and when we return to silence, our life receives its truest meaning. In the beginning, both cannot be done at the same time, but in time they will tend to merge. Then, interior silence does not have to be prolonged in order to produce its good effects.
One of the things that prayer, as it deepens, will affect is our intuition of the oneness of the human race, and, indeed, the oneness of all creation through Eucharistic covenantal mystery. As one moves into his own inmost being, he comes into contact with what is the inmost being of everyone else. Although each of us retains his own unique personhood, we are necessarily associated with the God-man, who has taken the whole human family to himself in such a way as to be the inmost reality of each individual member of it. And so, when one is praying in the spirit, in his inmost being, one is praying, so to speak, in everybody else’s spirit. This is the essence of the whole covenant God made with man.
In the Eucharist, we are not only joined to Christ, whom we believe is present with his whole being under the symbols of bread and wine, but we believe that we are joined with all other Christians, with every member of the human race, and with the whole of creation. Christ is in the hearts of all men and women and in the heart of all creation, sustaining everything in being. This mystery of oneness enables us to emerge from the Eucharist with a refined inward eye, and invites us to perceive the mystery of Christ everywhere and in everything. He who is hidden from our senses and intellect becomes more and more transparent to the eyes of faith–to the consciousness that is being transformed. The Spirit in us perceives the Spirit in others. The Eucharist is the celebration of life, the dance of the divine in human form. We are part of that dance. Each of us is a continuation of Christ’s incarnation; insofar as we are living Christ’s life in our own lives or rather, instead of our own lives. The Eucharist is the summary of all creation coming together in a single hymn of praise, surrender, and thanksgiving. In the Eucharist all creation is transformed into the body of Christ, transformed again into his divine person, and thrust into the depths of the Father forever and ever. Even material creation has become divine in him. “For the creation,” says Paul, “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).
Prayer and interior silence deepen our appreciation of and receptivity to the Eucharist. The Eucharist also helps to develop and nourish prayer and interior silence. They are mutually reinforcing. Through deep prayer, one appreciates the meaning of the sacraments and increases their effectiveness.
It is not so much the length of time that one spends in interior silence, but the quality of it that is transforming, and that nourishes and refreshes at the deepest level. The most effective silence takes place when one is not even aware of being silent, when one has merged his own identity in the mystery of Christ. This union is the ultimate goal of the Eucharist. Interior union with Christ comes by assimilating the Eucharistic food into our own body and spirit. The bodily eating is the symbol of what is happening spiritually. It points to the interpenetration that is taking place between Christ and us. This interpenetration is designed to further our evolution into vertical time and our assimilation of the eternal values that Christ has brought into the world through his incarnation and communicated to us by his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. The purpose of our historical lifetime is to provide us with space to complete this inward journey. The whole of the Old and New Testament covenant becomes a reality through the Eucharistic celebration and assimilation.
4. The Three Parts that makes Eucharist a Prayer
a) Prayer of Purification
We all need purification. The first part of the Eucharist is a short act of purification. We know through tradition and through Gospel narratives that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before he virtually celebrated the Eucharist. He knelt at the feet of the disciples and washed their feet. That was a prayer on the part of Jesus, a prayer of surrender in the presence of unworthy people, sinful people. That is the prayer of Jesus that had been a life for him, helping and cleansing all types of people in his life. He epitomised his life of service at the feet of his own disciples and invited all of them to imitate him so that people see them doing such service and recognized them as his disciples. Purification is necessary for every type of prayer without which true worship to God cannot be given. Hence, there is need for cleansing of our heart and mind before celebrating the core of prayer in the Eucharist.
i) Prayer of Repentance
Since all the various ways we give ourselves to God are directed to the Eucharist, this includes repentance and purification from sin. Consequently, if we would offer ourselves to God through the Eucharist and receive from Him the Bread of Life, we must pass through the door of purification and penance. To enter into communion with the all-holy God through the Eucharist, we must, following the general pattern of the spiritual life, undergo purgation. As Pope Pius XII wrote: “While we stand before the altar … it is our duty so to transform our hearts that every trace of sin may be completely blotted out, while whatever promotes supernatural life through Christ, may be zealously fostered and strengthened even to the extent that, in union with the Immaculate Victim, we become a victim acceptable to the Eternal Father” (Mediator dei, no. 100).
When Christ came proclaiming the kingdom of God, He preached conversion and faith. “Repent,” He said, “and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Not surprisingly, then, there exists a special link between the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II has written of this: “The Eucharist and Penance thus become in a sense two closely connected dimensions of authentic life in accordance with the spirit of the gospel, of truly Christian life. The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats his “Repent.” Without this constant ever renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness and there would be a loss or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice in which our sharing in the priesthood of Christ is expressed in an essential and universal manner” (Redemptoris hominis, no. 20).
The Eucharist, then, is the high point of repentance and purification because it is the supreme sacrament of Calvary. All other acts of penance prepare for our participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our supreme rejection of sin and turning toward Christ and communion with Him.
b) Eucharist is a Prayer of Illumination
Then we continue our prayer in hearing the word of God. Every act of prayer should precede an act of listening to the Word of God, which gives us true inspiration to be at the feet of the Lord. Hearing God’s word can help us to see our errors and know how we can change. Remembering that God’s word does what it says, we realize that hearing this message will not impose on us impossibly high standards of behaviour, but rather being open to God’s word will actually give us the ability to do what is right. The word of God is his wisdom, truth, and love for us, and when we open ourselves to the transforming power of the word, admitting that we cannot live successfully guided by our own self-developed principles, we open our lives to being guided by these attributes. The more we receive His word into our hearts without attempting to manipulate it to mean what we want it to mean or expect it to mean, the more we are formed in His wisdom, truth and love. Also the more His word becomes a part of our lives the less power will doubt, confusion, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and insecurity will have in our lives. In both praising God and receiving His word at the Eucharist, God can also transform us in another way, to the degree to which we are open to it. We will be certainly illumined in our prayer through the Eucharist.
c) Eucharist is a Prayer of Union and Communion
True union with God is attained through the reception of the holy communion of the body and blood of Christ. No element of union can be accomplished without a total surrender on the part of both the parties. Here we find Jesus immolating himself on the altar for us and we surrender ourselves to his sacrifice and receive him with the promise of sacrificing ourselves to him through our daily activities. Our daily life and activities ought to be mediated through continual prayer. That is why Jesus inspired us to watch and pray, to be vigilant and attentive.
Union with the lord can be attained through the Eucharistic prayers fully lived. Every Eucharistic prayer is a sum and substance of our life.
Moreover, the celebration of the Eucharist brings to earth the power of the Resurrected Jesus. He is the master of the universe, Saviour of mankind and healer of our physical and inner selves. No wonder, then, that the custom of saving some of the Eucharistic bread began early in the history of the Church and is carried on by many Christian Churches today. Not only does this custom allow the Eucharist to be brought to the sick who cannot participate in the full celebration so that they, too, might benefit from its renewing and healing power, but this custom also allows us all to come before the Eucharist and pray, continuing to seek and find the life it brings to the world. We must never forget that when we pray before the Eucharist we are in the presence of God himself. When we come into prayer before God, so many of us are used to speaking more than receiving. To gaze upon the Eucharist in this way with spiritually enlightened eyes is a preparation for what heaven will be. There our defences will no longer be necessary, and we will be able to be filled completely with Him, merging our hearts with His, our minds and wills with His and our entire beings with His.
V. Prayer and Gospel Values
Our celebration ought to be a prayer of Gospel values. The Beatitudes and the other discourses of Jesus help us to grow in relationship with him through silence of our prayer.
The Values we need to cultivate are Gospel Values for participating in the Eucharist.
We ought to cultivate personal values that speak to us of our allegiance to Jesus: These values could be Love of self; Sonship; Childlikeness; Interiority through Jesus’ instruction to go to our room and pray to the Father in secret (Mt 6.6); trying to be holy (Mt 5.48); Courageous (Mt 10.26-30); Joyful, Peaceful, Persevering; Humble; Prudent; Righteous and Gentle.
Once we are aware of these personal values, Eucharist inspires us to cultivate Interpersonal Values such as: Love of neighbour (Lk 10.27); Brotherhood and Forgiveness (Lk 15.11ff); Justice (Mt 6.33); Kindness and Service (Mt 10.7-10) etc.
When we have grounded ourselves through personal and interpersonal values, Eucharist takes us to go beyond ourselves and our neighbour to be grounded in transpersonal values like Love of God “The one who sees me has seen the Father”; to have Abba consciousness as Jesus had; the Word of God leads us to listen “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him” and accomplish the Will of God “My food is to do the will of my Father” and to be concerned with the Kingdom of God (Mt 13.44-46).
Jesus always prayed; and gave witness to Evangelical Counsels: obedience, poverty and chastity in his personal life. His life of hope and (Mt 24.42-44) renunciation (Mt 16.24-25); and then he invites all to repentance; and helps us to accept our sufferings (Mt 10.16-18) in silence.
VI) Emmaus Prayer Experience
Emmaus experience is an experience of Eucharistic prayer. We find those two disciples depressed, disappointed and going back to their village. This experience of those two disciples signifies that life without a link with God is going to become sad, dark and without much hope for life itself. The coming of Christ in their conversation along the way is the salvific intervention of the Saviour who makes them understand God’s mysterious ways. Prayer in fact makes each and everyone of us conscious of God’s ways in our life. Often we are like foolish people who do not think as God thinks. We have our own worldly reason to calculate and conclude facts of life. Jesus enlightens us. We can boldly say that the intervention of Christ on the way to Emmaus is the grace provided to us on our way or journey. Jesus enlightens them through the Holy Scripture. The whole of the Holy Scripture is a preparation for the celebration of the Eucharist. Once they are close to the village, Jesus pretends as if to go ahead of them having to complete some other commitment. Well, at this point the disciples plead him to be with them that night. Those disciples aglow with the spirit cannot leave Christ. What happens thereafter is the solemn Eucharistic Celebration by which they are strengthened to get back to Jerusalem to proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Christ. They recognize him and they preach him.
VII) Eucharistic Spirituality
The Holy Eucharist, Vatican II tells us, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, no. 11; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324) that enriches us at every moment our life. Christian life is essentially a spiritual in nature, as it grows and culminates in and through prayer. Eucharist is the best form of prayer and the culmination of this prayer is experienced when one becomes one with Christ through his blood and body. That is why Eucharist is the index and culminating experience here on earth. This makes us understand that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian spirituality” too.
Intuitively, we know that the spiritual life means using every means available to grow closer to Christ. And he knows that Christ Himself is present in the Eucharist in the most sublime manner. It makes sense, then, that the Eucharist should be central to the spiritual life of a Catholic.
But what the devout soul knows about the Eucharist intuitively should, where possible, become better known and more deeply experienced through systematic reflection on the Church’s Eucharistic doctrine. The better we understand the Eucharist’s role in Christian spirituality, the better we will be able to love Christ present in the Eucharist.
To say the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian spirituality” means at least two things. First, that Christian spirituality flows from the Eucharist as its source, the way light streams forth from the sun. And second, that Christian spirituality is supremely realized in and ordered to the Eucharist as its summit or highpoint – that to which all of our actions should ultimately be directed.
Christian spirituality, then, is a two-way street. It leads us from the Eucharist as our starting point out into the world of daily life and it takes us back home to the Eucharist after our sojourn in the world.
These two dimensions of the Eucharist – its being both the “source” and “summit” of Christian spirituality – reveal how the Eucharist, being Christ Himself, brings God and man together in a saving dialogue, a mutually giving and receiving relationship. In short, in a covenant of love as we have seen earlier. The Eucharist is at once the Father’s gift of Himself in Christ to us and, through Christ, our offering of Christ and, with Him, of ourselves – our minds and hearts, our daily lives – to the Father.
The Eucharist reveals that our salvation begins with God, not ourselves. God offers Himself to man in Christ first. At the same time, as the summit of Christian spirituality, the Eucharist is man’s supreme, grace-enabled, freely given offering of himself back to God through Jesus Christ, our high priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The union or intimate, personal fellowship between God and man realized through God’s gift of Himself to man and man’s faithful response, we call communion.
According to traditional language of the Christian spirituality, we say that this communion with God is brought about by grace and lived out in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Because the sacraments are instruments of grace and means of growth in the theological virtues, we can say that Christian spirituality entails what Pope John Paul II calls a “sacramental style of life.”1 It involves using the sacraments to grow in the spiritual life. And because the greatest of sacraments is the Eucharist, Christian spirituality is above all Eucharistic: coming from the Eucharist as its source and directed to it as its summit or zenith.
VIII) The Eucharist And Christian Prayer
But precisely how can the Eucharist be the source of Christian Prayer? In other words, how precisely is the Eucharist the source of grace and the way we grow in faith, hope and charity? A closer look at the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist provides an answer to this question.
a) The Eucharist as the “Source” of Prayer
The Eucharist is the source of prayer in a number of ways. First of all, the Eucharist is Christ Himself, the Author of grace. Other sacraments are actions of Christ, to be sure, but only the Eucharist is Christ Himself, under the “appearances” of bread and wine (CCC, nos. 1324, 1373-1381). We address every one of our prayers to Christ Our Lord to obtain the grace needed.
Secondly the Eucharist is the source of prayer is as the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s saving Sacrifice on the cross. Note it is the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s once for all Sacrifice on the cross, not merely a representation or a ritual re-enactment of it (CCC, nos. 1362-1367).
On Calvary, Christ offered Himself to the Father in the Spirit for our salvation. This happened once for all historically – Christ does not die again at Mass. In the Eucharist, however, this same Sacrifice of Christ, made once for all historically, is present here and now sacramentally, and celebrated on the altar. How can we say that? Because the same Christ who was both Priest who offered prayers and offered himself as the victim is present here and now. Christ is present in heaven as our high priest and our offering for sin (Heb. 8:1-3; 9:24; 1 John 2:1-2), but He is also on our earthly altars as the Eucharist. In this way, the “work of our redemption is accomplished” through His Eucharistic offering (Lumen Gentium, 3), and fruits of Christ’s unique Sacrifice are applied to us here and now (CCC, 1366).
