1) What and How
Through today’s Roman Gospel, by teaching us the Our Father and telling us the parable of the obtrusive friend, Jesus tells us:
A - What to ask God in order to be more familiar with him, to overcome evil and to achieve what we desire. Let’s not forget that when we pray with our words, we express our feelings, desires and needs. On the contrary when we “use” the Our Father, we make ours Jesus’ feelings toward the Father and toward our brothers and sisters.
B - How to ask: with persistence, faith and humility that expects everything from the omnipotent goodness of God, with whom we speak. This is taught to us through the first reading of the Roman Rite, which shows us how Abraham knows how to speak with the Lord and thus achieve clemency for the town where he lives.
It is a dialogue always started by God and that has us as free interlocutors (in Latin “son” is called “liberus”).
The conversation, the dialogue (God listens to you, you can speak to Him, you are His son or daughter), this mutual relationship is a peculiar characteristic of the Christian. He or she is redeemed and entered into divine life as adopted son and daughter. A slave has no right to speak, he must accept his master’s law and obey unconditionally. In Christianity man is the son. He not only listens to God but also speaks to Him. Man is truly in communion with the Eternal, can turn to Him and establish with Him the most intimate relationship: from the son to the Father. When he turns to Him with the Our Father he recognizes a deep relationship (the exact term is “ontologic”), a union, a communion of blood.
This communion is as real as real is the blood that Christ has poured for us on the Cross. With this sacrificial communion the Resurrected Christ raises humanity: we are called to heaven by the design of Love. We must not live blindly but with eyes of faith and hope that know that the Lord comes with His grace unexpectedly not only at the end of our time but today to live among us, even if sometimes this collides with our attitude determined by disappointment, discouragement and setbacks.
To this end we can find help in the words that Cardinal Frederick bishop of Milan, pronounces to father Abbondio: “Buy back the time: the midnight hour is close, the Spouse cannot be delayed; keep our lamps lighted. Present to God our poor hearts, empty so that it might please Him to fill them with the love that repairs the past, ensures the future, fears and trusts, weeps and rejoices with wisdom and becomes the virtue that we need”. (Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, Chapter 26).
2) Why to pray
One can give many answers to this question. What I believe is important to propose is that prayer is necessary to our entire life as air is. We must pray to live and to live we must breathe. Prayer is the breath of the soul, the heart and of all our being.
A well know atheistic physician of last century, Alexis Carrel converted himself at Lourdes when he witnessed a miracle. One of his patients, which he had personally diagnosed with a terminal illness, was healed completely under his eyes. He converted himself. Later he wrote a book on prayer in which he said: “When prayer is truly present, its effect is like that of an internal secretion gland like the thyroid or the adrenal glands. The sense of the sacred is similar to our need of oxygen and prayer is similar to breathing”.
If we go through the pages of the books of History of the Church we learn how prayer was lived already by the first oriental monks and we perceive that breathing was really conceived as a capital question.
Saint Anthony used to greet his fellows in the desert saying “Breath Christ”.
The first monks had invented a very short prayer: “Lord, have pity of me because I’m a sinner” that repeated many times matched the rhythm of the respiration.
Saint John Climacus teaches: “It is essential that the memory of Jesus be united intimately to your breathing. You will then know the secret of internal peace”.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote in the Spiritual Exercises: “It is necessary to close the eyes to see Jesus in our heart and to say the words of the Our Father in accordance with our breathing”.
In Psalms we always find in the middle of the verse an asterisk (*) that warns “Here you must breath and look up” (asterisk means star). In a certain way, this breath and this look are part of the liturgy.
Man will live until the roots of God’s breath will be uprooted from his lungs. In this way the first man has started his life and in the same way we all start to live when we are born.
For every man to live means to welcome and to save this divine breath in him; to die means that God has repossessed it.
The Bible teaches: “If he were to set his mind to it, gather to himself his spirit and breath, all flesh would perish together, and mortals return to dust”.( Jb 34;14-15) In the book of Psalms there is written: “Take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust. Send forth your spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth”. (Ps 104;29-30)
Saint Pius of Pietralcina used to say “Prayer is the bread and the life of the soul, breath of the heart, a concentrated and extended encounter with God”.
