Like Children in Their Mother's Arms, Let Our Hearts Rest in God's Heart

Lectio Divina: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Paris, (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo | 1929 hits

1)     Prayer must be persistent

     In the first reading and in the Gospel of today’s liturgy we learn about two people that ‘use’ prayer[1]: Moses who wins the battle for the Jews and attains justice against the enemies because he prays incessantly with his raised hands and the widow that for her persistence attains justice from a unfair judge.

      The Gospel talks about the Messiah, who, to teach about prayer, uses the parable of a widow, whom during the time of Jesus was considered almost an outcast. In the Bible “orphans[2] and widows,[3]” the most weak and helpless and the most exposed to offence and injustice, are always defended. Jesus values this poor condition and tells us about a widow that has been suffering injustice for a long time but doesn’t loose courage and confronts an arrogant judge like the ones that Isaiah stigmatized in this way:  “Ah! Those who enact unjust statutes, who write oppressive decrees,depriving the needy of judgment, robbing my people’s poor of justice. Making widows their plunder and orphans their prey.” (Is 10:1-2)

       With stubbornness the widow raises her voice against the arrogance of the magistrate: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” (Lk 18:5).

        In the woman’s words there is the extraordinary strength of an imploring person who wants to succeed at any cost. There is a persistence that seems inappropriate and annoying but that is the sign of a hope that doesn’t die. It is the certainty that soon or later her plea will be granted.

So it happens; the unfair judge says: 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” (Lk 18:5)

        If an unfair person grants a persistent plea, the more an unceasing and determined prayer will be granted by God, the just Judge.

        Jesus is the speaker, the friend, the witness and the teacher. He teaches us how to pray not only with the “Our Father,” but also when He shows us the required dispositions for a true prayer. These requirements are: “Purity of heart that searches the Kingdom and forgives the enemies; filial and determined trust that goes behind what we feel and understand; vigilance that preserve the disciple from temptation” (Abridged edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church) Today Christ adds another disposition: persistence and asks for something seemingly impossible: to pray always.

       Saint Thomas of Aquinas teaches that to obtain what we ask through prayer, “the combination of four factors must occur: 1. that one prays for himself or herself 2. that he or she asks for what he needs to be saved and that he or she does it 3. with mercy and 4. with persistence.[4]

2)     We must pray always

       The teaching regarding praying with unflinching persistence is quite easy to understand and to put into practice. However the statement at the beginning of the Gospel “to pray always without becoming weary[5]”(Lk 18:1), without getting dishearten, not only seems difficult but also impossible. Because Jesus himself says so let’s not dare to say that it is impossible to follow this indication due to the fact that our attention cannot concentrate for a long period of time in such a high action[6] like prayer.

       There is a psalm that more than anything else helps us to understand what is to pray always. It is the psalm where the praying person is presented like a child that is held in his mother’s arms, “Like a weaned child to its mother, weaned is my soul. Israel, hope in the LORD, now and forever.”(Ps 131:2-3) This child is the man or the woman of prayer, that is the man or the woman who hopes always in God like a child hopes always in his or her father and mother. The Biblical comparison is perfect because prayer, despite being a high and elevated action, is also the simplest one.  In the thought of the Psalmist, it is the more natural one, as it is natural that a small child in his or her mother’s arms sees first and most the face of the one that gives him security and feels around him or her the arms that welcome, protect, give trust and love.

       Simple and confident prayer is the certainty that God’s eyes are upon us like the ones of a mother. To pray is to experience God’s love, who embraces us like the arms of the one who gave us birth, that hold our hands, and guides us even when we think to be alone.

       To our act of prayer God answers with his love. He keeps us tenderly in his arms, holds our hands, and picks us up when we fall, carries us on his shoulders when it seems that the waves of life submerge us, extends his hand and saves us from death. Today’s Psalm reminds us: “He will not allow your foot to slip;or your guardian to sleep. Behold, the guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps. The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shad at your right hand...The LORD will guard you from all evil; he will guard your soul.” (Ps 121)

       Prayer is like the breath of life and expresses the undoubted certitude that God is with us, God is for us and we are the dearest creatures to Him. Consequently we must always and constantly pray.