Thirdly the Eucharist is the source of our prayer is as the Church’s sacrifice. The Eucharist is the Church’s sacrifice because it is foremost the Sacrifice of Christ, Bridegroom of the Church, who is “one-flesh” with the Church (Eph 5:21-32). In other words, the Eucharist is the Church’s offering by virtue of her “spousal” union with Christ.
This sacrifice of the Church is twofold (CCC, 1368). First, the Church offers Christ, the spotless victim, to the Father. And second, the Church, in union with Christ, offers herself to God in the Spirit. To the extent individual members of the Church unite themselves with this offering, they receive the fruits of Christ’s Sacrifice and dispose themselves to receive further graces. In this way, the Church is built up in her members as the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Expressed differently, we can say that because the Eucharist is, through Christ, the sacrifice of the Church, in a certain sense, the Church, by the promise of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, “makes” the Eucharist, although it always remains foremost the work of God. But the Eucharist also “makes” the Church (CCC, 1396), continually at prayer renewing her communion with God through Christ’s Sacrifice in the Spirit and bestowing graces upon her. Thus, the Eucharist we celebrate is the source of grace and therefore of Christian spirituality, which is the life of grace, because the Church lives and grows in grace through its celebration of the Eucharist.
Fourthly the Eucharist is the source of grace is as a source of repentance. It is this in at least two ways. First, insofar as the fruitful and reverent reception of the Holy Eucharist requires one to examine himself spiritually before coming to the Eucharistic banquet and, if conscious of grave sin, to receive the sacrament of reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion (CCC, 1415). And second, in that meditation upon the Sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist – the supreme Sacrifice of Christ offered to atone for our sins – ought to stir us to greater repentance for sin.
Finally, Eucharist is important with respect to the spiritual life. Christian spirituality consists of two aspects, a negative one – repentance from sin and purgation of the attachment to sin – and a positive one – growth in the Christian life of faith, hope and charity through prayer. The Eucharist prepares us for the positive dimension of Christian living by helping us undertake the negative aspect – rooting out sin from our lives through repentance and purgation.
In addition to being the “source” of Christian prayer because it is a “source” of grace, the Eucharist also helps us grow in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. These virtues are essential to the spiritual life because they “dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity” (CCC, no. 1812). They are called theological because they direct us to God. We might say that they are the three dimensions – the height, width and depth – in which the Christian life is lived.
b) Eucharist is the Prayer of Faith
St. John of the Cross says that faith is the virtue by which we entrust ourselves-mind and will-to God, believing what He has revealed because of who He is. How is the Eucharist the source of faith? Like all the sacraments (CCC, no. 1123), the Eucharist is a sign, which instructs us. It nourishes and strengthens our faith by what it signifies: the wisdom, love and power of God manifested to us by Christ in His Real Presence and in His Sacrifice. In this respect, the Eucharist is the sacramental “sign of the covenant” par excellence, beckoning us to enter into communion with God by accepting in faith God’s saving deeds on our behalf – supremely, the death and resurrection of His Son. The Eucharist should move us to deeper faith by reminding us what God has in fact done for us: manifesting His trustworthiness.
But the Eucharist also fosters the virtue of faith insofar as it signifies the one faith of the Catholic Church. This faith is objectively grounded in the official proclamation of the Word of God in the Eucharistic liturgy, and celebrated in the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered by those in Holy Orders who, possessing apostolic succession, in communion with their bishop and the successor of Peter, legitimately exercise apostolic authority. According to St. John of the Cross, faith is the essence of prayer. Hence, praying the Eucharist strengthens faith and contributes to a inner strengthening of our attitudes.
c) Eucharist is the Prayer of Hope
The Eucharist is also the source of hope, which manifests its effects in our daily prayer. “Hope,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (no. 1817). The basis of this hope is the salvation won by the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of His Holy Spirit poured out in our hearts (cf. Romans 5:5-11; 8:23-25; Titus 3:6-7), which is sacramentally present in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist gives us hope in God for the grace to live in His friendship in this life and to inherit eternal life in heaven as an efficacious sign of Christ’s salvation. The Eucharist nourishes our hope, at once pointing back to God’s salvific deeds, especially Jesus’ death and resurrection, which provides the firm ground for our hope; and forward to what we hope for, the coming of the kingdom and eternal life of communion with the Triune God. This is what we always enrich in our daily life through prayer.
d) Eucharist is the Prayer of Love
Finally, the Eucharist is the source of charity. As Pope John Paul II has written: “Christian life is expressed in the fulfilling of the greatest commandment, that is to say, in the love of God and neighbor, and this love finds its source in the blessed Sacrament, which is commonly called the sacrament of love. The Eucharist signifies this charity, and therefore recalls it, makes it present and at the same time brings it about” (Dominicae Cenae, no. 5). If we consider the outcome of any prayer we are forced to conclude that every prayer should help one to love God and neighbour.
We have already considered how the Eucharist sacramentally signifies the presence of the love of God manifested in Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and how the Eucharist is Christ Himself, love incarnate. But the Eucharist is also the source of charity because it leads us to love God and His Son Jesus in the Spirit. Seeing what God has done for us in Christ, who is present with us in the Eucharist, we love God in return, and the Spirit is poured out in our hearts through our Eucharistic prayer.
Through the Eucharist, then, we enter into a deeper participation in the life of the Triune God, who is love itself (1 John 4:16). This deepened love for God leads to a greater love of neighbor for the sake of the love of God, because “whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). We love others because Christ first loved us, and this indeed is the essence of our daily prayer.
Christ’s Eucharistic presence “becomes of itself the school of active love for neighbor,” as Pope John Paul II has written (Dominicae Cenae, no. 6) that by revealing to us “what value each person, our brother or sister, has in God’s eyes, if Christ offers Himself equally to each one, under the species of bread and wine” we become more and deeply united to one another and our prayer life becomes a significant sign of sacrifice and a willingness to participate in each ones life.
We clearly understand that Eucharist is the source of grace, it is clearly a vehicle through prayer to reach each and every one of us the best fruits of Christ’s redemption. Christ always prayed and his life and prayer was inseparable. This is clearly visible in his Eucharistic celebration at the last Supper. The Eucharist is the “source” of charity insofar as grace is necessary for genuine obedience to God’s commandments, without which we cannot truly love God (cf. 1 John 5:3).
We have seen how the Eucharist is the source of Christian prayer and how the Eucharist brings about the Christian way of life in us. We consider now how the Eucharist is the summit or highpoint of Christian spirituality or, as St Thomas Aquinas put it, “the consummation of the whole spiritual life.” In other words, how Christian living leads up to and culminates in our participation in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the summit of the spiritual life in the sense that other aspects of Christian living, including the other sacraments (CCC, no. 1324), and all forms of prayer that make life and sacraments an epitome of Christian life are ordered to the Eucharist – to Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father in the Spirit for us and to our participation in Christ’s offering. In other words, the same profound sacramental link between the Sacrifice of the cross and the Eucharist that makes the Eucharist the source of Christian spirituality also makes it the summit or high point of Christian spirituality.
IX) Eucharist is a prayer of Sacrifice
As we have already seen, the Eucharistic Christ not only gives Himself to the Father for us, He is offered to the Father by us in the Spirit, through the indispensable ministry of the sacrificing priest acting in persona Christi – in the person of Christ our high priest Himself and through our union with Christ as members of His Church (Mediator Dei, nos. 80-97). But, as also mentioned above, it is not only Christ who is offered to the Father in the Eucharist; the Church also offers herself in and through her union with Christ in the Spirit:
In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value (CCC, no. 1368).
The self-offering of the Church in the Eucharist is central to the Church’s identity as a priestly people. This is, in fact, an important way in which the faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood, offering the sacrifice of themselves in Christ.
Moreover, the Eucharistic offering of the Church is both corporate and objective, and individual and subjective. Corporately and objectively, the Church’s offering of herself is constituted by the action of the ministerial priest who, precisely because he acts in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head of the Church), also acts in persona Ecclesiae (in the person of the Church) and in the name of the Church (CCC, nos. 1552-1553). The priest represents the Church before God because he represents Christ who is head and bridegroom of the Church.
At the same time, members of the Church offer themselves individually and subjectively in the Eucharistic liturgy, insofar as they unite themselves by intention and action, with the Eucharistic offering of Christ’s Sacrifice. In other words, they make Christ’s offering for them as individuals their own offering of themselves through Christ. They surrender their minds and hearts, their very lives, to God through Christ’s act of self-surrender made present on the altar.
We have already considered the Eucharist as the source of the spiritual life, which we noted is a life of grace lived through the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Since the Eucharist is also the summit of Christian prayer, the individual and subjective offering of ourselves in the Eucharist also necessarily entails the basics of Christian spirituality – repentance from sin and death to self, as well as a positive growth in the life of grace and the theological virtues. We look now at these things from the vantage point of the Eucharist as their summit or highpoint, rather than their source.
Summing up all that we have documented above, we can affirm that the Eucharist is both the source and inspiration for Christian prayer. The Eucharist is the source of Christian spirituality because Christ Himself and as the sacramental re-presentation of his Sacrifice on the cross, the Eucharist becomes God’s gift of Himself in Christ through the Spirit to us. We, as members of Christ’s Church, receive this gift by grace and, through grace we grow in communion with God by turning from sin and growing in faith, hope and charity, to which the Eucharist, as a sacramental sign, gives rise in us.
At the same time, the Eucharist is the essence of Christian prayer because, as the greatest sacramental sharing in Christ’s Sacrifice, it is the greatest gift of ourselves in Christ, corporately and individually, to the Father by the Spirit. As individual members of Christ’s body/bride, the Church, our Eucharistic self-donation includes death to ourselves and is made complete through our submission to God in faith, hope and charity, by which we are united to Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Pondering and making our own these great truths about the Eucharist in the Christian life, it should illuminate our spiritual path and give us more reasons to love the Eucharist, and in this way, help us to grow closer to God and to each other in Christ. Thus will we know evermore deeply that through the Eucharist we receive from the Father the gift of Himself in His Son and that in the Spirit-inspired, loving response we join ourselves to the Son’s gift of Himself back to the Father. This happens both in Eucharist and Prayer.
Discerning God’s Ways
We are in the great Jubilee year 2000, celebrating it and living it out. Many say, this is the beginning of the New Millennium and others contend saying that the new Millennium will dawn on 1-1-2001. Any way we are at the threshold or we are in it. It is our privilege to be in this situation.
Many things have changed long since. We have the new communication systems like fax, phone, cellular phone, E-mail etc. E-mail has now come in also to accelerate the change. It is far easier to type a quick message on the computer than to write a letter, type the address on the envelop, stick the stamp and take it to the post box. The message is instantly received and can be instantly answered in easy dialogue over oceans and continents. The highly complex world of widespread economic inflation, computer technology, instant worldwide communication, constantly changing job markets, ever more prolonged education for developing skills, and of nuclear energy for building or destroying the world in a matter of seconds has resulted in a lot of confusion in our minds and hearts. When making decisions, we feel weak and lonely in mind and heart before the vast, threatening and fast moving computer and cyber world. But God in His wisdom, reassures the one who prays, that He cares for him and leads him to a definite destiny. As a result the praying person experiences a confident expectancy of God’s assistance in the decision about to be made.
The compensating factor at this instance is the gift of ‘discernment’ from the Holy Spirit. The Greek word ‘dokimazein‘ literally signifies ‘to discern’ ‘to prove’ ‘to test’ ‘to check’. It is a word with multiple meanings. We cannot zero in on one single meaning to the word when it is applied in prayer or spiritual life. Moreover, the English word ‘discernment’ that is very often and frequently used in spiritual life cannot fully explain or translate every element that is contained in the Greek word ‘dokimazein‘. Discernment can be a realistic possibility only within the theistic vision of the universe. The word “discern” (dokimazein) has its origin in the marketing system of the Greek culture. Transactions in the market were done through the use of gold, silver and bronze coins. One had to test the authenticity of the metal by biting the coin before it was accepted for transaction. We know that the precious metal is always soft in nature. Certainly, if the coin had been a genuine one it would make a tooth mark on it; if it were false it would not. Hence the word “dokimazein” meant testing through biting.
The word ‘dokimazein‘ used in Holy Scripture generally translated signifies ‘to discern on every occasion what is actually the will of God’. It helps us to see through the storms of scientific and political changes, emotions of rationalization and of self-projections. The gift of discernment does not guarantee that a person will make the perfect decision, one that perfectly satisfies one’s hopes and desires for oneself and others. In this task, prayer complements the process of discernment. It would not be a mistake to term discernment as equivalent to Prayer. However, discernment in prayer is an aptitude acquired through experience of recognizing the movements embracing them, if they come from God and rejecting them, if they are from the counter spirit.
Through the gift of discernment a prudent person is not scandalized at the mystery of other persons, of situations, and of God. For the Lord has created the universe and people so wonderfully that one can never exhaust comprehending through one’s intelligence their complex beauty. The praying person knows well the designs of God and lives courageously and peacefully. He interprets the signs in favor of God’s plan and lives in communion with His design and will.
Here we analyse a passage from the writings of St. Paul to better understand the intricacies of discernment.
“Do not restrain the Holy Spirit; do not despise inspired messages. Put all things to the test (dokimazete): keep what is good and avoid every kind of evil”. This text gives us ample evidence that a Christian has to be open to the Spirit of God. This text in fact ends with a series of exhortations (cfr. The. 5:12-22) to build up the community (cfr. v. 11). Paul offers also a series of concrete practical counsels to live a worthy life in the presence of the weak (vv. 14-15). This follows an invitation to cultivate a quality fundamental to Christian life, that is to be happy, to pray and to do the “will of God in Christ” (vv. 16-18). This theme ends with an exhortation.
This invitation not to restrain the Holy Spirit is similar to an advise in the letter to the Ephesians “do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad” (Eph 4:30). The main thrust of this invitation is not to put any obstacle on the way of the Spirit of God in the community of the faithful. The Spirit is light and fire (cfr. Rom 12:11; II Tim. 1:6). The activity of the Spirit in the community is highly charismatic. This charismatic activity of the Spirit is not any gift bestowed in isolation, rather a presence of the Spirit that contributes to the edification of the community. That is why Paul insists “since you are eager to have the gifts of the Spirit, you must try above everything else to make greater use of those which help to build up the Church” (I Cor 14:12). The gifts of the Spirit should be used to the edification of the community. “Though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different part of the body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message we should do it according to the faith that we have.” Rom 12:5ff). Therefore, we understand that the gift of the Spirit is not for personal satisfaction or glory but for the edification of the Church. Any gift misused can hurt the Spirit of God and prevent His free outpouring on the community.
