Traditional understanding of prayer

Friends :),

I am trying to understand just what prayer is. In asking ‘liberal’ Catholics, Anglicans, and others who aren’t broadly traditionalist, I have been met with many variations. Some say we shouldn’t ask others to pray for us, because God is omniscient and omnipresent, so “accruing prayers” from others is pointless. Others say prayer is not to ask for anything, but only to beg for mercy, the only thing God gives that can increase endlessly. Some say praying isn’t really worthwhile at all, since God knows everything we need and has a totally perfect plan that doesn’t merit our changing it.

What is the traditionalist understanding? Is it just what the saints said? Does something special play in here? Fr. Ripperger said that one traditional understanding of prayer is: God set certain graces and helps for each man to be unlocked/achieved once we get to a certain stage in the prayer life and love of God. This is one reason to pray, but also to ask for mercy. Do traditionalists generally emphasise prayer as “worship”, or more prayer as “conversation”, like the liberals often do?

There really should not be a Traditionalist definition of prayer, because the Church already has a formal Spiritual Theology the includes the theology of prayer, methods of prayer, schools of prayer, movement of prayer, levels of prayer, forms of prayer, work of prayer, history of prayer, anthropology of prayer and the anatomy of the soul and prayer.

Different masters in Spiritual Theology have given us different definitions that really lead to the same thing. St. Teresa of Avila defined prayer as a conversation between friends. Catherine of Siena defines is a the journey toward the union between the soul and the divine. St. Bonaventure explains it as the mind’s journey into God. St. Francis de Sales says it’s lifting of the heart, mind and soul to God. St. Benedict explained it as the encounter between the human and the divine in silence. St. Francis of Assisi explained it as the soul’s desire to love Love. Bl. Mother Teresa explains it as walking in the dark. Augustine says that it’s searching for the Good when the Good has found us. And St. Ignatius of Loyola talks about being in the presence of God.

They are all correct. It’s a matter of perspectives. Prayer begins with a leap in faith. Henri Nouwen beautifully described the Christian life as living for and in the presence of the Beloved. Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger once wrote that man is innately transcendent and he seeks God, because God is there and man seeks to return to God.

If we part from what Fathers Nouwen, Rahner and then Ratzinger said, man seeks the Transcendent, prayer is prayer is the mother and source of ascent. If we look at Dionysius, in his book, “Mystical Theology” we find “wishing to instruct us in mental elevation, prefaces his work by prayer. Therefore, let us pray and say to the Lord our God , “Conduct me,
O Lord, in Thy way, and I will walk in Thy truth; let my heart rejoice that
it may fear Thy name” [Ps., 85, 11], (Dionysius, Ch. 1, 13)

Spiritual Theology teaches us that prayer is the place where we begin to ascend toward the Transcendent, for which we innately seek, but as St. Augustine says, we can only do this, because God has already found us. In prayer, we come before a God who has, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “come to live among us.”

There is where the other explanations of prayer, provided by the Masters work. In this ascent to the God who has descended to us through the Incarnation, we engage with him as friend and as the Beloved. We do so by raising our hearts, minds and hearts to him, which becomes more perfect, more holy as we grow in interior silence as Benedict says.

Finally, we must remember what we read in the Itinerarium.

** By praying thus one is enlightened about the knowledge of the stages in the ascension to God. For since, relative to our life on earth, the world is itself a ladder for ascending to God, we find here certain traces [of His hand], certain images, some corporeal, some spiritual, some temporal, some aeviternal; consequently some outside us, some inside. That we may
arrive at an understanding of the First Principle, which is most spiritual and eternal and above us, we ought to proceed through the traces which are corporeal and temporal and outside us, and this is to be led into the way of God.**

We don’t leave out the world. We use the shadows of God found in the world as aids in prayer and we become proficient in prayer, these externals no longer serve us, not because they are bad, but because we have ascended beyond them.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Do traditionalists generally emphasise prayer as “worship”, or more prayer as “conversation”, like the liberals often do?

It is both and more. Praise, adoration, thanksgiving and petition are four basic types of prayer and each is important. Even the great contemplative saints tell us that prayer is basically conversation with God.

