How We Can Learn to Pray and Love

Barb Wire

I recently turned 60 years young. On my birthday, someone asked me, out of all the activities I am engaged in, which I love the most. The answer flowed without hesitation; I love to pray and I pray to love. The two are intricately connected. In fact, they are inseparable.I have learned that without God’s ongoing presence in my life, I am not fully capable of loving. The source of all human love is the God who is Love. (I John 4:8) That same God loved the world so much that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ. (John 3:16).In and through His Son Jesus, we are made capable of loving and living differently. That happens as we give ourselves to Him, and in Him, to one another. Then, with one another, as His Body, the Church, we are sent out for the sake of the world – which He still loves.
God still loves the world. He still sends His Son – through those who live their lives in Him.  We become His hands and feet, as Teresa of Avila so beautifully expressed it. I am often asked by people how to pray. I know there are lots of different ways to pray. One of the many things I love about being a Catholic Christian is the access to so many varied and beautiful forms of prayer and spirituality.However, at the heart of each one of them is a foundation, the ground of all true prayer, a living, breathing, ongoing, spirit filled, relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer is an ongoing dialogue of intimate communion with the Lord. It is a dialogue which need not be interrupted, no matter what we are doing.  Such a naturally supernatural lifestyle of prayer can become a normative experience for every Christian, no matter what their state in life or vocation.Prayer is not about doing, but about being – about being – in a loving communion with the God who is Love. (I John 4:8) This is meant to become the lived experience of every Christian.

This lifestyle of prayer is not reserved to saints, clerics, monks or what we might believe are really “holy people”. It is the path to holiness and happiness for every human person. That is because God loves us and wants us to know Him, love Him and walk with Him.

Prayer can make our ordinary lives quite extraordinary, as we yield to what is called grace, a word which means gift. Grace is God’s free gift of His Divine Life. Prayer opens the door to living our whole life in this grace – and thereby finding our home in God.

One of my favorite reflections on prayer was written by Isaac of Ninevah, an early eighth century monk, Bishop and theologian.

For centuries Isaac was mostly revered in the Eastern Christian Church. In the last century the beauty of his insights on prayer are being embraced once again by both lungs of the Church, East and West. He wrote these words in one of his many treatises on Prayer:

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When the Spirit dwells in a person, from the moment in which that person has become prayer, he never leaves him. For the Spirit himself never ceases to pray in him. Whether the person is asleep or awake, prayer never from then on departs from his soul. Whether he is eating or drinking or sleeping or whatever else he is doing, even in deepest sleep, the fragrance of prayer rises without effort in his heart.

Prayer never again deserts him. At every moment of his life, even when it appears to stop, it is secretly at work in him continuously, one of the Fathers, the bearers of Christ, says that prayer is the silence of the pure. For their thoughts are divine motions. The movements of the heart and the intellect that have been purified are the voices full of sweetness with which such people never cease to sing in secret to the hidden God.

We can become prayer as Isaac says – as we learn to empty ourselves of our own selfish pursuits, and allow ourselves to be filled with the life of God. When we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with grace, Divine Life. Then, something wonderful begins to occur; the Holy Spirit actually prays within us!

That is one of the many aspects of what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote to the Christians in Rome about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians. He told them – and he tells us – that the Holy Spirit comes to us in our weakness and actually prays within us! (See, Romans 8:26ff)

The Letter to the Romans, in fact all of those letters or epistles in the back of the Bible, were written to ordinary folks, like you and me! To moms, dads, grandfathers, grandmothers, children and regular folks. People who work in the work a day world and live ordinary lives. People struggling to pay bills and facing hostility for their faith. People experiencing the real stuff of real life!

The ones who Jesus called to follow Him in His earthly ministry were ordinary folks like you and me. They just said “Yes” to His invitations – and not just once, every day. Then, in that ongoing dialogue, through their intimate relationship and life with Jesus, they were caught up into the very life of God.

After His Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus lived His life through them, by the Holy Spirit. They   lived their lives in Him. (See Gal. 2:20) That can be our experience right now! Today! The same Jesus who walked with His Apostles walks in our midst and makes Himself present to us.

Jesus Christ is not dead, He has been raised from the dead. The same Holy Spirit which raised Him from the dead is now alive in us. (Romans 8:11) That Holy Spirit is readily available to us, making is new! (2 Cor. 5:17) Prayer opens us up to experiencing this reality. It expands our capacity to comprehend the truth of God’s loving plan for us – and then equips us to appropriate it.