Prophecy is regarded as one of the charismatic gifts (cfr. I Cor 12:4-11) received for the good of the community. Moreover this gift occupied prominent place among the charismatic gifts. In the edification of the body of Christ, this gift gains importance after the gift of apostolate (cfr. I Cor 12:28). According to Paul, the gift of prophecy signifies the understanding of the great mystery of Christ. That is why he writes: “if you will read what I have written, you can learn about my understanding of the secret of Christ. In past times mankind was not told this secret, but God has revealed it now by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets” (Eph 3:4-5).
Prophecies were mainly referred to the divine mysteries (cfr I Cor 13,2) or to the understanding of the Mystery of Christ (cfr. Eph 3,4-5). This understanding of the mysteries or the Mystery was towards the edification or exhortation of the Christian community (cfr. I Cor 14,3). According to Pauline Christology a prophet is the ambassador of God and revealer of God’s will. He is the one who announces “here and now” the exigencies of the will of God in the community of God. The one who despises prophecy shows little respect to God and is not regarded as a friend of God. Such a person was considered an outcaste in the community of believers.
In this connection it is right to know how the first community was very vulnerable to the prophecies and messages. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians saying “I beg you brothers, not to be so easily confused in your thinking or upset by the claim that the Day of the Lord has come. Perhaps it is thought that we said this while prophesying or preaching, or that we wrote it in a letter. Do not let any one deceive you in any way. For the Day will not come until the final Rebellion takes place and the Wicked One appears, who is destined for hell” (II The 2, 3-4). This is a strong reminder as to how they need to be vigilant and careful of the ways of the wicked. Therefore prophecy should be examined. “Two or three who are given God’s message should speak, while the others are to judge what they say” (I Cor 14, 29). The invitation to prudence and discernment of the prophetic messages is not entirely new to the Scriptures. We have evidence of this even in the O.T. for example: Dt. 18,21-22; Jer. 23,13-17. John in his letter precisely warns the believers to be very careful in accepting the prophecies: “my dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test (dokimazein) them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere” (I Jn 4,1). The only criterion to discern (dokimazein) the authenticity of the message is “the one who acknowledges that Jesus Christ came as a human being” (I Jn 4,2).
The word “dokimazein” finds its proper context here in this verse. It is an invitation to test, prove, taste or examine everything before despising or discarding it. This in fact is a positive process of discernment by which the authenticity (dokimos) of the thing at our disposal is examined. When a thing is false (adokimos) it is rejected. That is why Paul is very keen on keeping what is “good”. Anything that is good comes from God and what is evil from the evil one. Paul exhorts the believers to “avoid every kind of evil” (I The 4,22). This particular verse leads us to the conclusion of the first letter to the Thessalonians “May the God who gives us peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being spirit, soul and body – free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I The 4,23).
In putting every thing to the test requires that a Christian sees always the good of the other. It is the law of Charity that determines in fact the essence of discernment (cfr. Mt 5,38-48; Lk 6,27; Rom 12,17-21; I Pt 2,19-21). The testing should be done in the spirit of charity and only this can lead a Christian to true prayer. When a particular thing is tested in the light of charity there is cause for joy and that is why Paul says “Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus” (I The 4,16-17).
The Carmelite Tradition of Prayer According to ST. TERESA OF AVILA
The Carmelite Tradition of prayer began around 1209 on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. The devout hermits, who gathered at Mount Carmel to dedicate their life to God through prayer and praise, approached Albert of Jerusalem who would help them through the rule. According to this rule the hermits were to live a common life committed to following Jesus Christ, serving him “with a pure heart and a good conscience”. Sacred Scripture nourished their prayer life. The rule also enjoined constant prayer in solitude, calling them to “meditate day and night on the Law of the Lord”.
For further inspiration and support in their prayer life, the hermits of Mount Carmel looked especially to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who allowed the Spirit of God to possess her and thus gave birth to Jesus the Redeemer. Moreover they looked for example and inspiration in the life the fiery prophet Elijah who represented for them a man totally dedicated to God, who walked zealously and lived continuously in the presence of God.
A significant development of the Order of Carmel started in 1450. Pope Nicholas V signed a bull that permitted pious women to come under the protection of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. To this effect under the guidance of Blessed John Soreth, the then Superior General of the Order, and Blessed Francis of Amboise, the Carmelite nuns blossomed and flourished throughout Europe.
Teresa de Ahumada y Cepeda, a young beautiful talented girl entered one of those convents in Avila, Spain, in 1535. Those years were marked both by periods of mystical graces received through contemplative prayer and by inner conflict. For many years Teresa resisted God’s call to deeper and genuine fidelity.
At the age of thirty-nine, a profound conversion drastically changed her life. One day at prayer, she experienced the liberating love of the humanity of Jesus Christ, who freed her from the attachments that for almost twenty years had blocked her from offering herself completely to God’s service. As she gradually grew in this experience she realized that contemplative prayer held the key to healing and transformation of her entire life.
Teresa, a 16th Century mystic is known for her unique contribution in the field of prayer and contemplation through her enlightened writings. Prayer is the focal point of her spirituality and the central theme of her message. Her own life revolved round prayer to an extent that it became an adventure for her to experience prayer and then to be the teacher of prayer to her own disciples.
The Church acclaims Teresa as one of the leading teachers of prayer. Since the 16th century, saints and learned people have accepted her as one of the greatest of mystics and an eminent teacher who has written precious volumes on prayer. “Through her writings” says Pope Paul VI “she has given the essential message of prayer to the Church”. Through her simple style she explains lucidly and emphatically the practical nature of prayer as almost comprising the whole synthesis of Christian living. The Christian perfection in its growth has its source in and through the dynamism of prayer. Teresa’s doctrine on mental prayer is an exhaustive blend of virtues, asceticism, grace and experience. In fact her pedagogy of prayer is appealing, fascinating and persuasive to anyone who wants to learn prayer and has God-experience. According to her, the way of prayer is the means and goal of Christian living because it is in and through prayer that we are united and transformed into God; i.e., participation in the mystery of Christ and communion with the Trinity.
Teresa, through her most simple and lucid style has immortalized her lofty and experiential teaching on prayer. Her style and method in explaining prayer is appealing, very accessible and easy to understand. The practical suggestions she offers are profound and clear even to those who have no deep learning and experience of prayer. In her autobiography she speaks of nothing but her own personal and deep experience [cfr. L 8,v], and helps out any aspiring soul from the lowest degree of prayer to the highest levels of God experience [cfr. L 11-18].
The book of her life virtually has for its substance the lively treatment on mental prayer. The chapters dedicated exclusively for mental prayer are 11-22; 25-30. Mental prayer was for her the “strongest pillar” for growth in virtues (cfr. L 8,ii). She emphasises and elaborates on the role of the Humanity of Christ in the practice and exercise of mental prayer (cfr. L 15,vii-viii; 16,ii,vi; 17,iv; 22,ii,xiii). The life of Jesus Christ should be the food for the mind that informs the will and stirs it. Mind is the interior door of the soul that opens the interior truth of salvation to the will (soul). Hence the need for ‘mental prayer’. However, the life of Christ cannot have equal or similar impact on all. Each one obtains according to ones ‘mental disposition’, because “there are different paths along which God leads souls” (W 5,v).
Teresa never intended to give a definition of prayer; rather she simply expressed her “opinion” on prayer to her beloved and faithful disciples. This ‘opinion’ has become almost the classical definition on prayer and has been accepted by spiritual masters through the ages as the most complete synthesis on prayer. Needless to say that the Teresian definition on prayer constitutes all encompassing essential elements of genuine prayer.
“Mental prayer,” she affirms, “in my opinion is nothing else but falling in love with Christ, frequently conversing in secret with Him who we know loves us” [L 8,v]. A complementary definition of prayer is available to us in the text Way of Perfection 25,iii).
Teresa deals elaborately with prayer in her Autobiography and in her classical treatise, the Way of Perfection. Intelligent, endowed with a keen spiritual sensitivity and animated by the spirit of faith she gives us the essentials of prayer expressed through a very simple and lucid style. Her personal experience itself speaks volumes about her prayer life. Her main concern in writing on prayer was not to give strict rules and regulations or directives regarding prayer, but to convince and lead her disciples to the enormous gain and perfection that prayer can bring in their daily life.
It should be kept in mind that by the time Teresa wrote her Autobiography and treatise on prayer she was already familiar with many writings and teachings written on prayer. Moreover, she was a voracious reader of books on spirituality and theology.
The ‘definition’ quoted above is the result of her own personal discovery through personal experience of God. What fundamentally characterises the activity of prayer – mental prayer – is elaborately explained in her way of perfection.
Teresa, elaborating on the definition on prayer writes, “I don’t understand what they fear, who fear to begin the practice of mental prayer, I do not know what they are afraid of” [L 8,vi]. According to her prayer is unity and integration of what one pronounces and lives. It is a union of thought and action; words and deeds. “Only love and a habit” [L 7,xii] is needed for such an integration and unity. “Prayer is an exercise of love” [L 7,xii]. The Christian prayer is essentially the prayer of Jesus, an exercise of love.
One becomes a Pray-er only by praying. If one has lost the habit of prayer, it is regained only through prayer: “Whoever has not begun the practice of prayer, I beg for the love of the Lord not to go without so great a good” [L 8,v], because “prayer is the door” [L 8,xii] to attain God’s friendship.
According to St. Teresa prayer can be either mental or vocal. For her there are no hard and fast rules that distinguish one form of prayer from the other. Praying is loving and loving is praying. In fact, the quality of our prayer determines the quality of our life. Therefore, whatever way one approaches God in prayer it would be an approach that has been determined by ones life. The relationship with God through prayer affects all other relationships and life itself.
Prayer is an ongoing relationship and so must develop. It ought to be dynamic. A stagnant relationship is no prayer relationship at all. Any relationship for that matter ought to be dynamic and must tend to grow always from its initial stage towards most profound depths of intimacy. Relationship cannot be attained or perfected within a day, nor will it come to a stop where one can say that its growth has reached its perfect point and there is no further scope.
Growth in relationship with God has no end and cannot be mechanical, and therefore there are no short cuts to God-relationship. As we affirmed, prayer is a relationship, and therefore it is bound to grow. It is not mechanical and hence no physical or mental technique will serve to ensure growth in prayer.
Prayer relationship takes place between unequals, i.e., God and man. It is a relationship of Creator with creature or vice-versa. Openness and clear disposition are the main features that make the grace of God freely act on the creature. However, we cannot in any way command God’s response to our openness and disposition. Hence, growth in prayer relationship is evidently God’s gratuitous gift to man. Since God is love, prayer is not a matter of thinking a great deal, but of loving a great deal (M IV.1,vii). Love attracts love; therefore, growth in prayer augments love and love in turn nourishes prayer. But it should be kept in mind that we cannot force love from the other. Hence, relationship with God cannot be forced rather must be accepted as a precious gift. Forced love does not last and it cannot be called love at all. Forced relationships are bound to fail or break.
Prayer in the first stages of its development requires effort and ‘exercise’. Effort and exercise mean wholehearted response to a need. All prayer is a response. It is the Lord who takes the initiative. It is He who first knocks, beckons and calls us. He calls us forth in our very creation and in our re-creation in baptism. He speaks to us in everyone and in everything, in our very selves, in all our movements, energies, and activities; in our breathing, thinking, and feeling. He is the source of all energy, life, and activity, and He is present in them as their source. With a lively active faith we hear and respond to him.
Any virtue or good habit is the result of dedicated constant exercise. Therefore Teresa recommends strongly to her disciples “Do not give up the hours of prayer for any thing else” [Way 18,iv]. Teresa through her own experience establishes that exercise bears fruit in the long run. She herself underwent long hours of exercise without obtaining brilliant success. “I spent fourteen years never being able to practice meditation without reading” [Way 17,iii]. “For though I continued to associate with the world, I had the courage to practice prayer” [Life 8,ii]. “For more than eighteen of the twenty eight years since I began prayer, I suffered this battle and conflict between friendship with God and friendship with the world” [Life 8,iii]. “God does great good for a soul that willingly disposes itself for the practice of prayer” [Life 8,iv]. “It is that in spite of any wrong he who practices prayer does, he must not abandon prayer, since it is the means by which he can remedy the situation”[Life 8,v]. “Whoever has not begun the practice of prayer, I beg for the love of the Lord, not to go without so great a good”[Life 8,v]. What we are made to understand through these texts is that there is need for ‘exercise’, ‘effort’ and the ‘necessity of setting apart time’ for prayer. It is the practice that makes us perfect. Practice is the tonic for growth.
Prayer presupposes in its initial stages, mental exercise or activity. For any function of the mind to be constant and habitual there is need for ‘exercise’. We can speak of prayers we memorise and reproduce on occasions, or spontaneous prayers done; all these require the absolute activity of the mind. Mental prayer presupposes asceticism that in normal terms could be regarded as constant exercise. In any sector of human life exercise and asceticism plays a dominant role. For example, a dancer, when he or she dances, we notice with rapt attention all his or her artistic body movements. It is so with prayer. When we are involved in prayer there takes place a similar process as it happens in an expert conducting a programme. We are actively involved in prayer, performing it, or living it or experiencing it. A person who dances is involved in dancing and experiences it. So also, when we pray we are involved in prayer and experience it. In prayer there is an interaction between grace and human freedom just as there is human effort and the experience in any art.
Prayer in fact presupposes the action of God and co-operation on our part. When both happily meet there is growth. What concretely required on our part is generosity and virtue. Teresa firmly suggests the virtue of courage and perseverance through “determined determination”[Way 21,ii].