The Bible is full of breaths-dialogues with the Creator. Jesus has prayed and invited to pray. The first Christians were called Men of Prayer. It is very important what Father Pius said of prayer: it is a concentrated and extended encounter”.
Concentrated: because we cannot pray if we do not prepare us for it and if we keep in our mind too many problems and worries.
Extended: because it is not possible to pray for only few minutes. We need time to enter into prayer. Too often it happens that when we start praying we stop or have to go away and in doing so also prayer goes away.
I think that it is important to recommend the example of the Consecrated Virgins that with their choice of life dedicated to prayer show the ultimate aim of prayer. Prayer accompanies with discretion towards the conscience of all. Prayer accompanies and feeds such a great deed dictated by emotion and commotion for mankind, for every human being - in the same way Jesus gave us the example and made it possible - praises God (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins, n. 68: “Receive the book of the liturgy of the hours, the prayer of the Church. May the praise of our heavenly Father be always on your lips; pray without ceasing for the salvation of the whole world”) and glorifies Christ.
Christ’s glory means the greatest well-being for men; it means a better humanity. It is for this reason that we follow Christ and do not abandon him even if without noticing, we keep on saying what Peter said: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jh 6:68)
Because there are many comments on the Our Father, this time I would like to propose two readings that show “What” and “How” to pray.
1) The Paraphrase of the Our Father by St. Francis of Assisi
Our Father: Most Holy, our Creator and Redeemer, our Savior and our Comforter.
Who art in Heaven: in the angels and the saints. Who gives them light so that they may have knowledge, because Thou, Lord, are Light. Who inflames them so that they may love, because Thou, Lord, are Love. Who lives continually in them and who fills them so that they may be happy, because Thou, Lord, are the Supreme Good, the Eternal Good, and it is from Thee that all good comes, and without Thee there is no good.
Hallowed be Thy Name: May our knowledge of Thee become ever clearer, so that we may realize the extent of Thy benefits, the steadfastness of Thy promises, the sublimity of Thy Majesty and the depth of Thy judgments.
Thy Kingdom come: so that Thou may reign in us by Thy grace and bring us to Thy Kingdom, where we shall see Thee clearly, love Thee perfectly, be blessed in Thy company and enjoy Thee forever.
Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven: so that we may love Thee with our whole heart by always thinking of Thee; with our whole mind by directing our whole intention towards Thee and seeking Thy glory in everything; and with all our strength by spending all our powers and affections of soul and body in the service of Thy Love alone. And may we love our neighbors as ourselves, encouraging them all to love Thee as best we can, rejoicing as the good fortune of others, just as it were our own, and sympathizing with their misfortunes, while giving offense to no one.
Give us this day our daily bread: Thy own beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to remind us of the love He showed for us and to help us understand and appreciate it and everything that he did or said or suffered.
And forgive us our trespasses: in Thy infinite Mercy, and by the power of the Passion of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, together with the merits and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all your saints.
As we forgive those who trespass against us: and if we do not forgive perfectly, Lord, make us forgive perfectly, so that we may indeed love our enemies for love of Thee, and pray fervently to Thee for them, returning no one evil for evil, anxious only to serve everybody in Thee.
And lead us not into temptation: hidden or obvious, sudden or unforeseen. But deliver us from evil: Present, past, or to come.
1) Advice from Saint Ignatius of Loyola on “How to pray”
The first method is a meditation that helps to better know our inclinations to sin but also to make progress in the knowledge of the Christian basis and of God’s gifts
It consists of
- at the beginning a moment of concentration to enter in prayer with more awareness
- a preparatory prayer to ask for the possibility to live well this moment, to know one’s errors and the strength to correct them
- a meditation on life and on what, in the day of Ignatius, were well-known lists such as The Ten Commandments, The Seven Deadly Sins, The three Powers of the Soul and The Five Senses. How long to do that? At least half an hour.
- a familiar dialogue with God asking and thanking.
This first method is good for many practical uses because the list of the subjects is not binding. For example, it allows the Religious and Consecrated persons to verify the meaning of the rules and of the wows and of their loyalty to them.
It can be used for a deeper preparation to confession.
