Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

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The Prayer Of The Liturgy 3 – Fr. Romano Guardini

March 28, 2014
Rembrandt's Apostle Peter Kneeling 1631. Prayer must be simple, wholesome, and powerful. It must be closely related to actuality and not afraid to call things by their names. In prayer we must find our entire life over again. On the other hand, it must be rich in ideas and powerful images, and speak a developed but restrained language; its construction must be clear and obvious to the simple than, stimulating and refreshing to the man of culture. It must be intimately blended with an erudition which is in nowise obtrusive, but which is rooted in breadth of spiritual outlook and in inward restraint of thought, volition, and emotion.

Rembrandt’s Apostle Peter Kneeling 1631. Prayer must be simple, wholesome, and powerful. It must be closely related to actuality and not afraid to call things by their names. In prayer we must find our entire life over again. On the other hand, it must be rich in ideas and powerful images, and speak a developed but restrained language; its construction must be clear and obvious to the simple than, stimulating and refreshing to the man of culture. It must be intimately blended with an erudition which is in nowise obtrusive, but which is rooted in breadth of spiritual outlook and in inward restraint of thought, volition, and emotion.

Romano Guardini (17 February 1885, Verona – 1 October 1968, Munich) was a Catholic priest, author, and academic. He was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century.

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Liturgical action and liturgical prayer are the logical consequences of certain moral premises — the desire for justification, contrition, readiness for sacrifice, and so on — and often issue afresh into moral actions. But there again it is possible to observe a fine distinction. The liturgy does not lightly exact moral actions of a very far-reaching nature, especially those which denote an interior decision. It requires them where the matter is of real importance, e.g., the abjuration at baptism, or the vows at the final reception into an order.

When, however, it is a question of making regular daily prayer fruitful in everyday intentions and decisions, the liturgy is very cautious. For instance, it does not rashly utter such things as vows, or full and permanent repudiations of sin, entire and lasting surrender, all-embracing consecration of one’s entire being, utter contempt for and renouncement of the world, promises of exclusive love, and the like.

Such ideas are present at times, fairly frequently even, but generally under the form of a humble entreaty that the suppliant may be vouchsafed similar sentiments, or that he is encouraged to ponder upon their goodness and nobility, or is exhorted on the same subject. But the liturgy avoids the frequent use of those prayers in which these moral actions are specifically expressed.

How right this is! In moments of exaltation and in the hour of decision such a manner of speech may be justified, and even necessary. But when it is a question of the daily spiritual life of a corporate body, such formulas, when frequently repeated, offer those who are using them an unfortunate selection from which to make their choice. Perhaps they take the formulas literally and endeavor to kindle the moral sentiments expressed in them, discovering later that it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to do so truthfully and effectually.

They are consequently in danger of developing artificial sentiments, of forcing intentions that still remain beyond their compass, and of daily performing moral actions, which of their very nature cannot be frequently accomplished. Or else they take the words merely as a passing recommendation of a line of conduct which it would be well to adopt, and in this way depreciate the intrinsic moral value of the formula, although it may be used frequently, and in all good faith. In this connection are applicable the words of Christ, “Let your speech be yea, yea, — nay, nay.” [Matthew 8:37]

The liturgy has solved the problem of providing a constant incentive to the highest moral aims, and at the same time of remaining true and lofty, while satisfying everyday needs.

Another question which arises is that concerning the form to be taken by prayer in common. We may put it like this: What method of prayer is capable of transforming the souls of a great multitude of people, and of making this transformation permanent?

The model of all devotional practice in common is to be found in the Divine Office, which day after day gathers together great bodies of people at stated times for a particular purpose. If anywhere, then it is in the Office that those conditions will be found which are favorable to the framing of rules for the forms of prayer in common. [We do not overlook the fact that the Office in its turn presupposes its special relations and conditions, from which useful hints may be gained for private devotion, such as the necessity for a great deal of leisure, which enables the soul to meditate more deeply; and a special erudition, which opens the mind to the world of ideas and to artistry of form, and so on.]

It is of paramount importance that the whole gathering should take an active share in the proceedings. If those composing the gathering merely listen, while one of the number acts as spokesman, the interior movement soon stagnates. All present, therefore, are obliged to take part. It is not even sufficient for the gathering to do so by repeating the words of their leader.