       To the objection that it is impossible to pray always, I shall answer not with a speech, but with the advice not to be stingy in giving time to God. The more we pray the more we will remain in prayer.

       To the ones who were asking her how to learn to pray, Mother Theresa answered: “Praying.” For Father Pius of Pietralcina “praying always” had become “Rosary always”, that is Maryalways in his life. Father Luigi Giussani explained that, “to pray always” is “to pray as much as you can.” Blessed Stefan, a Maronite lay brother, lived repeating to himself and to others “God sees you.” He became a saint living constantly the certainty that God has always his loving look on every human being. In the tradition of the Eastern Churches the constant prayer is the one used in the Hesichastic[7] monastic movement, a prayer tightly linked to the heart prayer. It is a prayer called the Jesus prayer and consists in repeating as many times as possible “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me sinner.” This way of praying, using the “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me sinner” as ejaculatory prayer up to the point to let it coincide with breath, is particularly practical and is, accordingly with the Eastern spiritual theology, necessary and essential for the effectiveness of prayer. It can be done by all the Christians, lay people and monks that live with charity and search for salvation.

        Prayer is a relationship. To pray means to turn to somebody and to live this relationship. It is a relationship that grows, becomes deeper and truer so that we are transformed in the One to whom we pray and become one thing with Christ.

       To this the consecrated Virgins are called as the Bishop prays during the consecration prayer: “Give them the warmth of love, to love you above all others….may they find all things in possessing you.” (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins) These women are called to give testimony of loyalty to personal and liturgical prayer so that they are not taken by swirling activism.

      With the example of a constant and not occasional prayer, full of trust in God-Love,

“that gives us what we are pushed to ask” ( Saint Anselm), the consecrated Virgins communicate to the people  and to the ones they meet in the parishes or in their jobs, the joy of the constant encounter with the Lord, light for the life of the entire world.

By being faithful to the road of prayer these consecrated persons help others to progress down its path. By walking, the roads to truth and infinite love, whose acme is the communion relationship that becomes prayer, are opened. This is also true for the Christian prayer.

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PRAYERS OF AUGUSTINES

According to St. Augustine, we need not pray for what we need because God already knows what we need before we even ask. Instead, we ought to pray, he suggests, to increase our desire for God, and so that we might be able to receive what He is preparing to give us.

"The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive the gift, which is very great indeed. .... The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruits. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:16), he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him alone who is able to give it." 
(Letter 130)

The prayers below are widely attributed to Saint Augustine. Where verified, a citation is provided. The portrait of Augustine on this page was painted by German artist Willy Jakob, circa 1945 - 1949.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

Act of Petition

Give me yourself, O my God, give yourself to me. Behold I love you, and if my love is too weak a thing, grant me to love you more strongly. I cannot measure my love to know how much it falls short of being sufficient, but let my soul hasten to your embrace and never be turned away until it is hidden in the secret shelter of your presence. This only do I know, that it is not good for me when you are not with me, when you are only outside me. I want you in my very self. All the plenty in the world which is not my God is utter want. Amen.

Prayer for the Indwelling of the Spirit

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler, sacred Bond of the Father and the Son, Hope of the afflicted, descend into my heart and establish in it your loving dominion. Enkindle in my tepid soul the fire of your Love so that I may be wholly subject to you. We believe that when you dwell in us, you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son. Deign, therefore, to come to me, Consoler of abandoned souls, and Protector of the needy. Help the afflicted, strengthen the weak, and support the wavering. Come and purify me. Let no evil desire take possession of me. You love the humble and resist the proud. Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying. Lead me by your grace that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.

Prayer on Finding God after a Long Search

Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new. Too late have I loved you!  You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The things you have made kept me from you - the things which would have no being unless they existed in you! You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness. You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace. 