It is conversation, but they don’t use the word as you and I use it in modern English. They used it as a composite of two words, to turn and to know. Prayer is part of the journey where man turns toward God in order to know him, and knows God more deeply the more he turns to him. Prayer is intricately connected with daily life. One can only turn toward God through the practice of charity. However, charity without the dialogue of love is social work.

Prayer, as the masters teach us, is converting. One does what is necessary to change and one goes before God as one is in order to change. The four forms of prayer: petition, praise, thanksgiving and adoration eventually blend the closer we get to God. The perfect prayer is liturgical prayer, because it blends all four in a harmonous symphony. This is found in the union of the mass and the liturgy of the hours.

Our silent prayer should seek to mimic liturgical prayer, where we come before God as we are and we receive from God what we need in order to come back. If we reduce prayer to conversation in the modern sense of the word, we have lost what the masters are saying and what the Church has taught about prayer. If we get stuck at four forms of prayer, we don’t make progress either.

Observe the masters and their prayer. At some point there are no four kinds of prayer and yet, they are all included in the one life of prayer. Their life of prayer is intimately related to the way that they live charity. Even a Carthusian monk, who lives in isolation, must practice charity in order to pray and prays in order to grow in charity.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

My youngest son was diagnosed with leukaemia 6 weeks ago, and I have never prayed as much in my life as I have done since that terrible day.
This brings me immense comfort, and I would hate to think that my prayers are of no consequence because God has a plan and isn’t listening.

I have been treated twice for leukemia. I will keep you, your family and your son in my prayers. Sunday is the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He is the patron of pro life. Friar Max gave his life for the sake of a family. He has been my inspiration and guide. When I go to mass on Sunday, I will pray to him for your boy. But, raise a prayer to him yourself.

Novena Prayer to St. Maximilian Kolbe

(pray for 9 consecutive days)

O St. Maximilian Kolbe, faithful follower of St. Francis of Assisi, inflamed by the love of God, you dedicated your life to the practice of virtue and to works of charity. Look kindly upon us who devoutly confide the following petitions to your intercession: (here mention your specific requests).

Having consecrated yourself to the Immaculate Virgin Mary, you founded the Militia of the Immaculata (MI) Movement so that the Blessed Virgin might lead countless souls to holiness by inspiring them to do good, avoid evil, and spread the Kingdom of God. Obtain for us, through her, the grace of drawing many souls to Christ.

In your close conformity to Our Divine Saviour, you reached such an intense degree of charity that you offered your life to save that of a fellow prisoner. Implore God that we, inflamed by such ardent charity, may, through our faith and good works, witness Christ’s Love for the world and thus merit to join you in the blessed vision of God. Amen.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

I have been reading in some Jewish commentaries on scripture and they have some special insights on prayer in the OT.

There are some formula prayers in the OT like the Psalms, which go into a lot of different subjects, like praise of God and petition.

In the earliest prayers, the form and composition are simple. Moses is praying for the life and health of his sister, and he says, “LORD, I pray, heal her.”

That’s it. It can be as simple as that. Or, as complex as the psalms.

In the NT we have a whole new understand, where as Jesus taught, in Him, we can call God, the Father.

In his books on Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI says that we have a right and duty to pray to God for our needs. Yes, scripture says that He knows what we need even before we pray. but, the same scripture tells us to pray continually.

Scripture tells us to pray for others, and so we should. How can we do this in the noisy world in which we live? Well, we have to turn that off, to begin with.

I haven’t matured to absorb the Catechism of the Catholic Church yet, but the fourth section is on prayer.

And, certainly, part of my prayer, is to accept God’s will in my life, whatever that may be. If we believe in God and in prayer, then we will accept whatever happens in life because we are convinced even beyond prayer that it is His will.

Whatever happens in our lives, the Church holds up the idea that we unite our sufferings with Christ.

In other threads I have expanded my own belief that sin causes God to suffer, revealed no better than in our Lord’s passion and death. So, we are united with God no better than when we are united with Him in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. It is the essense of the Christian life to suffer with Christ.