This type of prayer does, of course, find a place in the liturgy, e.g., in the litany. It is perfectly legitimate, and people desirous of abandoning it totally fail to recognize the requirements of the human soul. In the litany the congregation answers the varying invocations of the leader with an identical act, e.g., with a request. In this way the act each time acquires a fresh content and fresh fervor, and an intensification of ardor is the result. It is a method better suited than any other to express a strong, urgent desire, or a surrender to God’s Will, presenting as it does the petition of all sides effectively and simultaneously.

But the liturgy does not employ this method of prayer frequently; we may even say, when we consider divine worship as a whole, that it employs it but seldom. And rightly so, for it is a method which runs the risk of numbing and paralyzing spiritual movement.

[The foregoing remarks on the liturgy have already made it abundantly clear that the justification of methods of prayer such as, e.g., the Rosary, must not be gainsaid. They have a necessary and peculiar effect in the spiritual life. They clearly express the difference which exists between liturgical and popular prayer. The liturgy has for its fundamental principle, Ne bis idein [there must be no repetition It aims at a continuous progress of ideas, mood and intention. Popular devotion, on the contrary, has a strongly contemplative character, and loves to linger around a few simple images, ideas and moods without any swift changes of thought. For the people the forms of devotion are often merely a means of being with God. On this account they love repetition. The ever-renewed requests of the Our Father, Hail Mary, etc. are for them at the same time receptacles into which they can pour their hearts.]

The liturgy adapts the dramatic forte by choice to the fundamental requirements of prayer in common. It divides those present into two choirs, and causes prayer to progress by means of dialogue. In this way all present join the proceedings, and are obliged to follow with a certain amount of attention at least, knowing as they do that the continuation of their combined action depends upon each one personally.

Here the liturgy lays down one of the fundamental principles of prayer, which cannot be neglected with impunity. [In earlier ages the Church practiced by preference the so called "responsive" form of chanting the Psalms. The Precentor chanted one verse after the other, and the people answered with the identical verse, or the partially repeated verse. But at the same time another method was in use, according to which the people divided into two choirs, and each alternately chanted a verse of the Psalm. It says much for the sureness of liturgical instinct that the second method entirely supplanted the first. (Cf. Thalhofer-Eisenhofer, "I-landbuch der katholischen Liturgik," Freiburg, 1902, I, 261 et seq.)]

However justified the purely responsive forms of prayer may be, the primary form of prayer in common is the actively progressive — that much we learn from the lex orandi. [Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. As we Worship, So we Believe, So we Live] And the question, intensely important today, as to the right method to employ in again winning people to the life of the Church is most closely connected with the question under discussion.

For it is modern people precisely who insist upon vital and progressive movement, and an active share in things. The fluid mass of this overwhelming spiritual material, however, needs cutting down and fashioning. It requires a leader to regulate the beginning, omissions, and end, and, in addition, to organize the external procedure. The leader also has to model it interiorly; thus, for instance, he has to introduce the recurrent thought-theme, himself undertaking the harder portions, in order that they may be adequately and conscientiously dealt with; he must express the emotion of all present by means of climaxes, and introduce certain restful pauses by the inclusion of didactic or meditative portions. Such is the task of the choir-leader, which has undergone a carefully graduated course of development in the liturgy.

Attention has already been called to the deep and fruitful emotion which is contained in the liturgy. It also embraces the two fundamental forces of human existence: Nature and civilization.

In the liturgy the voice of Nature makes itself heard clearly and decisively. We only need to read the Psalms to see man as he really is. There the soul is shown as courageous and despondent, happy and sorrowful, full of noble intentions, but of sin and struggles as well, zealous for everything that is good and then again apathetic and dejected.

Or let us take the readings from the Old Testament. How frankly human nature is revealed in them! There is no attempt at extenuation or excuse. The same thing applies to the Church’s words of ordination, and to the prayers used in administering the sacraments. A truly refreshing spontaneity characterizes them; they call things by their names.

Man is full of weakness and error, and the liturgy acknowledges this. Human nature is inexplicable, a tangled web of splendor and misery, of greatness and baseness, and as such it appears in the prayer of the Church. Here we find no carefully adapted portrait from which the harsh and unpleasing traits have been excluded, but man as he is.

