He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Love it to Death: Praying from the Heart

For those of us who pray, the act of prayer is not understood as one type of thing, but rather a set of things which are all directed toward our ultimate end, which is God.  When I prayed as a child, there were rote prayers learned (e.g. the Our Father) and there were the yearnings I expressed to God out of my childish insecurities.  I prayed that I might get the toys that I wanted.  I prayed that other people might be nice to me.  I prayed that I might be good enough to make it to Heaven.

These days, I pray for none of those things.  Of course, that change did not happen overnight.  As a teenager, the toys I prayed for changed, but what did not change was that I was praying for things that I wanted and didn't really need.  I prayed for the gift of wisdom when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church; at the time I was praying for that gift I still did not understand that it was a gift to be used to help my brothers and sisters.  I prayed that I might be in Heaven with God after this life; I did not yet understand that being with God would require burning away all my ungodly ways in the fire and light of His glory.

I was praying from the heart with all sincerity, and this was good.  I learned later that while my prayers from the heart were good, my heart was far from being perfected by God's love.  Praying with my imperfect heart was prayer of imperfect love, no matter how strongly I felt that imperfect love, no matter how fluently and eloquently the words poured forth in charismatic or ecstatic prayer.  I began to understand that I needed to pray to God with something closer to perfect love, that I needed to grow in prayer beyond praying with sincerity out of the love which was so weak and frail.  God was accepting my prayers and loving me perfectly; it was I who was still offering Him an imperfect love in my prayers.

Just as I attempt logic puzzles too difficult for me to grow in mental acuity, take on acts of compassion that stretch my emotional fortitude so that I will develop emotionally, and lift weights that are a strain to me in order to grow in physical strength, so too I began to strive to pray the prayers of those who love God beyond the love I can currently give, the people whose hearts are full of a love which is purer and grander than my own.  Traditional prayers passed down to us by the Saints, mystics, and Doctors of the Church are a gift to our spiritual life so that we might, through diligent practice in prayer, begin to develop hearts of purer and grander love than we can currently express.

Just as we develop our physical, emotional, mental, and will powers through diligent practice and striving to accomplish what we cannot until we can accomplish more, so too we develop our ability to pray through diligent practice and striving to pray with perfect love until our prayer is a deeper and profound reaching out in love to the divine Love who gave us the gift of the seed of love in our hearts which we can grow into a great tree of love to bear the good fruit of love.

While some might think that to abandon charismatic and ecstatic prayer for traditional prayers is to cease praying from the heart, to embrace traditional prayers is to pray from the heart in a fuller and grander sense.  Charismatic and ecstatic prayer are good because they empty the heart of its deeply imperfect yearnings for good and direct those yearnings toward God; the traditional prayers of the great Saints, mystics, and Doctors of the Church are even better because these are the prayers of those whose hearts were far closer to being perfected in God's love.  The Saints are the Heart of the Church, shining forth as examples of how wonderfully we can be transformed by the light of God's love shining upon our little hearts.

When we pray with the Saints using the words of the Anima Christi or Charles de Foucald's Prayer of Abandonment, we are praying with the heart, our hearts which need to grow in love to lift such prayers up to the Lord.  It is precisely in diligently practicing lifting up these prayers of the Saints to the Lord which are too heavy for the weakness of our love that our hearts gradually grow the love in our hearts in the light of His love until we are finally able to lift them up to the Lord.  To pray the traditional prayers is to pray from our own hearts, with the hearts of the Saints, and to pray with the heart of the whole Church so that the prayers we offer may be the greatest prayers from the heart we can offer to the one we love above all.

When we pray from the heart with sincerity, we express the small love of which our hearts are capable in this moment and offer it to the Lord.  When we pray from the heart with the traditional prayers of the Saints and the whole Church, we express the grand love of the entire Body of Christ for all of us, reflecting the grander and greater light of the divine Love which shines upon us, offering to God the perfect love which He has poured out for us in union with His Holy Church.  When we pray in this way, from the Heart of the Body of Christ which has been made perfect in the fullness of time by God's grace, we love to death all the weakness of our love and grow our hearts so that they may be filled with His divine love which He wants to give to us.

It is right and just to pray from the heart; it is even more right and a greater justice to pray from the Heart of the Church, from that treasury of the Church which preserves for us the beauty and grandeur of the love of Christ reflected in His Bride as she looks upon Him in the Beatific Vision.

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