I like the idea of praying without ceasing.

Sometimes I do more formal prayers like compline. But I find I am closer to God when I am constantly conversing with God.

For example, when I wake up, I might sigh and say, “Lord thank you for giving me another day to be a light for you”. Right away this puts me in the right frame of mind and glorifies God. I know there is a formal morning offering:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the
Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, the reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.

But sometimes simple prayer works.

Or I may be walking down the street and notice the beautiful sky and say “the heavens declare the Glory of God”, from the psalms.

At work, I of course would pray before eating. I might see a co-worker acting the fool and I would say a quick prayer for him or her.

Then when I am back home, I would take time to spend time with the Lord in prayer.

It’s a beautiful thing when praying comes naturally and it comes naturally through practice.

Pray without ceasing.

Years ago, after many years of experienceing anxieties over all of my faults and trying to do God’s will and be a good wife and mother, and trying to say my daily prayers and attend daily Mass whenever possible, I reached at point where I found no comfort in formal prayer, but I did not cease to say my formal prayers because I knew that they were important. It seemed that despite my attempts to grow closer to God He still seemed so far from me. At that time, what seemed to be my greatest comfort (and I’m not sure that is the right word), but what I longed for at the time was every night getting into bed and just knowing that God was there and knowing that He knew that I knew that He was there even though I did not see or feel anything- just the knowing was all that I thought that I needed. And I did not long for any extraordinary experiences. I was content just knowing that God knew that I knew that He was there. It seemed that I was awake most of the night and got few hours of sleep but the next morning I did not seem to lack sleep. After many months of this practice, I was…well, I experienced God’s presence in an indescribable way. I felt so undeserving. The experience was enough to last a life time. I have since read about the prayer of quiet and I don’t believe that it was a method of reaching God that I was practiceing. It was just a place that I was called to , or arrived at or whatever you want to call it. I don’t always know how to explain things. I only came to understand some of what was already taking place through reading. I’ll leave the explaining to others.

I would check out the Catholic Catechism of the Church on a overview of prayer.

What you experienced is what we call desolation, illumination and consolation. One does not feel the presence of God. Knowledge is enlightened by grace. One knows that God is present and one runs with that knowledge, still feeling nothing. At some point, the Spirit allows the soul to experience God’s presence.

The CCC has a very good section on prayer and if you use the references that it uses, you will get back to the masters and the scriptures. That’s what the CCC uses as its sources. The CCC tries to explain prayer and the life of prayer in what it hopes is language that is comprehensible to modern man. It doesn’t always work, not because the CCC is wrong, but because many men are not so modern. They still use language in older registers. All that being said, it’s a beautiful section.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Hmm…

How would a traditional, non-“God is our fwend” Catholic respond to a protestant who says that we don’t need to ask others to pray for us, because God isn’t some cumulative “worship-machine”, Who tallies up the number of people praying for me, or for you? Imagine a very big fire-and-brimstone type who’s almost a predestination-believer with his “God’s will is unchangeable and we are subject to it every second” ideas.

How does one convince such a puritan that prayer even has a point? I don’t think he prays for others, because he expects them to rely on their own petitions and humility. He never asks anyone to pray for him. He is confused by what he calls the Catholic “tallying” of getting as many people to pray for X as possible, treating God like a providence-dispenser Who just needs enough prayers and He’ll start handing out the graces. “Treasury” or “store house”, anyone? Ironically he agrees with the idea that God has preordained certain graces to help those who reach certain levels in their prayer life, though he believes it’s to help them “be saved” in this life.