The second method is simple meditation over the traditional prayers to rediscover their intensity and taste.
How to do it:
- an initial moment of concentration to enter prayer with better awareness.
- a preparatory prayer to ask for the possibility to live well this moment, to appreciate and taste the profound basics of these prayers
- choose a prayer (Our Father, Hail Mary, Creed). Stop over every word that can relate to familiar pictures, meanings and personal memories. Spend half an hour but not more than one hour. If the time is not enough to cover all the subjects, it can be reconsidered at another time. For example, one can stop all the time on the word Father that is linked God Creator but also makes think of his natural father. Thoughts, affections, desires and even sadness are born from these considerations.
- a dialogue with the one to whom the prayer is made ( God the Father, Mary or Jesus) to ask what’s needed. The aim is to convert into concrete intentions the affections and the desires that surge from a prayer always linked to life.
Traditional prayers tell about Jesus, the Father, Mary, the Holy Spirit and so on. From the beginning one must have in mind the person described in the prayer.
Another important and practical point concerns the posture of the body: fix the eyes on a point or close them to avoid that the look seeing something, becomes distracted.
The exercise can be extended to other liturgical prayers like the Psalms and Eucharistic prayers and can be of help for those who must pray the Liturgy of the Hours or celebrate Mass. Every Christian who has the desire to go above the simplicity of traditional prayers can use this method to go deep into their meaning and to enrich the value of the words.
The third method aims to a prayer that detaches itself from thoughts to get more into the heart. This method is linked to the previous one because uses the same preparatory acts and the same subject. The characteristic of the third method is the way to do it. Why?
– After the preparation and after having chosen the prayer one must use the respiratory rhythm. A word of the Our Father or of another prayer is linked to every breath. It reminds of the oriental method but here one doesn’t look for interior peace but thoughts, feelings and affects linked to the word without having the need of mental efforts.
Go over the prayer word by word following the respiratory rhythm. The words will be linked without effort and immediately to feelings, thoughts and memories. The acquisition of a regular and slow respiratory rhythm is necessary for a deeper immersion in the mystery of God without the need of long pauses over the words.
A singularity compared with the previous methods is the absence of indications regarding the final dialogue not because it is not important but because this exercise is like a long dialogue
It is possible a multiple use of this method in the different fields of prayer. In fact beside promoting a greater internalization of traditional prayers and avoiding their mechanical repetition, it can be of great help in reciting the Liturgy of the Hours. Uniting to the psalm the respiratory rhythm allows to put in evidence the verses, especially the most meaningful and to taste their deep meanings above all when prayer becomes a routine.
 Alessandro Manzoni was born in Milan on March 7, 1785 and died on May 22, 1873. He was baptized in the Church of Saint Babila in Milan, went to school at the Somaschi Brothers first and then at the Barnabiti Brothers. For many years he was hostile to religion but at 35 went back to faith and religious practice. His conversion was not a sudden one but a gradual one in accordance with his analytical and rational nature.” In the mysteries of faith reason finds the explanation of its own mysteries like in the sun that doesn’t allow to be seen but makes us see” (On the invention) “ mystery of knowledge and mercy….that reason cannot enter but that is totally taken by in admiring it” (Observations on catholic ethics, VIII).
The task of the writer is service to the truth: in representing a fact or an event he tries to make possible for the truth of that fact or event to emerge. That is the truth of the entire reality of men and history. In the dramas and in The Betrothed this intuition tries to be understandable for all.
Another religious feeling is present in the world described in The Betrothed, enters in every event and touches even the most sad and coward persons. The intervention of the God-Providence in the small and big events is always so strong that one has the feeling of touching Him. It is a fatherly, loving and severe presence that lives in everything. The poet perceives it with the simple faith of his farmers and of the poor “what God wants. He knows what to do. He is there also for us.” “let the One above do it” “ let’s go ahead with faith and God will help us”.
Let’s not forget that the literary production of Alessandro Manzoni makes him one of the fathers of the modern Italian language
XVII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – July 28, 2013
Gn 18:20-21;Ps 138; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13
X Sunday of Pentecost
1 Kings 3:5-15; Ps 71; 1 Cor 3:18-23; Lk 18:24b-30