But those who do give themselves with determined determination, “the Lord shares with them His food even to the point of taking a portion from His own mouth, to give them” (cfr. W 16,ix). Here we understand clearly that ‘prayer’ is only the beginning of the whole mystery of our salvation. As Teresa writes in the definition “mental prayer” is nothing but “friendly intercourse”, which signifies, when it really reaches its highest point, it is going to be not only friendly but reaches the depth of friendship and love far beyond expression. It ought to be liberating experience. God in this state cannot resist a soul that desires Him ardently. Not to desire God is equal to not to find Him. Prayer is the power that provokes encounter. But we need to understand that ‘encounter’ with God may not be always pleasant, soothing experience. ‘Mental prayer’ is the way by which we loose ourselves in order to find Christ (Phil 3:7-22). It is an exposing of oneself to God’s company and presence, because we cannot in any way force God to be our companion. If he offers his companionship it is not out of our merit but a sheer gift from Him. Dealing with God in all humility and determination is the only way to love and have him. Hence, prayer is nothing but our exposure to God and to His riches. As the sun God’s company is never failing but His rays could be prevented if one closes the door or window of ones soul. The need for spiritual exposure to God is an absolute precondition for prayer. It is in prayer that we come to know God and His mysterious works. Our eyes of faith are wide opened and hope becomes stronger through prayer. Through prayer the spiritual faculties are energised and vitalised to receive God. The initial effort at prayer is normally rewarded with gifts and graces from God, which saturate us to the point of thirsting for Him more and more with determination and courage.
Before we come to the core of the article we need a few clarifications regarding the various terms used in the writings of Teresa on prayer.
The Hebrew root ‘haga‘ is translated as ‘meditation’ which is the work of the heart and not of the mind. Hence, it denotes interiorization. The word ‘meditation’ is the derivative of the Greek melete signifying “exercise, study”. Its Latin root med denotes cure or care. The English word medicine refers to curative elements. In spiritual theology meditation has a vast range of meanings that are connected with prayer. The one who meditates, means one who prays. It is an initial form of prayer, reaching deeper levels of God experience. The word in fact sums up the initial steps in the ongoing growth in Christian spirituality.
In the early monastic period (V – XII century) ‘meditation’ was linked with contemplation. Meditation, in fact, was a type of prayer that began with ‘Lectio‘ – a reading aloud and pondering on the Scriptural passages – through an integration of mind and body. This pondering on was a stage that laid stress on resting on the words of the text that led one beyond the imaginative and rationalising levels of the mind, i.e., oratio. This led one to be with God through non-conceptual level of prayer, which is nothing but ‘contemplation’ – a state of being with God.
Meditation is an act of faith, hope and love because it requires generous commitment and perseverance. It ensures growth and integration leading to the state of continuous prayer enjoined by Christ (Lk 18:1; I Thes 5:17). Meditation can be regarded as the door to “mental prayer” through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:18; Rom 8:14).
The word ‘mind’ has its etymological base in the expression “to think”. Its broader meanings are ‘interiority’, ‘consciousness’. The word ‘mind’ denotes ‘spatio temporal non extension’, consciousness and partly specifies the ability to think.
The expression ‘mental prayer’ is used often interchangeably with meditation and contemplation. The terms ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’ are also at times used interchangeably. In reality both these terms denote two different levels of prayer life. If there is an extended pondering of God’s presence and activity, it is meditation. When there is a total gazing with love and attention on God, it is, and could be called contemplation. St. John of the Cross calls it “inflow of God into the soul”. In normal definitions regarding meditation there is the domination of reasoning; whereas in contemplation ‘love’ predominates.
In the writings of Teresa there is a real difficulty to distinguish between mental prayer and contemplation. This difficulty is also prevalent when she speaks of vocal and mental prayer. Mental prayer entails a lot of risk because most of the time we spend with God might seem in vain. “Whoever in fact risks all for God will find that he has both lost all and gained all” (L 16,vii). The particular feature of ‘mental prayer’ is that it has no specific or fixed formulas. It is a spontaneous elevation of the heart and mind to God through love.
For Teresa, there is basically no difference between vocal and mental prayer, provided the basic concept of prayer is understood as ‘loving’ God. Vocal prayer done with attention and concentration is nothing but meditation. Vocal prayer done with deeper love and attention, becomes mental prayer. In vocal prayer we have to mean what we say; in mental prayer we say what we mean. When we say what we mean, it is always accompanied with love. Hence, any prayer recited or sung with love becomes mental prayer. Therefore, the saint affirms, prayer is not “thinking much but loving much” (M IV,1,7). However, in the initial stages of prayer “it is a great help to take a good book written in the vernacular in order to recollect ones thoughts and pray well vocally and little by little in order not to grow discouraged (W,26,x).
Teresa further adds “but I tell you that surely I don’t know how mental prayer can be separated from vocal prayer if the vocal prayer is to be recited well with an understanding of whom we are speaking to. It is even an obligation that we strive to pray with attention” (W 24,vi). Through this affirmation Teresa disagrees with the conventional attitude towards vocal prayer. She strikes at the root of vocal prayer and brings out its deeper significance in our life. In vocal prayer we have to apply the mind. If not, vocal prayer cannot be called ‘prayer’ at all. Any recitation to be prayer needs the grasp of the recitation. The serious danger in the recitation of vocal prayer is when we recite it by heart. Often the words are pronounced through force of habit, and the prayer remains a sounding cymbal. Teresa insists that even vocal prayer recited integrally can lead us to God equally as the contemplative prayer. She writes: “I know that there are many persons who while praying vocally… are raised by God to sublime contemplation… It is because of this that I insist so much upon your reciting vocal prayers well” (W 30,vii).
For ‘mental prayer’ the presence of God is absolutely necessary and fundamental. The presence of God constitutes the essential element of mental or vocal prayer. “To recite the Our Father or the Hail Mary or whatever prayer you wish is vocal prayer. But behold what poor music you produce when you do this without mental prayer” (W,25,iii). Mental prayer consists of “being aware of and knowing what we are speaking, with whom we are speaking, and who we ourselves are, who dare to speak so much with so great a Lord” (W 25,iii).
Prayer is loving. One who does not love cannot pray and vice-versa. Prayer is life. One who does not pray has no life of the spirit in him. Where there is no love there is no life. Hence, prayer, love and life are a necessary network of human life. They are interconnected. The lack of one results in stunting the growth of the whole human person.
Prayer continues when there is continuation of love. Love can be continuous when it is concentrated and total. Hence, one needs to persevere in prayer if one has to grow in love and life (Rom 12:12).
St. Teresa chokes out a synthesis of prayer in her Autobiography chapter 11. According to her, the beginners in prayer are those who draw water from the well. This involves lot of work on their part trying to recollect their senses. Those who have done already progress in prayer fall in the second degree of prayer, which is called prayer of quiet. Teresa compares this type prayer to watering the garden by turning the crank of a water wheel and by aqueduct. The gardener obtains more water with less fatigue. The third kind of prayer is the prayer of contemplation. This type of prayer is compared to the river that flows out and supplies water to plants. This prayer is experienced through God’s special intervention and grace. The fourth kind of prayer is prayer of union. The intensity of this kind of prayer is compared to rain water. The field is drenched with water that for many days and weeks there is no need to irrigate the plants. This form of prayer is the prayer of union the soul enjoys without many mystical phenomena. Here God is united to the soul and the two separate beings become one. No effort is invested on the part of the gardener, i.e. the soul.
We intend to quote the whole definition here for a detailed analysis. “Mental prayer” she affirms “in my opinion is nothing else but falling in love with Christ, frequently conversing in secret with Him who we know loves us” [L 8,v]
In this expression there are two words. Oración in Spanish signifies ‘prayer’. The word mental signifies ‘mental’ activity. Mind and intelligence are closely connected or could be said are equivalent. For St. John of the Cross both intellect and understanding spell out the same meaning. When we stress the words ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ it should not be confused with ‘memory’. Memory has a function of storing images and experiences of the past. It recalls these images and experiences on occasions. In fact the function of the mind or intellect is very important in all the spheres of life. It is the activity of the mind or intellect that moves us to start any adventure and not the activity of the memory. In spiritual life it is the mind that begins first its ascent to God and then only the activity gradually reaches the heart.
In general, prayer is mental when the internal acts of the intellect and will are not expressed externally in words and gestures. In modern usage the term is not restricted to an internal petition but embraces every interior act of faith, hope and charity, – every thought of God with the object of serving Him and of fostering charity and the other virtues, every movement of praise, thanksgiving, penance, petition, adoration, and love.
As an exercise in the spiritual life, mental prayer may be either formal or diffused (virtual). It is diffused when internal acts are intermingled with other occupations, as in the practice of aspiration while engaged in activities (cooking or gardening). It is formal when a definite space and time is devoted to making these internal acts to the exclusion of all other occupation and involvement.
Teresa frequently insists in her writings the need for ‘meditation’ even at an advanced stage of spiritual life (M VI,7,viii). This attitude of Teresa leaves us in no doubt that the saint could and did practice a form of prayer that was neither vocal nor contemplative, but involved some kind of mental activity. Therefore, many commentators on her writings have found it difficult to arrive at a conclusion regarding her definition on mental prayer as indicating ‘meditative prayer’ or ‘contemplative prayer’.
There are some simple souls with little education who cannot regularly practise formal ‘mental prayer’ and nevertheless by the devout practice of vocal prayer and asceticism come to a high state of perfection. For this reason it cannot be said that formal mental prayer is necessary for all those who strive for Christian perfection. Nevertheless it is a normal means of Christian perfection, and usually cannot be neglected without spiritual loss.
Teresa was not well versed in using philosophical terms in her writings. Hence, when she writes on mental prayer, she intends to highlight a relationship with God through knowledge without making reference to the various functions of the soul as St. John of the Cross who elaborately deals with such themes.
According to Teresa, in prayer, the mind is applied and as a result we know what we pray. Without knowledge, we cannot love. For Teresa prayer cannot be isolated from Christian living, because it is based on Christ and the Church. Hence, for a Christian to be initiated into prayer life, the knowledge of Christ is absolutely needed. One who knows Christ can love him. The one who loves, prays and one who prays necessarily should love. The life of prayer that results in close friendship with Christ presupposes concrete exercise. Teresian mental prayer in its early stages of growth is an exercise of the mind. Without exercise a habit of prayer cannot be formed. Moreover, exercise presupposes time. In addition to time, effort is a prerequisite for exercise. Hence, exercise, effort and time form the essential factors that contribute to the success of mental prayer in Teresian spirituality.
Teresa in her ‘definition’ writes “prayer in my opinion”. This expression indicates that what she has expressed is only an opinion and not a dogma. For us Carmelites, this ‘opinion’ has become a ‘definition’, in the sense that it contains the most important and sublime ingredients of prayer. Teresa could not affirm any teaching categorically, especially when it concerned about prayer because of the strict regulations of the Spanish Inquisition. Hence, Teresa just expresses her ‘opinion’ on prayer.
This expression refers to her conviction regarding this opinion. This is not a theoretical conviction, rather experiential conviction. In this modern world we come across hundreds of articles and books that explain and elaborate on the various methods or ways of prayer, perhaps well documented and sadly without personally experiencing what actually is prayer. These theories and written documents sway us from the essence of prayer. But for Teresa prayer is ‘nothing but’ growing in friendship with God.
Growth in friendship does not seek anything but friendship matured out of love. If we aim at satisfaction, gain and personal fulfilment in prayer with the exclusion of real ‘love’ of God and neighbour, it cannot be called prayer. It is interesting to know how Teresa makes this issue clear when she confesses: “Only once in my life, when in great dryness, do I recall having asked for spiritual delight” (L 9,ix,c).
Again the expression “nothing but” indirectly is a reference to all kinds of techniques and methods of prayer. A technique cannot be prayer because a technique does not presuppose ‘love’. A technique can be only a help or method and cannot be prayer. “I warn you that if you wish to progress a long way on this road of prayer and to enter the mansions of your desire, the important thing is not to think much, but to love much” (M IV,1,vii). Very often in our efforts thinking and reflecting is regarded as prayer. This wrong notion of prayer is corrected at the very outset of the definition with the words “nothing but”.
Friendly intercourse (tratar de amistad) or “frequent converse”, signify ‘friendship’, ‘dialogue’, ‘confidential encounter’, ‘presence’, ‘intimacy’, ‘spontaneity’, ‘freedom in dealing with’ etc. “Frequent” signifies, ‘frequency and continuity’, ‘uninterrupted communion’, ‘being with God everywhere and in everything’. “Solitary” means, in ‘silence’, in ‘solitude’, in ‘exclusion’, ‘totally for’.
Against this background Teresa more often speaks of ‘mental prayer’ and not of meditation. For her mental prayer meant “loving” and “friendly intercourse”: “I am not asking you now that you ‘think’ about him or that you draw out a lot of ‘concepts’ or make long and subtle ‘reflections’ with your intellect. I am not asking you to do anything more than look at Him. In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him” (W 26,iii).
Since prayer is a loving encounter with God, Teresa is keen on avoiding ‘thoughts’, ‘concepts’ and ‘reflections’ during the advanced stage of prayer. Forced thoughts and reflections in prayer can limit the flow of God’s love and consequently we remain merely speculative and theoretical in our approach to prayer. Perhaps we could boldly say that when we think, reflect and conceive many ideas during prayer, we do not pray but waste our time in speculation and reflection. According to Teresa prayer should be nothing but “friendly intercourse” i.e., ‘looking at Him’, ‘desiring Him’, ‘speaking to him’, in a way different from our normal manner of speaking to human beings. “Speak with Him as your Father and Brother, as your Lord and Spouse, and in one way or another He will ‘teach’ you what you must do to please Him… The Lord is within us and we should be with Him” (W 28,iii). Friendship is the richest relationship the human heart can ever enjoy and experience.
As we have already hinted above, there are no short cuts to friendship. If in the “opinion” of Teresa, mental prayer is “nothing but friendly intercourse”, there can be absolutely no shortcuts to reach this intense friendship – relationship with God, because “nothing is learned without a little effort” (W 29,viii). One truth must console us. God is immensely generous towards those who are generous to gain His friendship. “I know, if you try, that within a year, or perhaps half a year, you will acquire it, by the favour of God” (W 29,viii).
For Teresa ‘mental prayer’ is a less particular exercise than the very practice of spiritual life. The way of prayer is not a way of perfection. It only opens out avenues into the depths of the divine intimacy that is so vast and inexhaustible. However, Teresa’s writings reveal to us that prayer is indispensable to reach such heights in spiritual life and to enjoy God-experience. Therefore, mental prayer is the sure way of contacting God and helps foster further encounters of friendship.
