This week I’m featuring a multiple post from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying
It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8] More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us — the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.
. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic. For many of us we get this from our parents or grandparents, a loving sibling. But for most of us we limp along really not doing what we are supposed to be doing. This is where Fr. Guardini comes in. Spend some time here this week with one of the great masters of Catholic Life.
Prayer’s Second Motive: The Yearning For Union
The second motive for prayer begins with the recognition that, despite our resistance to God, we cannot be without Him. The first motive expresses what Peter said to Christ when he felt His mysterious powers by the lake of Genesareth: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. [Luke 5:8] The second finds its expression once again in the words of Peter at Capharnaum, when our Lord promised the Eucharist: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God. [John 6:69-70]
If the knowledge of our sinfulness leads us either to arrogance or dejection, the link between God and man breaks and we turn away from Him. But if it leads us to humility and truth, then we may say, “It is true that by my sins I have forfeited the right of being in the presence of God, but where else shall I be if I cannot be with Him?”
God’s Holiness Calls us to Him
The same holiness which turns man away also recalls him, for holiness is love. It rejects man so that he may find true humility and the new way. When he has done this — however insufficiently — it calls him anew.
We know that God is the supreme good, the supreme being, salvation — life. That is why we yearn for God. If we do not have this yearning — life may have disheartened or disillusioned us or made us dull and indifferent — we must endeavor to awaken it through faith. We must guard against that attitude of spiritual pride which makes us say, “What I do not feel I do not need.”
We must allow for the possibility that our feelings may be unreliable and therefore we must honestly strive to correct them. Yearning for God is inborn in human nature. If it is lacking, it does not follow that we have no need of God, but rather that we may be sick and in need of healing. It may be humiliating to have to admit to oneself that one is lacking something which is an intrinsic part of human nature. It may easily lead one to adopt an attitude of defiance, which, although giving an impression of superiority, is in fact rather pathetic.
We said previously that even if we do not directly apprehend God’s reality we must accept it as a fundamental tenet of our faith. In the same way, we must have recourse to faith if our own feelings do not prompt us to seek God. This is the truth — all else is error.
The Yearning For God is a Form of Prayer
This yearning for God — a yearning for union, for participation — is also prayer. The story is told of St. Thomas Aquinas that when he had finished an important section of his great work on divine truth, Christ appeared to him and said, “Thou hast written well about me, Thomas. What shall I give thee?” St. Thomas, the legend goes, answered, “Thyself, Lord.” St. Teresa expressed this yearning even more forcefully when she wrote: “Only God is sufficient.” [St. Teresa of Avila, Poem 9, Nada to turbe.]
The deepest core, the highest aspirations, the whole essence and purpose of man’s striving can be summed up in the proposition: man’s soul longs for union with God. This is not merely the expression of a pious sentiment; it is the precise truth.
We want to possess that which we consider to be precious and real. But is there anything in the world which we are really able to possess? Something catches our fancy, we buy it, we take it and carry it home, but do we really possess it? It is true we can make use of it; we can prevent anyone else having it, but is it ever truly ours? Not only may we lose it, not only can it be ruined, not only shall we have to give it up one day — we never really have it; we only hold it externally. We are never able to form that innermost union between ourselves and things which alone can be called having; there always remains a gulf.
The same applies to human relations. We want to establish a close relationship — a true union — with another person. We want to be certain of the other person, but can we ever achieve this? We may gain a person’s confidence or love; we may be linked to that person by the strongest bonds of loyalty and devotion, but ultimately that person still remains distant and inaccessible. God alone, the all-true, the all-being, the Holy, the Remote, is able to give Himself fully to man. Neither things nor persons, nor even we ourselves can fully become our own: only God can create that nearness that fulfills our yearning.
Again and again the cry “My God” appears in the Scriptures. “I said to the Lord: `Thou art my God.’ [Psalms 139:7 (RSV: Psalms 140:6).], This is the heart’s own cry, called forth by God Himself, who spoke thus: “I will walk among you, and will be your God.” [Leviticus. 26:12]
St. Augustine describes the nature of the human soul by saying that it is “capable of comprehending God.” Capable — and this is even more important — of comprehending nothing but God and therefore, we may add, capable of comprehending the world and people only through God.