God, being truly omniscient and omnipotent, he says, only listens to the prayer of a small, contrite, humble, and just heart. If another soul with the same qualities prays for the first soul, he says, nothing is added because God already knows what everyone needs. :confused:

First of all, please knock it off. It comes as if you’re making fun of people who refer to God as a friend. If a tradtional Catholic cannot do this, then Teresa of Avila, who is a master on the subject of prayer was not a traditional Catholic. It was she who said, “Prayer is a conversation between friends.” If people don’t want to refer to God as a friend, they don’t have to. But let’s not assume that this terminology is in conflict with Catholic Tradition. Actually, it comes from the Carmelite Teresian Tradition. She based it on Jesus words, “I call you friends.”

respond to a protestant who says that we don’t need to ask others to pray for us, because God isn’t some cumulative “worship-machine”, Who tallies up the number of people praying for me, or for you? Imagine a very big fire-and-brimstone type who’s almost a predestination-believer with his “God’s will is unchangeable and we are subject to it every second” ideas.

How does one convince such a puritan that prayer even has a point? I don’t think he prays for others, because he expects them to rely on their own petitions and humility. He never asks anyone to pray for him. He is confused by what he calls the Catholic “tallying” of getting as many people to pray for X as possible, treating God like a providence-dispenser Who just needs enough prayers and He’ll start handing out the graces. “Treasury” or “store house”, anyone? Ironically he agrees with the idea that God has preordained certain graces to help those who reach certain levels in their prayer life, though he believes it’s to help them “be saved” in this life.

God, being truly omniscient and omnipotent, he says, only listens to the prayer of a small, contrite, humble, and just heart. If another soul with the same qualities prays for the first soul, he says, nothing is added because God already knows what everyone needs. :confused:

I gave you Teresa’s answer above, now I’ll give you St. Francis’ answer here. “You don’t even try to convince.” The Gospel is an invitation. You invite. You answer questions. You preach by example and presence. You must always avoid argumentation or you cheapen the mystical. When we take the mystical and we use it as a reason for argumentation, we have lost sight of its sacredness. That which is mystical comes from the Divine reality which is eternal. Therefore, it is not for us to argue over. It is for us to present, to live and to hope for. Then you leave the rest to God. How do you think Francis made so many converts and why his family is the largest family in the Christian world? He did not try to convince anyone. He was a man of prayer who taught others to pray when they were ready to pray. Eight-hundred years later he still has about one million sons and daughters and more than that in Christians and non Christians who look to him for example.

My feeling is that his method works. It may be slower than what we like, but the results are long lasting. Thenyou have people like Mother Teresa who did the same thing. She never tried to convince anyone and made many converts to prayer and to Catholicism. I say, explain, invite a person to try, show them by your example, but don’t try to convince. That will happen if they want to give it a shot.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

I’m looking for something a little deeper. :slight_smile:

Brother, I honestly think there is a distinction between “fwend” and “friend”. Do you know what I mean? The friendship of St. Teresa is a profound one, and I wasn’t deriding that one at all. Emptier sorts do seem exist, and are prevalent. Sorry about the snarkiness. :slight_smile:

I gave you Teresa’s answer above, now I’ll give you St. Francis’ answer here. “You don’t even try to convince.” The Gospel is an invitation. You invite. You answer questions. You preach by example and presence. You must always avoid argumentation or you cheapen the mystical. When we take the mystical and we use it as a reason for argumentation, we have lost sight of its sacredness. That which is mystical comes from the Divine reality which is eternal. Therefore, it is not for us to argue over. It is for us to present, to live and to hope for. Then you leave the rest to God. How do you think Francis made so many converts and why his family is the largest family in the Christian world? He did not try to convince anyone. He was a man of prayer who taught others to pray when they were ready to pray. Eight-hundred years later he still has about one million sons and daughters and more than that in Christians and non Christians who look to him for example.

My feeling is that his method works. It may be slower than what we like, but the results are long lasting. Thenyou have people like Mother Teresa who did the same thing. She never tried to convince anyone and made many converts to prayer and to Catholicism. I say, explain, invite a person to try, show them by your example, but don’t try to convince. That will happen if they want to give it a shot.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

All my friend sees is what he calls passivism. Your description of how all those saints prayed in Post #2 would repulse him, because they’re all passive forms. Coming to “love Love” or be in the “presence of God” is alright to him, but he says Heaven is the place for such sweet contemplation, not this time and place. What we need now, in his opinion, is righteous action, and moral reformation in each heart. He cites all the countless passages in which Christ demands perfection, and striving inside to become great with God, then going out to conquer the heathen world with His power in hand. Crumbling Christianity needs to be shored up by heroic men and women (like him! ;)), and there’s no time to “hide in cloisters” and contemplate, which “does no one any good”.

