Prayer - An Article by Sr Valery Walker o.p
Our capacity for knowledge and love has been put into us by the Father, the Creator, so that we may come to know and love, by a higher gift of knowledge, that of Faith and grace, the Three Divine Persons themselves. This is the foundation of prayer; its beginning, because as I have tried to show, our being made for knowledge and love is our “little door” into God’s “wonderland”.It is actually the ‘key’ which, if used with integrity, opens us to Truth with a capital T.
The progress is of course our pilgrimage in this life towards that intended fulfilment and after Baptism prayer is a key part of that pilgrimage. Baptism, having made us children of the Father, introduces us into the life and work of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. Prayer is the conversation of the child with his Father, after the model given us in and by Jesus; it is an exercise in knowledge and love. But – the Fall disastrously misdirected our use of knowledge and love and forfeited the gift of grace. The Son of God, standing in our place, has won grace back for us and it always remains a gift IN HIM. At Mass, the priest declares holding up the Chalice and the Host, “Through him and with him and in him, all gloryis yours almighty Father for ever and ever, Amen.”
“Through him all things were made,” St John tells us. So even on an every-day level, all creation points to the Son of God – above all, ourselves – and all things have been restored in him, redirected to the glory of the Father. Baptism includes us officially “under his umbrella”, we are “in him”, born again, sons, children of the Father. But we still have work to do, of responding, of living in deed as “other Christs”. We have still to live out, with him, in him and through him, a life giving glory to the Father.
Prayer is the foundation of our living out our life in and with and through Christ. In practice it is
ü An exercise of mind and will;
ü “a battle of faith and the triumph of perseverance” (Catechism)
ü A surge of the mind and heart towards God;
It is our mind that feeds our will, that puts before the will what is loveable and desirable. Therefore our mind must first of all be fed itself : in London recently, on the underground, a mobile phone company was being advertised as supplying “all you can eat data!” The first and most important food for the mind is what Jesus himself supplies: the Scriptures; and linked with them, the Mass and the other sacraments. After them comes liturgical prayer (the Prayer of the Church), private prayer, devotions like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross and very importantly, reading (the lives of the saints, spiritual books) and study. Study, of course, is a serious effort to deepen one’s Faith, to understand it better; always with constant reference to our “One Teacher”, Our Lord.
In this way, what feeds the mind moves on to fill the will with desire and love, determination and faithfulness; because in the end it is the heart, love, that drives us. Mother Margaret Hallahan, our foundress under St Dominic, said that she considered it was spiritual reading that had kept her going through the years, that kept her heart on fire.
As knowledge and love develop and grow, they become more one: mind and heart are united in direction and intention, in their “surge” towards God. I think that therein lies an explanation of the ecstasies many saints experienced: as soon as they turned their minds to God such was the surge of love and desire for God that they were sometimes physically lifted up by its power and love overcame their consciousness of the world around them! Here we move towards knowledge and love in their ending or fulfilment in the vision of God.
Love, we know, is particularly the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of Jesus. In our “pilgrimage of grace” he works with Jesus, who is Wisdom teaching us, to fill us with his gifts, to lift our hearts to love of the Father. Through our loving attention and desire in prayer, he will, as it were, unify us so that we “may be one as he is One”.
He brings about a double unity:
v First, that of my own self, my mind and heart at rest in my knowledge and love of God;
v Finally, complete one-ness with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.