Not less rich is the liturgy’s cultural heritage. We become conscious of the fact that many centuries have cooperated in its formation and have bequeathed to it of their best. They have fashioned its language; expanded its ideas and conceptions in every direction; developed its beauty of construction down to the smallest detail — the short verses and the finely-forged links of the prayers, the artistic form of the Divine Office and of the Mass, and the wonderful whole that is the ecclesiastical year.

Action, narrative, and choral forms combine to produce the cumulative effect. The style of the individual forms continually varies — simple and clear in the Hours, rich in mystery on the festivals of Mary, resplendent on the more modem feasts, delightful and full of charm in the offices of the early virgin-martyrs. To this we should add the entire group of ritual gestures and action, the liturgical vessels and vestments, and the works of sculptors and artists and musicians.

In all this is to be learned a really important lesson on liturgical practice. Religion needs civilization. By civilization we mean the essence of the most valuable products of man’s creative, constructive, and organizing powers — works of art, science, social orders, and the like. In the liturgy it is civilization’s task to give durable form and expression to the treasure of truths, aims, and supernatural activity, which God has delivered to man by Revelation, to distill its quintessence, and to relate this to life in all its multiplicity.

Civilization is incapable of creating a religion, but it can supply the latter with a modus operandi, so that it can freely engage in its beneficent activity. That is the real meaning of the old proverb, Philosophia ancilla theologiae — philosophy is the handmaid of theology. It applies to all the products of civilization, and the Church has always acted in accordance with it.

Thus she knew very well what she was doing, for instance, when she absolutely obliged the Order of Saint Francis — brimming over with high aspirations, and spiritual energy and initiative — to adopt a certain standard of living, property, learning, and so on. Only a prejudiced mind, with no conception of the fundamental conditions essential to normal spiritual life, would see in this any deterioration of the first high aims.

By her action in the matter the Church, on the contrary, prepared the ground for the Order, so that in the end it could remain healthy and productive. Individuals, or short waves of enthusiasm, can to a wide degree dispense with learning and culture. This is proved by the beginnings of the desert Orders in Egypt, and of the mendicant friars, and by holy people in all ages.

But, generally speaking, a fairly high degree of genuine learning and culture is necessary in the long run, in order to keep spiritual life healthy. By means of these two things spiritual life retains its energy, clearness, and catholicity. Culture preserves spiritual life from the unhealthy, eccentric, and one-sided elements with which it tends to get involved only too easily. Culture enables religion to express itself, and helps it to distinguish what is essential from what is nonessential, the means from the end, and the path from the goal.

The Church has always condemned every attempt at attacking science, art, property, and so on. The same Church which so resolutely stresses the “one thing necessary,” and which upholds with the greatest impressiveness the teaching of the Evangelical Counsels — that we must be ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of eternal salvation — nevertheless desires, as a rule, that spiritual life should be impregnated with the wholesome salt of genuine and lofty culture.

But spiritual life is in precisely as great a need of the subsoil of healthy nature — “grace takes nature for granted.” The Church has clearly shown her views on the subject by the gigantic struggles waged against Gnosticism and Manichaeism, against the Catharists and the Albigenses, against Jansenism and every kind of fanaticism. This was done by the same Church which, in the face of Pelagius and Celestius, of Jovinian and Helvidius, and of the immoderate exaltation of nature, powerfully affirmed the existence of grace and of the supernatural order, and asserted that the Christian must overcome nature.

The lack of fruitful and lofty culture causes spiritual life to grow numbed and narrow; the lack of the subsoil of healthy nature makes it develop on mawkish, perverted, and unfruitful lines. If the cultural element of prayer declines, the ideas become impoverished, the language coarse, the imagery clumsy and monotonous; in the same way, when the lifeblood of nature no longer flows vigorously in its veins, the ideas become empty and tedious, the emotion paltry and artificial, and the imagery lifeless and insipid.