This finds expression in the prayer in which we strive for God, strive to partake of His plenitude, strive to be at one with Him. In this striving, prayer becomes love, for love means seeking to be completely at one with another autonomous being. We may acquire a jewel, a flower, or a work of art, and, to the extent to which we are able to establish an inner relationship with one of these objects, we may claim them as our own. But we cannot claim a human being as our own unless the right has been granted to us by that human being, unless he has permitted it of his own accord.
How, then, can God become our own? That He, who is Lord of Himself and of all creation, wishes to give Himself to us, and that it is compatible with His divinity to do so, only He Himself can reveal to us. Moreover, He must give us faith so that we may believe it and consummate the union.
This is the mystery of divine love, that in it all love has its origin and finds its complete fulfillment. We must therefore beseech God for the grace of His love and for grace to respond to it.
These two elements — the turning away from God, conscious that we are unworthy of Him, and the striving after Him in the longing for union — are to some degree present in every prayer which deserves the name. By these two contradictory trends we testify to God’s holiness, for it is God’s holiness which makes us shrink back in the knowledge that we ourselves are unholy, but which at the same time makes us strive after Him in the knowledge that in Him lies our salvation.
God is Almighty
Another aspect of the nature of God, which we apprehend in some forms of religious experience, is His almighty power. The Scriptures abound in testimonies to the majesty and power of God. Frequently these testimonies are in the form of statements about the greatness of the world, which is then said to be nothing in comparison with God.
The Old Testament opens with the great hymn of the creation of the world. Its realms unfold before our eyes, each one issuing forth from the Word of God. The world is through Him; He is of Himself. Heaven and earth, darkness and light, the waters and the land, are what He commands them to be; He, however, is one and everything. There is no primary matter, no plan; everything comes into being through Him alone.
He is not only greater than the world, but absolute greatness –greatness in itself. The world, however, is only through Him and before His sight.
This greatness is free; it is the first source of all order. God utters the words “Let there be,” and everything becomes. However, when God’s greatness encounters man’s defiance, His greatness becomes inexorable and changes into the wrath of God, of which the destructive powers of nature, such as storms, earthquakes, the scorching sun, and the tumultuous seas are warning manifestations. [Psalms. 75,96 (RSV: Psalms. 76, 97).]
Providence Reveals God’s Loving Power
Yet God’s awfulness is all kindness, wisdom, and tenderness, for does not God teach His prophet that the Lord is not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the whistling of a gentle air? [3 Kings 19:11-12 (RSV: 1 Kings 19:11-12).]
It is in the doctrine of divine Providence that the almighty power of God fully reveals itself to us. In this doctrine, the awfulness of omniscience, the ineffableness of omnipotence, and the unfathomableness of a wisdom which controls the immeasurable threads of existence declare themselves as pure love: in Providence God the Almighty becomes the Father.
God Is Infinite
Human existence is finite in every respect: we are limited in our physical size, in our possessions, in the space we inhabit. Everyone has his own particular disposition and temperament, which is the measure both of his possibilities and of his limitations. Again and again — in being and in having, in our relations to things and people — we learn this lesson: so far and no farther. It is different with God. He knows no restriction or limitation, for He is and has everything: He is the all-embracing, the infinite.
God’s being is inexhaustible in substance. From unfathomable depths it rises and then extends over measureless space. The greatest heights which we are able to conceive can be but a pale intimation of His sublimity.
Our power is as limited as our being. In all our endeavors, struggles, and activities we inevitably reach the point beyond which, we realize, we cannot go: the point which marks the frontier of our knowledge and of our faculties.
God knows no such limitations. He creates, and in the most perfect way: by the Word alone. All that has been given to us the world in all its abundance of forms, its diversity of laws, the immeasurableness of all things great and small — all this issued forth from the Word of God.
God Is The Ultimate Good
Yet all that has been said so far does not do justice to the greatness of God. The attribute great does not merely denote a high degree of being and of power; it also denotes a high degree of value — it denotes excellence of quality. Thus we would call great a man possessing great purity of heart and nobility of mind; we would also call great a work of man if it expressed purity and noble intent. By this token, a painting twelve inches square, if it expressed these qualities, would be greater than one which covered the wall but did not express them.
God is not only the all-real, but also the all-good. When we pronounce the word truth we thereby express that all-embracing plenitude of pure integrity of essence which is God. Again, when we speak of justice, purity, harmony — these are really ways of referring to Him. Beauty is not really an attribute but a proper name of God. It is value — goodness, truth, beauty — from which all that is derives its ultimate right to be.