What he needs are right arguments from the traditional angle (the only aspect of Catholicism he has any respect for). He’s very rationalist and de-mysticised. Is it even possible to deal with this sort of attitude, given its dislike for our prayer? I cannot act as a witness for him, being very confused about prayer myself. Regardless, I’m the only Catholic he knows, so I must do something… so I ask here.

How does he know that it does no one any good? Does he know how God works while we’re asleep?

What he needs are right arguments from the traditional angle (the only aspect of Catholicism he has any respect for).

Any Taditionalist who tells you something different from the Masters does not understand the Judeo-Christian tradition of prayer. Is probably stuck on the pragmatics of prayer. It happens you know.

He’s very rationalist and de-mysticised. Is it even possible to deal with this sort of attitude, given its dislike for our prayer? I cannot act as a witness for him, being very confused about prayer myself. Regardless, I’m the only Catholic he knows, so I must do something… so I ask here.

Let’s try this. First, have you tried to explain to him that mystical prayer is an end, not a beginning? We beging to pray with language. That’s why we use mental prayer and liturgical prayer. We haver formulas that help. Those are the little prayers that we find printed: Memorare, prayer to the Sacred Heart, etc. They help to give us the words to pray. We have to begin somewhere, don’t we?

Second, if you have not done so, you may have to give him some examples of how the great mystics lived and prayed.

a) They were not all cloistered. Many, probably most, lived in the secular world. Certainly Francis of Assisi did. He was neither a monk nor a priest. He was a layman. He was a penitent who traveled the area talking or preaching to whomever would listen. Catherine of Siena was also a laywoman. She too preached and taught. Thomas More was a lawyer, father,husbsand and diplomat. He prayed, taught and preached through his life and when push came to shove, he chose Christ over the king. It cost him his life. Francis chose Christ over his father. Catherine chose Christ over her family and over marriage. Another great contemplative who was not in an enclosure was Mother Teresa. She was not a nun, as many people call her. She was a sister. She had been a nun for over 20 years. She chose to leave the monastery to live on the streets and take Christ’s love to the dark holes where the poor live.

b) All of them teach that the fruit of prayer is charity. If your prayer does not help you to become more charitable, then you’re not praying correctly. On the other hand, if you do not pray, you will never grow toward the perfection of charity. The great commission is to make disciples, not to conquer people. You make disciples by your charity, as we see in St. James’ letter (2: 14-18). Paul says the same in his list of all the things that love is and is not (1Cor 13).

He may also need to understand that we are not called to be taskmasters over others. Christ was not a taskmaster and did not try to micromanage anyone. He was available and he taught those who wanted to hear. The notion that Christians must go out on some holy mission to conquer the world for Christ can be distorted and when it is, then this misionary action becomes one’s private little campaign or agenda, not real evangelization. When the Gospel sends us out to the world, it’s not to conquer as we understand and use the world, which often has a militant quality to it. The use of the term in the Scripture comes from the Song of Songs. It’s to conquer as the bridegroom conquers the bride. You seduce through great love done in little ways. Once in a while, God will put you into a big situation when you have to conquer with a heroic act.

You may want to have him read about St. Maximilian Kolbe. Friar Max was a man of intense prayer, but he was not passive daisy waiting to be mowed over. He went to Japan and to India to preach the Gospel. He was struck with TB and he did not stop preaching and teaching. He was one of the first Christian radio and publishing apostles. He was arrested twice for his open condemnation of how the Jews were being abused. The day before he was to be released from prison he volunteered to take the place of a man who was to be executed. The man cried for his wife and children. Friar Max stepped up to the plate and said, “I have no one waiting for me. Let me take his place.” He was the brother who laid down his life for the father of a family. That’s why he’s the patron saint of pro life work. However, he was very much a man of intense prayer

Finally, prayer does become passive. It has to. There is a point at which the mind can no longer love, praise and communicate with God well enough. God is infinite and we are not. At that point the Holy Spirit takes over and prays for us. That’s when we simple enter into the presence of Love and love him who is Love. St. Paul reminds us that “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” However, there is nothing that human beings can do well enough to glorify the name of Jesus without the grace of the Holy Spirit. At a given point along the journey, the Holy Spirit takes over our prayer and we simply make ourselves available through recollection.

