by Claude Lopez
“At every opportunity pray in the Spirit, using prayers and petitions of every sort. Pray constantly and attentively for all God’s people” (Eph. 6:18).
Since 1967, charismatic prayer meetings and Life in the Spirit Seminars have been the key to new life for more than 70 million Catholics scattered in over 130 countries. A significant feature of this new life is a hunger for the word of God and for prayer, which inevitably follows the ‘baptism of the Spirit.’ This yearning is an impelling desire to be with the Lord, to turn to him in prayer, to seek his presence and to dwell in the awareness of his living, loving reality. In our quest for the Lord, prayer often becomes a prime means to, and expression of, this newly experienced fundamental attraction to the Creator. So we use various types of prayer to attain and maintain union with our Triune God, to capture and make yearlong (lifelong!) a personal and intimate encounter with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But we can never forget that to experience God’s presence is a gift. It is the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit in us that activates in prayerful Christians a mystical encounter with God. Fr. Fabio Giardini OP, in his book Loving Awareness of God’s Presence in Prayer states: Christians can ‘exercise’ themselves by reaching out to the sanctifying presence of the divine persons through acts of the theological virtues which involve their total human capacity [to know and to love]. They can also experience the same presence of these divine Guests by surrendering their human capacity [to know and to love] to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Such docile surrender carries them strongly and sweetly into the circulation of life, which binds the Divine Persons to one another.
Certainly in Charismatic Renewal, very many people have experienced such a gift, and have been experiencing renewed, Trinitarian relationships gratuitously. Yet, even after receiving such prayer gifts, it is easy to become discouraged about prayer, because we find that today’s worldly demands tax our time, energy and emotions so greatly. Then it is not difficult to find excuses (rather than reasons!) for not attending our prayer meeting or for not even going to our personal prayer. We just feel too tired or too tense to ’want’ to pray: “I’m just washed out … I’ll catch up later … tomorrow I’ll pray longer … Yes, I’ll wake up earlier in future and pray, the Lord will understand!”
Also, we may be going through difficult times and testings of our prayer itself, and feel our prayer to be totally unsatisfying and unsuccessful. We may seem to be unable to achieve anything and only battle through distractions, interruptions and dry spells. Our discouragement can then become crippling, and perhaps we soon give in and abandon such prayer. St Augustine tells us that prayerfulness, left alone, cannot last forever. The universal law of diminution of energy, physical and spiritual, sooner or later will weaken it or even exhaust it. Therefore, the attitude of prayerfulness needs to be often re-energised through new acts of prayer:
We pray always with insistent desire in faith, hope and charity … . But because that desire grows somewhat lukewarm with other things, we call our mind back to the duty of prayer at fixed hours, and we urge ourselves in the words of our prayer to press forward to what we desire: otherwise after our prayer has begun to grow lukewarm, it then becomes entirely cold, and is completely extinguished unless it is frequently rekindled. (St Augustine, Letters 130, Ad Probum).
The late Cardinal Suenens said that, for him, prayer meant opening the soul to God while closing oneself to ‘atmospheric disturbances.’ Hence deeper prayer implies a need for silence and openness. Praying does not first of all mean ‘informing’ God or drawing his attention to our needs. Praying means a readiness to receive the grace of encounter that God wants to give us. To pray is to open ourselves to the Father so that our entire life — from the seeking of daily bread to the transformation of the world — is impregnated with love. We in the Renewal have discovered that to pray means to expose oneself to the love of the Father so as to be enabled to live even better as his child, in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus.
Hence, what we have to do is to ‘make a decision’ for prayer, just as we must ‘make a decision for Christ.’ We have to maintain this decision with genuine faith, even in adverse times. As St Catherine of Siena reminds us, our holy desire will then itself be a continual prayer. And at opportune moments, this (decision for prayer) will add vocal prayer to the continual prayer of holy desire.
Faith must help us go beyond our understanding and feelings, and the will and desire to pray must show itself through reserving a choice timeslot in our everyday schedule of activities, just to be alone with God. We must work at it just as we do to maintain a relationship with another person. (Husbands and wives likewise waste/spend a lot of time with each other, actually speaking or just silently waiting to communicate.) A relationship infers intimacy, intimacy infers knowledge, and when we know Jesus personally we will not neglect our prayer.
The ‘Jesus-prayer,’ or other short verses from Scripture used as repetitive ejaculations (for example, “Create a clean heart in me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me” (Ps.25:4); “Your word is truth; O Lord, makes us holy in the truth.” (Jn.17:17)) or snatches of favourite hymns, and praying and singing in tongues, are vocal prayers particularly suited to the cultivating of prayerfulness. Prayerfulness is an important sign of growth in the new life of the Spirit, because it is a measure of our deeper faith and of our consciousness of God’s abiding presence in us. Then every act of prayer will be enlivened by an interior attitude of adoration, praise, surrender or thanksgiving, while on the other hand, prayerfulness will be cultivated and expressed by various specific acts of prayer.
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be offered for all men … . Prayer of this kind is good and God our saviour is pleased with it — it is my wish that in every place men shall offer prayers with blameless hands held aloft, and be free from anger and dissension. (1 Timothy 2:1–8)
Here Paul links prayerfulness with peacefulness. Prayerfulness increases peacefulness, and vice versa. Many other wonderful effects on our personalities and our ministries of prayerfulness come with this grace because we enter into a ‘divine milieu.’ Hence, Pope John Paul II stressed to the Canadian Bishops:
Our people have to struggle to keep the faith and Christian morality partially because they have not discovered a sense of prayer, or because they no longer attempt to pray … The grace of renewal and conversion will only be given to a Church that prays.
May every leader in the Renewal and the Church find this out for himself/herself, as we all seek with determination, and receive with wonder, the grace of becoming truly men and women of prayer.