‘Friendly intercourse’ with God is had through love. God is love and he attracts every act that is made out of love. He then, can be said to be the biggest and the most powerful “Love Magnet” drawing every act of a being that possesses any element of ‘love’. He created man out of love because He is love Himself. He redeemed us out of love and for love. Since God is the source of love, there is nothing in the world as dynamic as love because it is rooted in God. Love is a devouring fire, it is in constant activity and movement, consuming everything that is akin to it. The expression “tratar de amistad” which is translated “friendly intercourse” in fact, signifies a ‘continual, dynamic and reciprocal inter-penetration of love between God and soul. Love is not static; it grows and has the capacity and inclination for equality. All love craves for unity and equality. As in the human order the highest peak of love is the union of husband and wife in the flesh, so the highest union in the divine order is the union of the soul with God. Unity with the Divinity can be attained only through love. When love grows (between the Creator and the creature) there is sharing and when sharing reaches its highest intensity there is consummation and equality. Hence, friendly intercourse is a tendency towards equality and inter-penetration. Such a deep relationship requires exclusiveness and being alone with the other. Love is a unitive force that integrates the whole of us and leads us towards God intensifying our desire for Him. Therefore, prayer with love becomes a reaching, uniting, unifying and transforming factor. It is life itself and an attitude towards it. This can be clearly noticed in the various phases of the life of Jesus. If we expand and grow spiritually, the only reason for it is to be found in the genuine and unitive prayer experience. Such a prayer experience nourishes both the body and soul. Without such a prayer, life can be disintegrating and shattering itself from its very fundamental purpose.
Mental prayer is nothing but a “friendly intercourse” with God; it does not mean that we have to involve ourselves in shedding tears and enjoying spiritual consolations. “Friendly intercourse” is nothing but loving through great humility and service. Friendship brings two wills together in harmony. We call it the conformity of our will with God’s will.
“Loving intercourse” or “friendly intercourse” presupposes an exercise of love. When we speak of an exercise of love in prayer, we cannot claim that Teresa was original in her proposal. Ignatius of Loyola had a ‘method of prayer’ which presupposed an exercise. The method suggested a preliminary reading before prayer, which helped one to dwell on two or three points that enabled one to meditate discursively. Teresa’s method could not be absolutely identical, rather it drastically reduced the work of the mind and intensified the work of the heart.
Teresa suggests that prayer should be friendly colloquy with Christ than an intellectual reasoning. This friendly colloquy is nothing but loving conversation with the Lord. It is being effectively active in the presence of the Lord. Her practical recommendation in prayer is that we “look at Him” (W 26,iii; L xiii,21). “For if we humbly ask him for this friendship, He will not deny it to us” (W 26,ii).
The process of colloquy is designed as an exercise in which the use of the imagination is followed by a reasoned discourse with the finality of stirring ones love for God. We should aim to enhance our love for God and not restrain it through discursive process. Teresa is certain that after a considerable time in this type of prayer we will be able to come to this loving colloquy directly without discursive reflection. This is what Teresa meant in her classical expression “friendly intercourse”, which is nothing but nowadays what they call “affective prayer”. This in fact is “looking at Him” and as Teresa writes “in the measure you desire him, you will find Him” (W 26,iii). It is through this friendship with God that we can grow in spiritual life. Becoming ‘friends of God’ is the only concern of Teresa through prayer. To be interested in God is learning to be friends of God. It is a life of friendship rather than a moment of friendship with God. Love continues to grow when prayer continues. It is an ongoing process through which we become more and more aware of God, expanding our desire for a deeper relationship which eventually results in permanent bond with Him. If we feel that we have lost our way to God it is nothing but loosing contact with God by giving up prayer.
This expression signifies “frequent encounter” or “frequent meeting”. The encounter or meeting is always enriched through ‘talk’ or ‘communication’. In the initial stage of any kind of relationship the use of spoken ‘words’ is predominant. Since in the initial stage the friendship does not reach the heart to heart level, there is need to use words to express what actually happens in the heart. Speaking or communication through words also requires ‘listening’. Speaking or communicating is not one way traffic flow; rather, it is letting also the other speak. This implies giving a generous hearing: “consider the words that Divine mouth speaks, for in the first word you will understand immediately the love He has for you; it is no small blessing and gift for the disciple to see that his Master loves him” (W 26,x). Hence, to communicate or to speak with the master “great deal of skill is necessary” (ibid).
Prayer or friendship with God bears two-fold dimension, namely, vertical and horizontal. The vertical dimension consists in a loving and friendly conversation with God, which is a heart to heart talk with God. Horizontal dimension of prayer signifies finding God in our relationship with others. Contact with God through our brethren is the vital essence of prayer that is nothing but deep rooted ‘life’ in Christ. This life is a revelation of God in prayer. Our loving and genuine relationship with others is destined to promote, enrich and intensify our love for God and consequently empower our prayer life. Therefore, “do not let any one deceive you by showing you a road other than that of prayer” (W 21,vi). Therefore, Teresa advises her companions: “let us give ourselves to mental prayer. Let whoever cannot practice it turn to vocal prayer, reading and colloquy with God. Do not abandon the hours of prayer we have in common; you do not know when the spouse will call” (W 18,iv). The fact is that so long as we direct our whole life towards God we are at prayer.
Exercise makes one the master. Frequent meetings or encounters with God can result in becoming true friends of Him. The expression “muchas veces” signifies “many times” or “frequently” or “very often”. We know that the continuous use of a knife keeps it sharp and shining. Constant singing makes one produce enchanting melody. One who practices dance daily can keep the audience spell-bound through the flexible and graceful movements of hands and feet. In the same way prayer becomes a means to strengthen our bond with God when we frequently return to it. The expression “muchas veces” in prayer signifies a constant return to God in fidelity. Fidelity indicates desire for growth. Long periods of dedicated prayer can result in strong moments of encounter with God. Constancy in prayer is dynamic. True friendship can be dynamic and growing when there is constancy in prayer. This striving after signifies, attempting “many times”. This is what we find in the Holy Scripture, the call to pray always: “watch all times praying” (Lk 21:36); “pray constantly” (I Thes 5:17); “be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12); “pray at all times in the spirit” (Eph 6:18); “continue steadfast in prayer” (Col 4:2); “we always pray for you” (II Thes 1:11); “we are bound to give thanks to God always for you” (II Thes 1:3). Hence only unceasing prayer enables us to cultivate lasting friendship with God. Therefore, the Pope exhorts in the decree on priestly formation “learn to live in familiar and constant companionship with the Father, Son and Spirit” (n. 8). It is a kind of constancy that requires undivided love and attention to God, by which we let God possess us. Prayer like any other power grows with use. We exercise our body to make it stronger. In the same manner exercise at prayer is a ‘must’ to hold on to friendship with God. “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the one who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13), because “nothing is impossible to God ” (Lk 1:37). “Everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours” (Mk 11:24). Therefore, “ask and you will receive” (Mt 7:7). “Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20); because His grace is enough for us (II Cor 12:9) in every way and in every circumstance.
What strikes us regarding prayer is Teresa’s insistance to come back to prayer if we have given it up. “Muchas veces” (often) coming back to this precious way is the remedy for all evils. “There is no other remedy for this evil of giving up prayer than to begin again” (M II,1,x). “Someone could think that if turning back is so bad, it would be better never to begin but to remain outside the Castle” (M II,1,xi). The indication here is for the need of perseverance: “one gains much through perseverance” (M II,1,iii). Teresa writes “unceasing prayer is the most important rule” (W 4,ii). Growth in prayer requires a constant exercise and dedication. “Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible” (W4,ii).
Another significance of the expression “muchas veces” is never to get discouraged. “If you should at times fall, don’t become discouraged and stop striving to advance. For even from this fall God will draw out good” (M II,1,ix). This is what St. Paul advises his fellowmen – “have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Phil 4:6). “Muchas veces” is an attitude and willingness to make whatever efforts are necessary to fulfil God’s will, no matter what the cost, so that at the end of life we may join St. Paul saying “I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Tim 4:7).
The expression “muchas veces” could also be interpreted as a form of paying close and frequent attention to God. Jesus in fact challenged his disciples not only to “pay attention” to his teaching (cfr. Lk 9:44) but to remain watchful for his return (Lk 12:36). Praying insofar as it involves awareness of, or communication with the divine, seems necessarily to require constant attention. Attention requires practice and to acquire practice there is need for repetition. Hence, the expression “muchas veces” points to regularity and constancy. Simone Weil asserts: “prayer consists of attention, the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable towards God ” (Waiting for God, New York, 1973, p. 105). Frequency is a sine qua non for building up relationship. Frequent meeting, corresponding, keeping in touch, in fact help us to keep fresh and alive in any kind of relationship. Therefore, Teresa suggests that to obtain a constant habit of prayer we “must not abandon prayer”; and must spend at least “two hours in prayer each day” (L 8,vi). This suggestion is not to be taken literally as two hours in prayer at a stretch, but returning to prayer “often” or “frequently” even when we are at work.
It is a call to be alone with God. In solitude and silence we must learn to converse with God. This attitude of solitude and silence helps us to ‘listen’ and to ‘speak’ to the one who loves and sees us in ‘secret’. We have clear examples for this in the life of Christ himself: “He withdrew to desert places to pray” (Lk 5:16); “rising very early before dawn, left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35). Before choosing the twelve, “He departed to the mountain to pray, and He spent the night in prayer to God” (Lk 6:12); after feeding the multitudes in the desert and before preaching the crucial sermon on the bread of life, Jesus once again spent the night in prayer (cfr. Mt 6:46; Mt 14:22-23; Jn 6:15). Teresa writes, “now with regard to prayer you already know that His majesty teaches that it be recited in solitude. This is what He always did when He prayed” (W 24,iv).
Jesus’ agonising prayer was made in utter solitude of suffering and Cross: “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 5:34). It was in utter solitude and abandonment that He surrendered himself in prayer to his Father “Father into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Jesus who experienced the providence and love of his Father in being ‘alone’ says, “when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in ‘secret’ will repay you” (Mt 6:6).
Prayer done in secret does not require long and empty phrases (Mk 12:40). It requires perseverance which is the key to success in prayer (Lk 18:1).
Aloneness with God, which is the hallmark of Christian attraction to solitude, is not a matter of loneliness. Genuine solitude is rooted in each person’s unique call from God. This personal and absolute uniqueness of each person testifies beautifully to the unique tri-personal life of a Trinitarian God, in whose image and likeness each person is created.
Making room for solitude and silence offers new challenges in the fast progressing technological society. The urbanisation process with its crowded living conditions and the constant communication provided by the media often presents insurmountable difficulties to the practice of solitude or to spend time ‘alone’ with God. Nevertheless, there is no other way than finding space and time to practise genuine prayer in solitude and silence. In the midst of hustle and bustle of the modern society the human spirit craves for solitude, because it is only in solitude that we can encounter God and dialogue with Him in the depth of our heart. We need to pray abiding in him (Jn 15:7). Prayer is more than an activity relegated to specific times and places where one human being talks to God. Prayer must be understood as a state of being, not just a particular activity. It is the movement of the human spirit towards ever-fuller participation in the life of God.
The ‘secret’ dialogue between God and man takes place in the ‘heart’. The heart stands for the deepest and most fundamental centre of the person. Indeed as some philosophers would say ‘the person is the heart’. To have a heart is to possess the capacity to be in relationship. Thus ‘heart’ is a dynamic space that allows good to dwell and gives birth to goodness. Therefore, prayer finds its fullest expression in interpersonal communion in and through communication with God in our heart, which is the secret chamber or the cave of the heart. There is in each of us a heart called to respond to the one Triune communion of divine persons made manifest in the presence and action of Jesus Christ and the Spirit. We are called to respond to what God asks of us. The response is given in the depth of our heart, being “alone with God” because we “cannot speak simultaneously to God and to the world” (W 24,iv). Therefore, Teresa suggests that “we must disengage ourselves from everything so as to approach God interiorley and even in the midst of occupations withdraw within ourselves” (W 29,v). “This involves a gradual increase of self control and an end to vain wandering from the right path; it means conquering, which is a making use of one’s senses for the sake of inner life” (W 29,vii). The motivation for such an effort to be alone with God is simple and radical because “a real lover never ceases to love and thinks always of the Beloved” (F 5,xvi). Teresian prayer is nothing but a personal encounter with God or being with God (estar con Dios). Experience of love through prayer presses us to give attention to whatever we do for the Lord and never lose sight of Him. This becomes a penetrating and liberating force that elevates us to be alone with God. Thus, when we learn to be alone with God, prayer and life, God and the world, become increasingly a single experience of integration that begets spiritual energy that leads us to establish the kingdom of God on earth.
Hence, praying is paying personal attention to God. “One should just remain there in His presence” (L13,xxii), because prayer “is an intimate sharing between friends”. Intimacy is the experience of closeness between two persons. Therefore, “draw near then, to this good Master with strong determination to learn what He teaches you” (W 26,x), because “He is looking at us” (L 13,xxii). In prayer we know God and prayer is the triumph of consciousness.
The seed of God is sown in our hearts in Baptism. It is through the grace of Baptism that we experience the gratuitous love of God because we know He is dwelling there. As we grow in this grace we become aware of this vital presence and the generosity and the providence of God. This leads us to grasp why He created us and we understand that he loved us first and He saves us.
Before coming to the central theme of ‘love’ which follows the above quoted expression, we need to find out the relevance of the word ‘sabemos‘ to the whole definition. We cannot love a thing if we do not know it. Knowledge matures love and relationship.
Knowledge is necessary to love. In prayer two types of knowledge is necessary. One is self-knowledge and the other is God knowledge. Knowledge can be further subdivided into sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge. Besides these two, we speak of spiritual knowledge or supernatural knowledge, which is not achieved through natural cognitive power but through gratuitous gift of God. The spiritual knowledge is also called infused or contemplative knowledge of God, which is again a gratuitous gift of God. Man is only a passive recipient of this knowledge.