Confessions, X, 27, 38

Prayer to Seek God Continually

O Lord my God, I believe in you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Insofar as I can, insofar as you have given me the power, I have sought you. I became weary and I labored.  O Lord my God, my sole hope, help me to believe and never to cease seeking you. Grant that I may always and ardently seek out your countenance. Give me the strength to seek you, for you help me to find you and you have more and more given me the hope of finding you.   Here I am before you with my firmness and my infirmity. Preserve the first and heal the second. Here I am before you with my strength and my ignorance. Where you have opened the door to me, welcome me at the entrance; where you have closed the door to me, open to my cry; enable me to remember you, to understand you, and to love you. Amen.

Prayer for Self Knowledge

Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know You, and desire nothing save only You. 
Let me hate myself and love You. 
Let me do everything for the sake of You. 
Let me humble myself and exalt You. 
Let me think of nothing except You.
Let me die to myself and live in You. 
Let me accept whatever happens as from You.
Let me banish self and follow You, and ever desire to follow You. 
Let me fly from myself and take refuge in You,
That I may deserve to be defended by You.
Let me fear for myself.
Let me fear You, and let me be among those who are chosen by You.
Let me distrust myself and put my trust in You.
Let me be willing to obey for the sake of You.
Let me cling to nothing save only to You,
And let me be poor because of You.
Look upon me, that I may love You.
Call me that I may see You, and for ever enjoy You. Amen.

Act of Hope

For your mercies' sake, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul: "I am your salvation." So speak that I may hear, O Lord; my heart is listening; open it that it may hear you, and say to my soul: "I am your salvation." After hearing this word, may I come in haste to take hold of you. Hide not your face from me. Let me see your face even if I die, lest I die with longing to see it. The house of my soul is too small to receive you; let it be enlarged by you. It is all in ruins; do you repair it. There are thing in it - I confess and I know - that must offend your sight. But who shall cleanse it? Or to what others besides you shall I cry out? From my secret sins cleanse me, O Lord, and from those of others spare your servant. Amen.

Prayer for the Sick

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering ones. Pity your afflicted ones. Shield your joyous ones. And for all your love's sake. Amen.

Prayer of Trust in God's Heavenly Promise

My God, let me know and love you, so that I may find my happiness in you. Since I cannot fully achieve this on earth, help me to improve daily until I may do so to the full. Enable me to know you ever more on earth, so that I may know you perfectly in heaven. Enable me to love you ever more on earth, so that I may love you perfectly in heaven. In that way my joy may be great on earth, and perfect with you in heaven. O God of truth, grant me the happiness of heaven so that my joy may be full in accord with your promise. In the meantime let my mind dwell on that happiness, my tongue speak of it, my heart pine for it, my mouth pronounce it, my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my entire being desire it until I enter through death in the joy of my Lord forever. Amen.

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Roman Rite

XXIX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C- October 20, 2013

Ex 17:8-13a; Ps 121; 2Tim 3:14 4:2; Lk 18:1-8

Ambrosian Rite

Dedication of Milan’s Dom

Is 60:11-21; Ps 117; Heb 15:17.20-21 Lk 6:43-48

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[1] Go to “prayer” in the “Dictionary of Theology”  ( Rom 2006) published under the direction of Jean-Yves Lacoste

[2] From the Greek word “orphanos” and the Latin “orphanus” (close to the Latin word orbus = lacking), it is the one to whom death has stolen the parents, a child without a family, a small being who doesn’t belong to any one and for whom nobody cares.

[3] From the Latin word viduu. It means lackingsomething or someone. Also the Greek word cheros means lacking a husband or a wife. Widow means, “to be without,” lacking a part. Because a female spouse is so if she has a male spouse, without the male part she is nothing.

[4] Summa Theologica IIa-IIae q.83 a 15 ad 2

[5] In the Greek text there the word egkakein means to be completely exhausted. Me’ egkakein is translated “without becoming weary,” but could be translated “ without getting dishearten.”

[6] I’ve written action not speech because prayer is not only simply a speech, it is a work (Divo Barsotti, Prayer, the work of the Christian  Milan 2005, page 144).

[7] The Hesichastic monks practice the “Jesus prayer” or the “Heart prayer,” that is the continual repetition of a formula so that it coincides with breath: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me sinner.” If we avoid distraction and if we are at peace in our soul, this practice allows to get near to God and to be united to him.