Through prayer we are drawn into a deepening relationship with Jesus, whose loving embrace on the hill of Golgotha bridged heaven with earth; His relationship with His Father is opened now to us; the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead begins to give us new life as we are converted, transfigured and made new. We learn to cry out with the Apostle “No Longer do I live but Christ lives in me!” (Gal. 2:20)

Through prayer, heavenly wisdom is planted in the field of our hearts and we experience a deepening communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We become, in the words of the Apostle Peter “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)

That participation will only be fully complete when we are with Him, in the fullness of His embrace, in Resurrected Bodies in a New Heaven and a New Earth, but it begins now, in the grace of this present moment.

The beloved disciple John became prayer. He writes in the letter he penned in his later years:

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:1-4

As we become prayer, our daily life becomes the field of choice and we are capacitated by grace to choose the “more excellent way” of love of which the great Apostle Paul wrote. (1 Cor. 13)  We choose to change, by examining our conscience, repenting of our sin. We become joyful penitents.

Prayer provides the environment for cultivating a recollected lifestyle. It exposes the darkness in our lives and helps us to surrender it to the light of Love. It opens us to the vista of transforming Love and recreates us anew. Prayer does not so much change things, as the slogan goes. Rather, it changes people, and people change things.

This morning, in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Prayer of the Church, I read and prayed through an absolutely beautiful reflection on prayer. Please, reflect upon it today and open your hearts to the presence of the Living God. It is attributed to the great Bishop John Chrysostom, or to one of his disciples. Whoever wrote it, It is a wonderful instruction on learning to pray and learning to love. I offer it below.

Prayer is the light of the soul

The highest good is prayer and conversation with God, because it means that we are in God’s company and in union with him. When light enters our bodily eyes our eyesight is sharpened; when a soul is intent on God, God’s inextinguishable light shines into it and makes it bright and clear.

I am talking, of course, of prayer that comes from the heart and not from routine: not the prayer that is assigned to particular days or particular moments in time, but the prayer that happens continuously by day and by night.

Indeed the soul should not only turn to God at times of explicit prayer. Whatever we are engaged in, whether it is care for the poor, or some other duty, or some act of generosity, we should remember God and long for God.

The love of God will be as salt is to food, making our actions into a perfect dish to set before the Lord of all things. Then it is right that we should receive the fruits of our labors, overflowing onto us through all eternity, if we have been offering them to him throughout our lives.

Prayer is the light of the soul, true knowledge of God, a mediator between God and men. Prayer lifts the soul into the heavens where it hugs God in an indescribable embrace. The soul seeks the milk of God like a baby crying for the breast. It fulfils its own vows and receives in exchange gifts better than anything that can be seen or imagined.

Prayer is a go-between linking us to God. It gives joy to the soul and calms its emotions. I warn you, though: do not imagine that prayer is simply words. Prayer is the desire for God, an indescribable devotion, not given by man but brought about by God’s grace.

As St Paul says: For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself intercedes on our behalf in a way that could never be put into words.

If God gives to someone the gift of such prayer, it is a gift of imperishable riches, a heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. Whoever tastes that food catches fire and his soul burns forever with desire for the Lord.

To begin on this path, start by adorning your house with modesty and humility. Make it shine brightly with the light of justice. Decorate it with the gold leaf of good works, with the jewels of faithfulness and greatness of heart.

Finally, to make the house perfect, raise a gable above it all, a gable of prayer. Thus you will have prepared a pure and sparkling house for the Lord. Receive the Lord into this royal and splendid dwelling – in other words: receive, by his grace, his image into the temple of your soul.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Deacon Keith Fournier
Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of the Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance, which are dedicated to the conversion of culture through four pillars of participation; life, family, freedom and solidarity. He is the Editor-in-Chief at Catholic Online. He is a constitutional lawyer who appeared in four cases before the United States Supreme Court on Pro-Life, Religious Freedom and Pro-family issues. He is the author of eight books on Christian living, Christian family and public policy issues. Deacon Fournier is a member of the Clergy of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He holds his BA in theology and philosophy from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, his Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University (MTS), his Juris Doctor Law Degree Law (JD) from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is a PhD candidate in Moral Theology at the Catholic University.

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