For prayer, “knowledge” is very essential. First of all we need to obtain knowledge of God through self-knowledge. In the first stages of prayer, knowledge acquired through reading and instruction is sufficient. Knowledge provokes love. Love is not satisfied with superficial knowledge but longs for union with what is known. “Prayer consists of what was explained: being aware and knowing what we are speaking, with whom we are speaking, and who we ourselves are who dare to speak so much with so great a Lord” (W 25,iii). Hence the word ‘sabemos‘ refers to the knowledge of God one possesses. ‘Sabemos‘ can be interpreted as ‘awareness’ from the psychological point of view. It is not so much the intellectual awareness that matters in prayer, but loving awareness. When we go for prayer if we are ‘aware’ that the one who loves us throughout the day is waiting for us, the whole attitude towards prayer changes. Awareness helps us to remain inwardly tuned in mind and heart to God, whatever the occupation in which we are engaged. This is what usually happens with lovers. It is not necessary that they speak but they are ‘aware’ of the presence of the other. Therefore it is very necessary that we become ‘aware’ of the presence of God in and around us.
For Teresa it is the knowledge of God we acquire through feeling the nearness of Christ that helps us to come closer to God. To pray, we must be in the presence of Christ and “grow accustomed to being inflamed with love for His sacred humanity” (L 12,ii), keeping Him ever present in our hearts. This awareness and knowledge nourishes us to “strive to remain in this precious company” (L 12,ii). Christ is the “living book”, the “true book” in which we come to know “what must be read and done” (L 26,v). To obtain “true” knowledge of God we must “set our eyes on Christ” (M I,2,xi). Teresa sees Christ as the “only friend”. “If we are friends of the crucified we will have to carry many crosses in life. He is a great friend” (W 26,i). “He is an understanding friend” (C 2,i). “He is true and only friend and spouse” (L 22,vi). “He is a friend par exellance” (L 37,vi). This experience of friendship is Christ’s gift to us in prayer: “I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (Jn 15:15).
The Lord is in the centre of our soul (M III,2,iii), and since we know He loves us we should not go out from that centre, rather be “always with Him” (M VII,1,x), and “speaking with Him as with a Brother, a Father, a Lord and Spouse” (W 28,iii). “The Lord is within us, and that there we must be with Him” (Ibid). “If we knew Him we would love in a way different from that in which we do love Him” (W 30,v). Therefore the first word “sabemos” of the expression chosen for analysis has the property of “knowing” and being “known”. Knowledge enhances our love for God and strengthens our bond with him.
These words literally signify a constant and deep desire “to be” with the One whom we love. It is a desire of the will to be “with such a good company” (L 8,vi), it is an unquenchable desire “to be alone with God” (L 8,vi).
“We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). Teresa calls God “the Captain of Love” (W 6,ix). In His love God is undivided and all consuming. Therefore, anything short of this type of love can never reach us to God. St. John of the Cross, contemporary of Teresa writes “nothing is obtained from God except by love” (Spiritual Canticle 1,xiii). God always extends His friendship to us: “The Lord is so good a friend to those who are His friends” (W 35,ii). To grow in this friendship “the important thing is not to think much but to love much; do then whatever most arouses to love” (M IV,1,ii).
True love can be generated in us when we become aware of the great deeds God worked for us. “We have our being from God, that He created us from nothing and sustains us and all the other benefits flowing from His death and trials” (L 10,v). “In recalling that it is a gift and that we possess it, we are compelled to love the giver” (L 10,v). “True love of God brings with it every blessing” (L 11,I).
God’s “love for those who love Him is not small” (W 16,x). When we truly become aware of God’s love “it is a beautiful exchange to give our love for His” (W 16,x). His love is pure, and only the “pure in heart shall see God” (Mt 5:8).
Real love for God creates in us intense desire to see Him (cfr. Prov 8:17); makes us run after Him (Is 1:23); and to cleave to Him (Dt 11:22). Since God loves us passionately we too are asked to love Him with the same intensity (cfr. Dt 6:5). Hence, “it is no small blessing and gift for the disciple to see that his Master loves him” (W 26,x). The sublime knowledge of God is obtained in loving communion with Him in prayer. Love is the axis and motor of prayer. Love is the only language God understands. At the evening of life every one of us will be examined only in love and through love.
“Love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). It is love that makes us the temples of God. If any man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and, make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).
Therefore, love is known by experience. Love can neither be inducted nor deducted. Love proves itself in faithfulness. This faithfulness is rooted in being faithful to prayer. Love and prayer radiate faithfulness. St. Paul shows how faithfulness is rooted in love. “That charity may dwell in your heart through faith, that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).
Hence, the expression “loves us” (nos ama) carries with it the whole theology of God’s creation and redemption. Prayer reveals to us God’s plan and His design. Moreover, if we really pray we become participants in the work of creation and redemption through His grace. When we pray we pray with the Church. When each one of us is faithful to prayer God’s work of redemption is accomplished in us and begins to bear fruit. We become co-workers with God. “Let us desire and be occupied in prayer not for the sake of our enjoyment but so as to have this strength to serve” (M VII,4,xii). The ultimate purpose of prayer is service, because Christ prayed and served humanity. “This is the reason for prayer, the birth of always of good works, good works” (M VII,4,vi).
God is “fond of friends” (W 35,ii). What remains ultimately in prayer is true friendship and love. Genuine love is the key to integration and unity in us and among ourselves.
So far we have interpreted exegetically the words “tratar de amistad” which is building up of a friendly relationship with God. The essential elements that contribute to such a relationship are ‘exercise’, ‘love’, ‘detachment’ and ‘humility’. These elements serve to maintain and deepen friendly relationship with God. It is also the case with human relationship that is difficult to foster without a virtuous life. However, the greatest difference between human and divine friendship is that divine friendship is always present and is gratuitously given. Moreover, human friendship has always the danger of loosing its intensity due to any trivial factor, whereas divine friendship has no end for its growth, and there is no danger of loosing it unless we ourselves want to lose it. Divine friendship is always a covenantal friendship that keeps all the possibilities open for its growth and progress. As we have understood through the various texts of Teresa, prayer is the only means and goal of this friendship.
Teresa is keen in pointing out certain measures essential for prayer life. She calls them “some things that are necessary for those who seek to follow the way of prayer” (W 4,iii). If we do not possess them “it is impossible to be truly contemplative” (W 4,iii). These ‘some things’ that are an absolute precondition for genuine prayer are: “to love one another”; “detachment from all created things”; and “true humility” (W 4,iv). If these conditions are not fulfilled in our life we who practise prayer “will always be dwarfs” (M VII,4,ix).
“Prayer cannot be accompanied by self indulgence” (W 4,ii). For if detachment is practised with perfection it includes everything. Detachment is our willingness to give up any worldly value for the sake of a good of higher order; i.e. performing God’s will. Detachment is a means to freedom from sin and from the disordered inclinations. Therefore, Christ said “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24), and again to the rich young man “sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me” (Lk 18:22); “there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive an over abundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come” (Lk 18:29-30). All these passages point to the attainment of a higher good at the denial of a lower one. In this context St. Paul says “taking off the old self with its practices of immorality in order to be re-clothed with the new self, renovated in the image of its creator” (Col 3:5; 8-12).
The term ‘detachment’ is expressed through multiple other equivalents, such as abnegation, renunciation, mortification, stripping off of old self, renunciation, self-abandonment, forgetfulness of self, self-sacrifice, humility or spiritual freedom.
For Teresa detachment consists in a very positive attitude of “giving oneself to the All entirely and without reserve” (W 8,i). It is also “withdrawing from everything” so that we might get united with His majesty, because “we are so miserly and slow in giving ourselves entirely to God” (L 11,i). Detachment from worldly things necessarily speeds growth in prayer and prayer helps us to practise detachment in a deeper level.
Writing very profound thoughts regarding detachment Teresa warns the reader not to be self content when one is detached from the external world. This would “resemble some one who very tranquilly lies down after having locked his doors for fear of thieves while allowing the thieves to remain inside the house” (W 10,i). Teresa here targets ‘self complacency’ the biggest enemy of detachment.
The primary way to combat against ‘ourselves’ is to regard “all is vanity” and conclude: “how quickly everything comes to an end” (W 10,ii). In this respect humility can greatly contribute to the practice of detachment because both these virtues go together and are inseparable.
Teresa gives a few practical suggestions regarding detachment, which point at getting rid of our love for the body. Inordinate love for our body and being too conscious of our health can be detrimental to growth in prayer: “a fault this body has is that the more comfort we try to give it, the more needs it discovers. It is amazing how much comfort it wants” (W 11,ii). A serious effort at prayer leads us to die to ourselves and to comforts. However, Teresa is very conscious regarding over indulgence in penances and mortifications in order to control the needs of the body. She writes: “penances without rhythm or reason should be avoided” (W 10,vi).
The cunning devil can trap those who pray seriously in either ways. He can tempt us with heavy penances as a need to attain to genuine prayer so as to lead us astray from discernment. Involving in heavy penances we can also run the risk of falling into grave errors in spiritual life. This makes us even to be afraid of the most simple penance of “the very ordinary things of the rule” (W 10,vi). Consequently “we stop going to choir one day because our head ached, another because it was just now aching, and thrice more so that it won’t ache again” (W 10,vi).
Another form of detachment she suggests is regarding the ‘opinion’ others have of us. Getting opinion from others is a psychological need we have to obtain appreciation, acceptance and honour. Besides the basic psychological need, we could become absolutely victimised by just a few remarks others pass on us. To overcome this attachment to appreciation she suggests that we should obtain a kind of divine freedom and not care whether others say good or evil, rather “think of what is said as though it was another’s affair” (W 15,vi). Thus with God’s help “we grow accustomed to this attitude and remain lords of our bodies” (W 11,v).
Ultimately detachment is a determined attempt at total liberation from all personal egoism and self-indulgence. It is the way of directing our energy towards God in self giving and self-gift. “It is an important matter for beginners in prayer to start off by becoming detached from every kind of satisfaction and to enter the path solely with the determination to help Christ carry the cross like good cavaliers who desire to serve their king at no salary” (L 15,ii). Hence this detachment for the love of Christ must be radical, irrevocable and persevering.
To make progress in prayer detachment is the primary requirement, which liberates us and gives us spiritual freedom. Teresa points to two essential aspects that sustain this effort at detachment, viz. Silence and solitude.
She writes “get used to solitude, it is a great help for prayer” (W 4,ix). Solitude and silence are considered synonyms, yet each has its own effect on prayer. Solitude is a pointer to the unexplored treasures within us. The discovery of great spiritual treasures helps us to hasten our effort at detachment. Solitude provides us a sense of integration and spiritual strength. Through solitude we become fully aware of the sacred within us. Silence is a factor that contributes greatly to the nourishment of the inner spirit. It assists us to face shallowness and superficiality. In silence we get strength to combat distractions and temptations.
Through silence and solitude we can wage war against all kinds of evils that threaten prayer life. These two virtues put us at ease and repose. Spiritual solitude is so clearly linked with prayer that it becomes a strong way of discernment. It is a great help to distinguish between the love of God and love of the world. “This desire for solitude is continually present in souls that truly love God” (F 5,xv), and “to get used to solitude is a great help for prayer” (W 4,ix), because Christ himself loved solitude and “this is what He did when He prayed” (W 24,iv).
True practice of detachment implies surrender to God. For that matter any surrender entails continuous self-giving. It is a self giving of mind to mind, of will to will, of being to being. Surrender has two dimensions. One is a once and for all surrender and the other is a continuous, day by day surrender. Once and for all surrender must be enriched by the day-by-day surrender that ensures growth. This growth in surrender could be regarded as unfolding surrender. Detachment carries with it the essential element of prayer that is surrender. There is no genuine prayer without surrender to the will of God. Prayer is surrender. Therefore, detachment practised for the sake of detachment without the noble desire of surrender to God remains sterile. Hesitant surrender is not surrender at all. Holding back what interests us and detaching ourselves from surplus is not a total surrender to God. Prayer requires wholeness, and total self-gift.
Prayer shapes us according to the will of God through surrender. “Father it is not my will, but yours be done”. God wants us to “withdraw from everything so that His majesty may unite us to Himself here without any hindrance” (W 8,ii).
“The whole aim of any person who is beginning prayer should be that he work and prepare himself with determination and every possible effort to bring his will unto conformity with God’s will” (M II,1,viii). “It is the person who lives in more perfect conformity with God’s will receives more from the Lord and be more advanced on this road of prayer” (M II,1,viii)
“because everything I have advised you about in this book is directed towards the complete gift of ourselves to the Creator, the surrender of our wills to His” (W 32,ix).
For Teresa love of neighbour is the proof for growth in prayer. If we do not have love for our neighbour, however great may be our experience, it is worthless and good for nothing. She dedicates a lot of time for explaining to her disciples the way we can really love our neighbours. Love of neighbour cannot be separated from love of God. Since God is love, we need to love our neighbours who represent God to us.
If our love towards God is to be genuine and lasting it must be manifested in our love towards our neighbour. “The way we came to know love was that He laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers… Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth” (1 Jn 4:16-18). Teresa affirms that “our nature being so evil, I do not believe we should ever attain perfect love for our neighbour unless it has its roots in the love of God” (M V,3,iii). This she calls “spiritual love” (W 7,iv). Spiritual love embraces all trials and every act done with pure intention towards our neighbour. In all her references to God, Teresa takes for granted His generosity, care, providence, patience, forgiveness, intimacy, concern, etc. To love God is to be His friends and from this friendship should flow true love of neighbour: “and if you do not yet love Him as He loves you because you have not reached the degree of conformity with His will” (L 8,v). “For the love of our Lord and for the great love with which He wins us back to Himself, I beg souls to watch out for the occasions” (L 8,x).
The word ‘humility’ is derived from the Latin ‘humus’ which signifies ‘ground’, ‘soil’. Its significance in the spiritual life is ‘to be lowly’, or ‘being true to self’. In classical Latin the word expresses ‘unimportance’, ‘insignificance’, ‘of lowly birth’, ‘weakness of character’, ‘lack of resources’. Hence, humility was always in reference to slaves, servants and people of low status and character in association with condescension and contempt.
In the OT ‘humble’ is associated or linked with the poor of Yahweh (anawim). These have no resources of their own and submit themselves wholly to the will of God who hears the cry of the poor and the needy. The essence of humility therefore consists in a sense of total dependence on God in gratitude for His goodness.