If that is not inviting to him, then leave him in peace. As St. Francis, St. Dominic, and St. Ignatius taught us, we can only invite, we cannot coerce or impose on the will of another. These are some of our best preachers. You may want to recommend a book by Francisco of Osuna, The Third Spiritual Alphabet and one by St.Bonaventure The Journey of the Mind into God. Both are based on the prayer life of St. Francis. They show you how prayer and heroic virtue go hand in hand.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Lovely, Brother! Thank you! Please forgive me if I seemed uptight or uncharitable…

I highly recommend The Third Spiritual Alphabet, this book was a favorite of Teresa of Avila. I have a hardbound copy that was part of the Classics of Western Spirituality series (the books in this series are awesome, I have quite few). Paperback/softbound versions are available from many bookstores, including Amazon. Read it for yourself, as well as recommending it.

We picked it up in soft cover and it was a lot cheaper than the hard cover. It’s an awesome work on the spiritual journey. Many people who read it don’t know that Francisco of Osuna gets his material from his reflections on Francis’ spirituality. What he is handing down is the Franciscan journey to God.

It is very common for Franciscan theologians to ground their work on Francis’ life, teachings, customs, virtues, and his understanding of Scripture, liturgy, ecclesiology and Christology. Francis and Benedict profoundly impacted their sons and daughters. They were more than founders who wrote a rule. They became living Gospels for their sons and daughters and their patriarchs. To this day, when a Benedictine or a Franciscan tries to understand the Catholic faith, he will always look to his spiritual father to see how he understood it and how he lived it. They write from that starting point.

I have always believed that if we lost the Gospels, we can look back to three people and reconstruct them: Benedict, Francis and Mother Teresa. She’s another founder who has become an icon for Catholics. Her sons and daughters don’t look as much at their statutes for guidance as they look at her actual deeds, words and way of life, because she reflects the Christ of Scripture so literally.

These are people whom the Holy Spirit gave to the Church as icons of Christ. Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent talk to the bishops of Italy used that term when he told them that they need to learn to obey as Francis of Assisi obey and to submit to the papacy as Francis submitted. He said that Francis is “the icon of Christ.” That’s a very powerful statement. It’s right up there with Pope Leo XII’s statement that Francis of Assisi is “the Mirror of Perfection,” meaning that he reflects Christ who is perfection itself.

If we study and reflect on this man’s life of prayer, we’re going to end up at the same place that St. Teresa of Avila did. She ended up discovering levels of contemplation that she had never thought about and she built upon that knowledge and with the influsion of knowledge from the Holy Spirit, she produced theological masterpieces on prayer and became a living prayer herself.

One does not look at someone like Francis to stay there, but to start. That’s what Teresa does after she finishes reading the Third Spiritual Alphabet.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

I didn’t know the publisher still had hardbound versions, as I’ve only seen the softbound one. My copy is a good 25 years old, and was bought directly from the publisher when they had their annual summer inventory reduction sale and warehouse sale of imperfect books (they had minor problems that they couldn’t sell normally as new, most are cosmetic blemishes that are hardly noticeable). I ended up buying a number of books from the series that way. They had many books at 50% off. Those were the days… :rolleyes:

Teresa was indebted to Franciscans, and certainly influenced by them and their spirituality; Peter of Alcantara, the Third Spiritual Alphabet, and the Poor Clares who advised and supported her in her reform of Carmel. Reading Teresa, one can see her Carmelite spirituality imbued with the Franciscan one. Francis has probably influenced more spirituality’s and religions than any other saint. She’s definitely one of my favorites to read, and I wouldn’t have known about Osuna if she hadn’t spoken so favorably about this wonderful book.

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