In any season of life, prayer is essential, but its importance comes into starkest relief during periods of crisis, difficulty, and challenge. Our ability to face the struggles of the day and carry its crosses is intimately bound up with our ability to pray, and our ability to pray is founded upon first having the desire to do so. The spiritual author Jacques Phillippe said that prayer seldom changes our situation in life, but it always changes us, and in changing us it changes our ability to live through whatever challenge is before us. We have to keep this in mind at all times, especially now as we bear the cross of the Beacons of Light initiative together. We don’t necessarily like what is happening; we want to fight it and negotiate with it and keep it at bay. But this is the reality we face, and so rather than fight against what is seemingly God’s will for us (as expressed through our archbishop for the needs of the Church today), more than anything we need to be sitting with God and asking not so much “why” this is happening, but “what” He is asking of us. If we give Him time in prayer, we will find the strength we need to carry this burden with faith, with hope, with love, and if that love is perfect then even with joy. In many ways, we as Christians have forgotten the meaning of true prayer, of being in deep communion with God in an intimate conversation of love, and so we have lost our way, and in losing our way we find ourselves very much where we are today as His Church: fragile, crumbling, and feeling helpless to put things back “as they once were”. But I don’t think God is asking us to “put things back as they once were”, at least not as far as the physical structure of the Church is concerned. Rather, I think He is asking us to let Him rebuild us according to His own designs and not our own. It happens that sometimes in the spiritual life, God must come in and pull things down, as it were so that He can make necessary improvements where our own designs got in the way of His. In these moments, we can rage against what, in all truth, we are powerless to avoid, or we can pray, learning there to embrace the hidden plan of God for us, and from our prayer find the strength and will to follow Him, because even under the weight of the cross the Father is guiding us and sustaining us by the invisible strength of His arm. So pray, pray, and pray, then pray some more. I share below an excerpt from a book by Fr. John Haggerty, for your consideration as we all try to become more prayerful people, and thus more peaceful people. I also want to share that Fr. Jacquemin and I will be joining our brother priests of the archdiocese for our multi-day convocation in Wheeling, WV, this week, and we will return on Thursday. I am grateful to Fr. Zink for coming and offering our morning Masses and confessions while we are away, and for the additional assistance of our deacons as well. You’re in good hands, and we will take you with us in prayer. May God bless you in the week ahead and may Mother Mary guide you more deeply into the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus. I remain,
Affectionately Yours in Christ,
From St. John of the Cross: Master of Contemplation – “Every age in history confronts what might be called the ‘dilemma of prayer’, which is essentially the lack of deeper attraction for serious prayer. Naturally, there are always souls who find at some point in life a great love for prayer, but sometimes the number is far fewer and sparse. This question of a deeper commitment to prayer has grave repercussions. If a crisis of faith takes place in the church, as for some decades is notable in our time, it is bound to have complex causes. But at its core, every crisis of faith is a crisis of prayer and spirituality…If contagious among souls, the attraction for silent prayer is capable of unleashing a quiet revolution of recovery in Catholic faith and fidelity. It did so in other times and can do so again. Indeed, it is a sound wager that no crisis of faith outlasts the power of souls of contemplation in their exercise of hidden prayer. The truism has been repeated often that the history of the Church is in part the concealed history of the contemplative lives upholding the Church. Perhaps now we simply need more of these souls, and not just in cloisters or monasteries. Certainly, a return to the importance of prayer in the priesthood is a crucial need, in respect both for the sacredness of the Mass and for private prayer before a tabernacle. The conversion of priests to a greater love for prayer would have an untold impact on souls. The following quotation from Saint John of the cross, who lived also in a time of crisis in the faith during the Protestant Reformation, would seem especially pertinent. We can assume that he would say exactly the same words today:
After all, this love is the end for which we were created. Let those, then, who are singularly active, who think they can win the world with their preaching and exterior works [or their money or political or business endeavors], observe here that they would profit the Church and please God much more, not to mention the good example they would give, were they to spend at least half of this time with God in prayer, even though they might not have reached a prayer as sublime as this. They would certainly accomplish more, and with less labor, by one work than they otherwise would by a thousand. Through their prayer, they would merit this result, and themselves be spiritually strengthened. Without prayer, they would do a great deal of hammering but accomplish little, and sometimes nothing, and even at times cause harm. God forbid that the salt should begin to lose its savor (Mt. 5:13). However much they may appear to achieve externally, they will in substance be accomplishing nothing: it is beyond doubt that good works can be performed only by the power of God (Spiritual Canticle, 29.3).