The NT recommends the need to be humble like little children to gain entry into God’s kingdom (Mk 10:15). The kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit who show forth childlike humility (Mt 5:3). This is all inclusive of the spirit of Christ who invites his disciples to learn from him because He is meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29). He humbled himself, being obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8).
In Christ’s teaching, humility is closely associated with love and service. The humility of Jesus is the model for progress in prayer life. “If I therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:14-15).
Gregory the great describes humility as “the mistress and mother of all virtues” (Moralia xxiii,13,24). Keeping this affirmation in mind we can link the importance of humility to love of neighbour and detachment which are of no importance if humility is lacking. Hence, love of neighbour and detachment are happily combined in humility. Therefore, all these three virtues greatly contribute to genuine ‘prayer’. Prayer life cannot be strong until it is rooted solidly in detachment, love of neighbour and humility: “for I cannot understand how there could be humility without love or love without humility” (W 16,ii).
Writing on humility Teresa does not dedicate a separate section to it. She combines humility with other topics and therefore we cannot obtain a systematic exposition of this virtue. For her humility and detachment go together (cfr. W 10), they are like two inseparable sisters (W 10,iii).
It is impossible for a humble person not to gain strength in prayer. When we humble ourselves we participate in the life of our Lord Jesus who humbled himself to give us an example (cfr. W 12,vii).
Teresa clearly observes that however advanced we may be in prayer, humility always demands that we should be prepared to go back to the beginnings. “No soul is ever such a giant in this way that it will not need often to turn back to being a baby at the breast and never let this be forgotten; for it is very important and perhaps I shall speak of it more often. There is no state of prayer so exalted that it will not be necessary to return often to the beginnings” (L 13,xv). It is by gazing at God’s grandeur, we get in touch with our own lowliness; by looking at His purity, we shall see our own filth; by pondering His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble” (M I,2,ix). For humility has an excellent feature: when it is present in a work, that work does not leave in the soul a feeling of frustration” (L 12,v).
Teresa makes a direct reference to the question of ‘honour’ and ‘rank’ as deadly and contrary to the spirit of humility. “God deliver us from persons who are concerned about honour while trying to serve Him. Honour itself is lost by desiring it, especially in matters of rank” (W 12,vii). The best remedy to such issues is the practice of humility. “It calls for great humility to be silent at seeing oneself condemned without fault. The truly humble person must in fact desire to be held in little esteem” (W 15,ii); “it is only right that you should try to understand how to train yourselves a great deal in humility; in fact this is an important aspect of prayer and indispensable for all persons who practise it” (W 17,i). True humility consists very much in great readiness to be content with whatever the Lord may want us to do. It is being content with what is received. Hence this attitude of contentment can be obtained only in and through prayer.
Teresa finally makes a synthesis of all the three essential elements required for true prayer and writes: “Humility drew the king from heaven to the womb of the Virgin, and with it, by one hair, we will draw Him to our souls [in prayer]. And realise that the one who has more humility will be the one who possesses Him more; and the one who has less will possess Him less. For I cannot understand how there could be humility without love or love without humility; nor are these two virtues possible without detachment from all creatures” (W 16,ii). However, prayer is the only way again to acquire the above three virtues/elements of prayer: “for meditation is the basis for acquiring all the virtues, and to understand it, is a matter of life and death for all Christians” (W 16,iii). Therefore, “let each one of us consider how much humility we have and he will see how much progress [in prayer] has been made” (W 12,vi).
In the above analysis we have seen love of neighbour, detachment, and humility can contribute to the growth in prayer life. Unless we strive after these virtues we will always be dwarfs (M VII,4,ix) in our prayer life.
The ultimate scope of prayer in Teresa is union with God. The first quality of this exalted union is its completeness. In this type of prayer, which is called prayer of union there is an indescribable fusion into one. There is total possession of each other by the soul and God, and a certain mutual con-penetration. It is a joining of spirit to Spirit, of human love to divine Charity; what is human becomes divine by participation; and the divine Spirit transforms the human spirit, penetrating and beautifying it. Teresa writes:
God has desired to be so joined with the creature that, just as those who are married cannot be separated, He doesn’t want to be separated from the soul [.]. Or it is like what we have when a little stream enters the sea, there is no means of separating the two. Or, like bright light entering a room through two different windows; although the streams of light are separate when entering the room, they become one (M VII,2,iii-iv).
This union is characterised by the intensity and intimacy of its love. In its “extreme interior, in some place very deep within itself” (M VII,1,vii) the soul enjoys the company of the Holy Trinity. The soul has entered into a lively and personal relationship with God in prayer. Probably the most striking effect in this type of prayer is that “God alone and the soul rejoice together in the deepest silence” (M VII,3,xi). Finally, Teresa advises “this is the aim of prayer, my daughters, this is the purpose of spiritual marriage: that it may always give birth to good works, good works” (M VII,4,vi).
The Carmelite Tradition of prayer according to Teresa of Avila is really striking and rich. We know through her life that it was not an easy task for Teresa to arrive at such a height in mystical life through prayer. What we learn from her very life is that, she desired for a life with God that is genuine and authentic. When God saw her good intentions she was led into the divine intimacy.
Her exposition on the doctrine on prayer is simple and lucid. She, writing mainly on ‘mental prayer’ covers the whole range of teaching on prayer, from the point of departure, in meditation, till the point of arrival at Union with God.
Teresa is a model and a living example of prayer. What we have read above is the theoretical explanation of the practical and experiential life of Teresa. Now it is up to us to learn from her to find out how far we have reached in our prayer journey. If we have stopped, we need to look ahead and continue to move forward encouraged by the words of Teresa. If we are tired we need to remind ourselves of the words of Teresa “determined determination” in pursuing prayer. Ultimately what counts, is not the days and years we have spent in prayer, but the way we have grown in love towards God and neighbour. This is the greatest of the commandments that can clearly gauge the depth of our prayer life.
L The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila
W The Way of Perfection
M Mansions (Interior Castle)
F The Book of Foundations
 Kieran Kavanugh and Otillio Rodrigues translate this expression as: “Very resolute determination to persevere”. Its Spanish rendering is “Determinada determinación“.
Relevance of Prayer To Religious Life of Today
Before venturing into writing this article for Dhyana magazine, I would like to quote David Van Biema, who wrote a beautiful article in TIME magazine on Mother Teresa of Calcutta, titled Her Agony: “A decade after Mother Teresa’s death, her secret letters show that she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God in her life. What does her experience teach us about the value of doubt?”. With this introduction, I practically shudder to write this article. Mother Teresa, a woman who served God so authentically and deeply has to say this, then who am I to write an article on the relevance of prayer to Religious life today? Yet, I want to confess that this article is going to be a collection of thoughts that may inspire those who can relate it to personal experience of prayer in their life.
Religious life or consecrated life, as defined by the Catholic Church spells out its significance as perennial act of total dedicated service to God’s kingdom. If this dedication lacks its vitality and tempo, religious life itself cannot find its significance to the individual in his/her personal life and in the larger and wider sense in the universal church.
The word ‘Religious’ is derived from the Latin ‘Religare‘ signifies ‘to bind’, ‘to tie’ etc. This could be interpreted as reuniting, reunion, rebinding. The task of a religious is to get united with the Lord, constantly in his/her daily tasks.
The title of this article – Relevance of Prayer to Religious life of today largely speaks of prayer in our daily life. Today more than ever people of all walks of life resort to prayer as a way out of their daily tensions and problems. They try their best to find ways and means of attaining peace, harmony, regain health, and get aligned with the demands that the modern society puts them. St. John of the Cross affirms that, “whoever flees prayer flees all that is good” (Other Counsels no. 11). It is true that prayer has become part of many a big business man in this fast moving and hectic world.
Religious life is a vocation known and respected in the church from its beginnings in the Egyptian desert to the present moment when we find large concentrations of priests, sisters and brothers in urban deserts. The same call of Jesus to “come and follow me” grasps a person’s whole being so that one leaves whatever would hinder a positive response.
Since Vatican II, the term consecrated life has been used for this call to give oneself totally to God and His people because it embraces all forms of this vocation, and its rootedness in the very life of God throug prayer and contemplative experience.
Besides enclosed congregations of contemplative religious and institutes of men and women engaged in active apostolates, consecrated life also includes members of secular institutes, consecrated virgins living in the world, hermits, widows and widowers.
Religious life cannot be sustained without a deep life of prayer, individual, communal, and liturgical. The religious who embraces concretely a life of total consecration is called to know the risen Lord by a warm, personal knowledge, and to know him as one with whom he or she is personally in communion: “This is eternal life: to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent” (Jn 17:3). Knowledge of him in faith brings love: “You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (I Pet 1:8). This joy of love and knowledge is brought about in many ways, but fundamentally, and as an essential and necessary means, through individual and community encounter with God in prayer. This is where the religious finds the concentration of the heart on God, which unifies the whole of life and mission.
As with Jesus for whom prayer as a distinct act held a large and essential place in life, the religious needs to pray as a deepening of union with God (cf. Lk 5:16). Prayer is also a necessary condition for proclaiming the Gospel (cf. Mk 1:35-38). It is the context of all important decisions and events (cf. Lk 6:12-13). As with Jesus, too, the habit of prayer is necessary if the religious is to have that contemplative vision of things by which God is revealed in faith in the ordinary events of life. This is the contemplative dimension which the Church and the world have the right to expect of religious by the fact of their consecration. It must be strengthened by prolonged moments of time apart for exclusive adoration of the Father, love of him and listening in silence before him. For this reason, Paul VI insisted: “Faithfulness to daily prayer always remains for each religious a basic necessity. Prayer must have a primary place in your constitutions and in your lives”.
By saying “in your constitutions,” Paul VI gave a reminder that for the religious prayer is not only a personal turning in love to God but also a community response of adoration, intercession, praise, and thanksgiving that needs to be provided for in a stable way. This does not happen by chance. Concrete provisions at the level of each institute and of each province and local community are necessary if prayer is to deepen and thrive in religious life individually and communally. Yet only through prayer is the religious ultimately able to respond to his or her consecration. Community prayer has an important role in giving this necessary spiritual support. Each religious has a right to be assisted by the presence and example of other members of the community at prayer. Each has the privilege and duty of praying with the others and of participating with them in the liturgy which is the unifying center of their life. Such mutual help encourages the effort to live the life of union with the Lord to which religious are called. People have to feel that through you someone else is at work. To the extent that religious live their total consecration to the Lord, and communicate something of him and, ultimately, it is for him alone they have made their dedication.
There is no doubt that, in many areas of the world at the present time, religious institutes dedicated to apostolic works are facing difficult and delicate questions with respect to the apostolate. The reduced number of religious, the fewer young persons entering, the rising median age, the social pressures from contemporary movements are coinciding with an awareness of a wider range of needs, a more individual approach to personal development, and a higher level of awareness with regard to issues of justice, peace, and human promotion. There is a temptation to want to do everything. There is also a temptation to leave works which are stable and a genuine expression of the institute’s charism for others which seem more immediately relevant to social needs but which are less expressive of the institute’s identity. There is a third temptation to scatter the resources of an institute in a diversity of short-term activities only loosely connected with the founding gift. In all these instances, the effects are not immediate but, in the long run, what will suffer is the unity and identity of the institute itself, and this will be a loss to the Church and to its mission.
On the basis of extensive research, the Plenaria of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes of 4-7 March 1980 considered seriously the importance of contemplative dimension of religious life. The theme had been chosen at the Plenaria of 1978, which dealt with the specific role of religious in the Church’s mission for integral human promotion, especially in its socio-political aspects. In highlighting at the time the fundamental importance of the spiritual in all forms of consecrated life, the Fathers of the Plenaria saw the need and the urgency to stress the absolute primacy of life in the Holy Spirit.
The choice of this theme was prompted by the modern life style which had become part and parcel of even the Consecrated life at large. The points that were put forward for this deliberation were as follows:
Ø The emergence of many forms of prayer and new forms of contemplative life among the People of God and in many religious communities, and
Ø The need to do away with the harmful dichotomy between interior life and activity in the personal and communal lives of religious in reaction to a certain period of down-grading of prayer and recollection, which has not yet completely disappeared.
It was not just a theoretical discussion, but a deeper intention and attempt at proposing concrete solutions to the emerging problems that would blow out of proportion in the long run. Hence the following points deserved deeper consideration:
Ø To encourage the integration of the interior life and activity in institutes of so-called active life and
Ø To promote vitality and renewal in the specifically contemplative institutes.
Conversation with God
Consecration is the basis of religious life. By insisting on this, the Church places the first emphasis on the initiative of God and on the transforming relation to him which religious life involves. Consecration is a divine action. God calls a person whom he sets apart for a particular dedication to himself. At the same time, he offers the grace to respond so that consecration is expressed on the human side by a profound and free self-surrender. The resulting relationship is pure gift. It is a covenant of mutual love and fidelity, of communion and mission, established for God’s glory, the joy of the person consecrated, and the salvation of the world.
What is interior life? The interior life is precisely an elevation and a transformation of the intimate conversation that everyone has with himself as soon as it tends to become a conversation with God.
This progressive manifestation of God to the soul that seeks Him is not unaccompanied by a struggle; the soul must free itself from the bonds which are the results of sin, and gradually there disappears what St. Paul calls “the old man” and there takes shape “the new man.”
The very nature of religious vocation involves a public witness to Christ and to the Church. Religious profession is made by vows which the Church receives as public. A stable form of community life in an institute canonically erected by the competent ecclesiastical authority manifests in a visible way the covenant and communion that religious life expresses. A certain separation from family and from professional life at the time a person enters the novitiate speaks powerfully of the absoluteness of God. At the same time, it is the beginning of a new and deeper bond in Christ with the family that one has left. This bond becomes firmer as detachment from otherwise legitimate relationships, occupations, and forms of relaxation continues to reflect God’s absoluteness publicly throughout life. A further aspect of the public nature of religious consecration is that the apostolate of religious is in some sense always corporate. Religious presence is visible, affecting ways of acting, attire, and style of life.
What St. Paul calls “the inward man” is what is primary and most elevated in us: reason illumined by faith and the will, which should dominate the sensibility, common to man and animals.