God not only demands value, and imposes value but is the form (or idea) of value. More than that: God is the supreme Universal – the universal of universals — of which all particulars, including all values, are mere reflections.
Thus His reality is absolutely justified and necessary. He alone has substance and the sovereign right to be.
Mere existence is dark and brooding; value gives it light. “This is the declaration which we have heard from Him and declare unto you: that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. [1 John 1:5]
God’s mighty power, as we have pointed out, is all tenderness and love, capable of giving everything and of giving itself.
Finally, life is more than breathing, growing, working, creating, and experiencing. Life is — or should be — self-experiencing and, ultimately, self-realization. How much there is in us which we do not realize, which, indeed, seems unrealizable!
God is omniscient. His omniscience embraces the world and mankind; but, above all, it is directed toward Himself. God is self-realized in the fullness of His infinite being. Aware of His own majesty, He carries the inconceivable momentousness of His own being in the supreme freedom of His will.
These reflections can do no more than give an intimation of God’s greatness: a greatness which is beyond all measure, yet is not inordinate or unwieldy, but light, luminous, and controlled — in short, perfect.
Adoration is the Proper Response to God’s Goodness
Before this greatness man inclines himself, not only in the literal sense but in the devotion of his heart. He inclines himself without reservation, in complete surrender as the creature before the Creator: in short, he adores. The act of adoration expresses the realization that God is greatness, pure and simple, and that man is smallness, pure and simple; that God exists by reason of Himself and in Himself, but man only through God and by God’s grace.
Adoration affirms: “Thou art God; I am man. Thou art the One that truly is, self-created, substantial from all eternity. I am only through Thee and in Thy sight. Thou hast all plenitude of being, all fullness of value, all sublimity of meaning; Thou art Lord and unto Thyself. The meaning of my existence, however, is derived from Thine. I live in Thy light and the measure of my existence is in Thee.”
God is Worthy of Our Adoration
It is important to stress that in this act of worship man does not submit to God simply because God is so infinitely greater than man. If this were the only reason for man’s submission it would mean that God’s almighty power had left him no choice but to yield.
Man submits because he knows that this is right and just in itself. If adoration merely expressed “I submit to Thee because Thou art stronger than I,” this would be a feeble and ultimately unworthy sentiment. But adoration says: “I submit because Thou art worthy of this act of homage. I have apprehended that Thou art not only reality but truth; not only power but also goodness; not only dominion but infinite merit and the meaning of meaning.”
In the life of man, might and right, strength and merit, actuality and truth, status and worthiness rarely coincide; it is this which makes our existence so drifting and questionable. It demands from us constant striving, and at the same time fills us with a sense of futility. With God it is different. Whenever man encounters God he finds in His might also right, in His greatness also worthiness.
There is no dichotomy in God’s nature; with Him being and action are one. To all this we give expression in adoration.
A God merely all-real and omnipotent, man could not adore. He could not resist such a God; he would have to surrender unconditionally to Him. For the sake, however, of his dignity as a person, he would have to deny Him adoration. In the act of adoration it is not only the body which is bowed down, but the person as a whole, and this can be done only voluntarily and with dignity. The unity of being and meaning in God renders this possible.
This is magnificently illustrated in the book of Revelation in the passage of the four-and-twenty elders (the last representatives of the human race) worshipping Him and casting their crowns before Him, saying: “Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honor, and power: because Thou hast created all things; and for Thy will they were, and have been created. [Revelations 4:11]
Adoration is More Important Than Petition
Apart from the special importance which attaches to the act of adoration as an integral part of religious worship, it is important also as an element in man’s spiritual life as a whole. It is as necessary to man’s spiritual existence as the laws of logic are to his intellectual life or the spatial order is to his physical existence. Or, using a different analogy, we may say that adoration is to man’s spiritual vision what light is to his physical eye.
Human existence is founded in truth, and the foundation of all truth is that God is God — unique, alone, and unto Himself; and that man is God’s creature. By recognizing this fundamental truth and by acting in accordance with it man maintains his integrity and his wholeness. Adoration is the act in which this truth continually rises resplendent, and in which it is acknowledged and consummated.
It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8]
More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us — the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.