Promoting Vitality and Renewal through .
Communion in community
Religious consecration establishes a particular communion between religious and God and, in him, between the members of the same institute. This is the basic element in the unity of an institute. A shared tradition, common works, well-considered structures, pooled resources, common constitutions, and a single spirit can all help to build up and strengthen unity. The foundation of unity, however, is the communion in Christ established by the one founding gift. This communion is rooted in religious consecration itself. It is animated by the Gospel spirit, nourished by prayer, distinguished by generous mortification, and characterized by the joy and hope which spring from the fruitfulness of the cross
For religious, communion in Christ is expressed in a stable and visible way through community life. So important is community living to religious consecration that every religious, whatever his or her apostolic work, is bound to it by the fact of profession and must normally live under the authority of a local superior in a community of the institute to which he or she belongs. Normally, too, community living entails a daily sharing of life according to specific structures and provisions established in the constitutions. Sharing of prayer, work, meals, leisure, common spirit, “relationships of friendship, cooperation in the same apostolate, and mutual support in community of life chosen for a better following of Christ, are so many valuable factors in daily progress”. A community gathered as a true family in the Lord’s name enjoys his presence (cf. Mt 18:25) through the love of God which is poured out by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rm 5:5). Its unity is a symbol of the coming of Christ and is a source of apostolic energy and power. In it the consecrated life can thrive in conditions which are proper to it and the ongoing formation of members can be assured. The capacity to live community life with its joys and restraints is a quality which distinguishes a religious vocation to a given institute and it is a key criterion of suitability in a candidate.
We often live in a fantasy world. The T.V. programmes leave us at times disappointed and dejected. Those individuals appear on the small screen present to us as life’s real facts. We tend to forget all that is around us. At times watching all that stuff in the T.V. we begin to live a life that is not supposed to be lived.
The process of developing our human spirits may require us to separate ourselves in some ways from the on-rushing events of everyday life. A spiritual or personal journal might be a meaningful way for us to focus our spiritual dimension more carefully. We could read books by other persons of spirit on religion and prayer. And perhaps we could exchange letters with others, exploring the ups and downs of our spiritual lives and how one is strengthened through prayer experience. We might also explore our spiritual dynamics in study groups. Ultimately, we might find people who already know something about the life of the human spirit to be our spiritual guides.
Prayer life empowers us to step outside of ourselves, to transcend any given situation in which we exist. And from this perspective, we can even judge ourselves. This ability of spirit to criticize who we have been, enables us to change ourselves for the better. Also, because we are not encapsulated in our egos, we are able to reach out to others in compassion and concern. Altruism may even be observed in children. A deeply convinced life of prayer enables us to live a life that can bring out our true power and help others on their journey.
Freedom is our capacity to rise above all circumstances in which we find ourselves and to make life-changing decisions. This freedom can be experienced in our daily prayer and then can be translated in our daily life situations. Nothing is more characteristic of the human spirit than freedom. Even though powerful socializing forces profoundly shape our lives, we always have the freedom to resist conformity and to define ourselves as persons who will pursue other purposes than the goals recommended and reinforced by our cultures. The more fully we understand the forces of enculturation -which would shape our lives if we did not transcend them- the better we will be able to resist those forces. The highest use of our personal freedom is to choose or invent our own purposes for living. As consecrated persons, we can always shape our innermost intentions with the power of prayer.
Frequently we dream up something entirely new. We do not fully understand how such creative moments emerge. But when we have flashes of insight and surprising new ideas, we know that something important has happened to us through the Spirit. And we might wish to capture and package such moments. We cannot force our spirits to be creative, but we can be ready for creative moments when they occur. Being creative in art, writing, and living our daily life includes being able to recognize creative flashes – and how to apply our new insights. A praying person always has such flashes of novelty, creativity and will never stagnate in his/her life situation.
Now we turn to the dark side of the human spirit. As wonderful as freedom, creativity, and love are, they come along with an awareness of anxiety, depression, and despair. As we become freer in all dimensions of our lives, we will also discover more angst (deep fear), more existential meaninglessness.
Existential anxiety differs from simple fear in 5 ways:
One has to overcome the deep existential fear. Many consecrated people today are victims of such fears. This entire sort can be gradually overcome through our efforts at prayer that silences the noise of the world and evokes within the serenity of the spirit. Prayer is so important especially when we are dedicated to this cause of being with God always; we cannot but resort to it again and day after day.
However, angst is not the last word about human spirit.
As we develop our spirits in the other ways explored here,
we may have spontaneous moments in which we break through to the other side of despair, in which we glimpse JOY and fulfilment. If we are open and receptive to such moments, we will attempt to become better attuned with them, trying to discover what we were doing right that allowed existential despair and anxiety to be lifted.
Peace replaces existential anxiety when
Renewed attention to the Holy Spirit
The Word of God
Listening to and meditating on the Word of God is a daily encounter with “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ”. The Council forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn this sublime knowledge.
This personal and community commitment to foster the spiritual life more abundantly by giving more time to mental prayer will be effective, actual and even apostolic if the Word is heard not only in its objective richness, but also in the historical circumstances within which we live and in the light of the Church’s teaching.
Devout participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, “the source and apex of all Christian life”, is the irreplaceable center and animating force of the contemplative dimension of every religious community
Priest religious, therefore, will give a preeminent place to the daily celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
“The commitment to take part daily in the Eucharistic sacrifice will help religious to renew their self-offering to the Lord every day. Gathered in the Lord’s name, religious communities have the Eucharist as their natural center. It is normal, therefore, that they should be visibly assembled in their chapel, in which the presence of the Blessed Sacrament expresses and realizes what must be the principal mission of every religious family”
The sacrament of reconciliation
The sacrament of reconciliation, which restores and revives the fundamental gift of conversion received in baptism, has a particularly important function for growth in the spiritual life. There can be no contemplative dimension without a personal and community experience of conversion. Conversion leads to communion and it is in fact the highest form of contemplation.
The Fathers of the Plenaria again appeal for:
Spiritual direction, in the strict sense, also deserves to be restored to its rightful place in the process of the spiritual and contemplative development of religious. Spiritual direction is a form of dialogue of spiritual matters, facilitating growth in spiritual and prayer life. It cannot in any way be replaced by psychological methods. Therefore that direction of conscience, for which Perfectae Caritatis 14 asks due liberty, should be fostered by the availability of competent and qualified persons.
Such availability should come especially from priests who, by reason of their specific pastoral mission, will promote appreciation for spiritual direction and its fruitful acceptance. Superiors and directors of formation, who are dedicated to the care of the religious entrusted to them, will also contribute, although in a different way, by guiding them in discernment and in fidelity to their vocation and mission.
The liturgy of the hour
“The divine office, in that it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of devotion and nourishment for personal prayer”. It is “designed to sanctify the whole course of the day”.
The willingness with which religious communities have already responded to the Church’s exhortation to celebrate the divine praises with the faithful shows how much they appreciate the importance of this more intimate participation in the Church’s life.
The contemplative dimension of the lives of religious will find constant inspiration and nourishment in the measure that they dedicate themselves to the office with attention and fidelity. A greater appreciation of the spiritual riches in the office of readings could also help achieve this.
The Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary is a contemplative model for every consecrated person and for participation in the apostolic mission of the Church. This is particularly evident when we consider the spiritual attitudes which characterized her:
By reviving devotion to her, according to the teaching and tradition of the Church, religious will find the sure way to illuminate and strengthen the contemplative dimension of their lives.
“The contemplative life of religious would be incomplete if it were not directed in filial love towards her who is the Mother of the Church and of consecrated souls. This love for the Virgin will be manifested with the celebration of her feasts and, in particular, with daily prayer in her honor, especially the Rosary. The daily recitation of the Rosary is a centuries-old tradition for religious, and so it is not out of place to recall the suitability, beauty and efficacy of this prayer, which proposes for our meditation the mysteries of the Lord’s life.
Personal and community asceticism
The discipline and silence necessary for prayer are a reminder that consecration by the vows of religion requires a certain asceticism of life “embracing the whole being” Christ’s response of poverty, love, and obedience led him to the solitude of the desert, the pain of contradiction, and the abandonment of the cross. The consecration of religious enters into this way of his; it cannot be a reflection of his consecration if its expression in life does not hold an element of self-denial. Religious life itself is an ongoing, public, visible expression of Christian conversion. It calls for the leaving of all things and the taking up of one’s cross to follow Christ throughout the whole of life. This involves the asceticism necessary to live in poverty of spirit and of fact; to love as Christ loves; to give up one’s own will for God’s sake to the will of another who represents him, however imperfectly. It calls for the self-giving without which it is not possible to live either a good community life or a fruitful mission. Jesus’ statement that the grain of wheat needs to fall to the ground and die if it is to bear fruit has a particular application to religious because of the public nature of their profession. It is true that much of today’s penance is to be found in the circumstances of life and should be accepted there. However, unless religious build into their lives “a joyful, well-balanced austerity” and deliberately determined renunciations, they risk losing the spiritual freedom necessary for living the counsels. Indeed, without such austerity and renunciation, their consecration itself can be affected. This is because there cannot be a public witness to Christ poor, chaste, and obedient without asceticism. Moreover, by professing the counsels by vows, religious undertake to do all that is necessary to deepen and foster what they have vowed, and this means a free choice of the cross, that it may be “as it was for Christ, proof of the greatest love” 
A generous asceticism is constantly needed for daily “conversion to the Gospel” (cf. Mk 1:15). It would, therefore, seem indispensable for the contemplative dimension of every religious life also.
For this reason, religious communities must be manifestly praying and also penitential communities in the Church, remembering the conciliar guideline that penance “must not be internal and personal only, but also external and social”.
In this way, religious will also bear witness to the “mysterious relationship between renunciation and joy, between sacrifice and greatness of heart, between discipline and spiritual liberty”. In particular, growth in the contemplative dimension certainly cannot be reconciled, for example, with indiscriminate and sometimes imprudent use of the mass media; with an exaggerated and extroverted activism; with an atmosphere of dissipation which contradicts the deepest expectations of every religious life. “The search for intimacy with God involves the truly vital need of silence embracing the whole being, both for those who must find God in the midst of noise and confusion and for those who are dedicated to the contemplative life”
To achieve this, their entire being has need of silence, and this requires zones of effective silence and a personal discipline to favor contact with God.
All these means will be more effective and fruitful if they are accompanied by the personal and communal practice of evangelical discernment; by a periodic and serious evaluation of activities; by the uninterrupted practice of an ever more profound interpretation of the sacramental significance of everyday realities (events, persons, things), with the explicit aim of never allowing the activities of religious to be downgraded from their ecclesial level to a mere horizontal and temporal one.
The late Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic letter Fides et Ratio writes, “Driven by the desire to discover the ultimate truth of existence, human beings seek to acquire those universal elements of knowledge which enable them to understand themselves better and to advance in their own self-realization. These fundamental elements of knowledge spring from the wonder awakened in them by the contemplation of creation: human beings are astonished to discover themselves as part of the world, in a relationship with others like them, all sharing a common destiny. Here, begins then, the journey that will lead them to discover new frontiers of knowledge. Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of life which is genuinely personal” This attempt at knowledge by human beings is a desire to deepen the purpose of our existence through prayer and God experience. Therefore, prayer should not be just an isolated activity in our daily life but it ought to be integrative, continuous and contemplative.
There is so much more we could have talked about today on prayer. But hopefully by looking at St. Paul’s practice of prayer we have been stimulated to work on our own prayer lives. If all we have done is gained more information about prayer we have wasted our time. We must move from here resolved to pray. So to that end, let me give you some suggestions.
What I desire most of all today is not that you feel guilty about your lack of a prayer life. I want you to feel hungry for a greater prayer life. I don’t want to “beat you up”, I want to “spur you on.” I want you to come to see prayer not as a duty but as a privilege. I want you to pray not because of our battle with the Devil, or because of the pain of those around you. I want you to pray because of the calmness and serenity that comes from spending time with the Father, no matter what type of coldness, emptiness or darkness you feel within; the time spent in prayer some way renders at the time we need most and when we feel like lost in the ocean of indifference and pain.
Permit me to end this article with the very words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who wrote to her confessor: “God – please forgive me – When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven-there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. -I am told God loves me-and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the call of the Sacred Heart?” In spite of her nerve shattering experiences of darkness and coldness, she never gave up prayer, and was fully convinced that faithfulness to prayer had always a deep relevance to her daily life and her entire mission experience.
 David Van Biema, “Her Agony”, TIME, September 3, 2007, pp. 26-27.
 Evangelica Testificatio 45
 cf. Evangelica Testificatio 43
 THE CONTEMPLATIVE DIMENSION OF RELIGIOUS LIFE (Plenaria of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, 4-7 March 1980)
 cf. Evangelica Testificatio 41.
 Evangelica Testificatio 39.
 cf. Perfectae Caritatis 15
cf. Evangelica Testificatio 38.
 Perfectae Caritatis, 6.
 Lumen Gentium, 11
 Cf. Perfectae Caritatis 6; Evangelica Testificatio 47-48.
 Sacrosanctum Concilium 55; cf. Evangelica Testificatio 47.
 Pope’s message to the Plenaria, n. 2; cf. Evangelica Testificatio 48.
 cf. Lumen Gentium 11
 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium solemnly promulgated by
his holiness Pope Paul vi on december 4, 1963, n.90, 84
 Evangelica Testificatio 56; Lumen Gentium 65
 Lumen Gentium, 63
 Lumen Gentium, 66, 67.
 Evangelica Testificatio 46.
 Evangelica Testificatio 30
 Evangelica Testificatio 29.
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium solemnly promulgated by
his holiness Pope Paul VI on december 4, 1963, n.110.
 Evangelica Testificatio 29
Evangelica Testificatio 46.
 Fides et Ratio n. 2.
 David Van Biema, “Her Agony”, TIME, September 3, 2007, p. 30.
“Dear Lord, please give me
A few friends who understand me and remain my friends;
A work to do which has real value,
without which the world would be the poorer;
A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed;
An understanding heart;
A sense of humor;
Time for quiet, silent meditation;
A feeling of the presence of God;
The patience to wait for the coming of these things,
With the wisdom to recognize them when they come.