Both — the lack of natural vigor and the lack of lofty culture — together constitute what we call barbarism, i.e., the exact contradiction of that scientia vocis which is revealed in liturgical prayer and is reverenced by the liturgy itself as the sublime prerogative of the holy Creative Principle. [The above remarks must not be misunderstood. Certainly the grace of God is self-sufficient, neither nature nor the work of man is necessary in order that a soul may be sanctified. God "can awaken of these stones children to Abraham." But as a vile He wishes that everything which belongs to man in the way of good, lofty, natural and cultural possessions shall be placed at the disposal of religion and so serve the Kingdom of God. He has interconnected the natural and the supernatural order, and has given natural things a place in the scheme of I-us supernatural designs. It is the duty of his representative on earth, ecclesiastical authority, to decide how and to what extent these natural means of attaining the supernatural goal are to be utilized.]

Prayer must be simple, wholesome, and powerful. It must be closely related to actuality and not afraid to call things by their names. In prayer we must find our entire life over again. On the other hand, it must be rich in ideas and powerful images, and speak a developed but restrained language; its construction must be clear and obvious to the simple than, stimulating and refreshing to the man of culture. It must be intimately blended with an erudition which is in nowise obtrusive, but which is rooted in breadth of spiritual outlook and in inward restraint of thought, volition, and emotion.

And that is precisely the way in which the prayer of the liturgy has been formed.

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The Prayer Of The Liturgy 2 – Fr. Romano Guardini

March 27, 2014

 

When we pray with the Church, we pray as part of the mystical body of Christ who is our priestly advocate to the Father. Liturgy (the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours) is the worship of the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. It is the means by which we enter into a profound relationship with God and enter directly into the dynamic mystery of love of the three persons of the Trinity. In doing so we become divine, yes divine. This is the source of power and effectiveness, and joy. This union with God is why God created us, and God became man to allow this to happen: ‘The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature“: ”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” ”For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” ”The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460, quoting 2 Peter 1:4; St. Irenaeus in the second century AD; and St Athanasius in the 4th century AD; and John 1:14)

When we pray with the Church, we pray as part of the mystical body of Christ who is our priestly advocate to the Father. Liturgy (the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours) is the worship of the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. It is the means by which we enter into a profound relationship with God and enter directly into the dynamic mystery of love of the three persons of the Trinity. In doing so we become divine, yes divine. This is the source of power and effectiveness, and joy. This union with God is why God created us, and God became man to allow this to happen: ‘The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature“: ”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” ”For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” ”The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460, quoting 2 Peter 1:4; St. Irenaeus in the second century AD; and St Athanasius in the 4th century AD; and John 1:14)

Romano Guardini (17 February 1885, Verona – 1 October 1968, Munich) was a Catholic priest, author, and academic. He was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century.

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Only thought is universally current and consistent, and, as long as it is really thought, remains suited, to a certain degree, to every intelligence. If prayer in common, therefore, is to prove beneficial to the majority, it must be primarily directed by thought, and not by feeling. It is only when prayer is sustained by and steeped in clear and fruitful religious thought, that it can be of service to a corporate body, composed of distinct elements, all actuated by varying emotions.

We have seen that thought alone can keep spiritual life sound and healthy. In the same way, prayer is beneficial only when it rests on the bedrock of truth. This is not meant in the purely negative sense that it must be free from error; in addition to this, it must spring from the fullness of truth. It is only truth — or dogma, to give it its other name — which can make prayer efficacious, and impregnate it with that austere, protective strength without which it degenerates into weakness.

If this is true of private prayer, it is doubly so of popular devotion, which in many directions verges on sentimentality. [A proof of this is to be found in the often sugary productions of sacred art -- holy pictures, statues, etc. -- which appeal to the people. The people are susceptible to powerful art when it is national; the Middle Ages are a witness to this, and certain aspects of modern art. But the danger of lapsing into mere insipidity is very great. The same thing applies to popular songs, and holds good in other directions as well.] Dogmatic thought brings release from the thralldom of individual caprice, and from the uncertainty and sluggishness which follow in the wake of emotion. It makes prayer intelligible, and causes it to rank as a potent factor in life.

If, however, religious thought is to do justice to its mission, it must introduce into prayer truth in all its fullness.

Various individual truths of Revelation hold a special attraction for the temperaments and conditions to which they correspond. It is easy to see that certain people have a pronounced predilection for certain mysteries of faith. This is shown in the case of converts, for instance, by the religious ideas which first arrested their attention at their entry into the Church, or which decided them on the step they were taking, and in other cases by the truths which at the approach of doubt form the mainstay and buttress of the whole house of faith.

In the same way doubt does not charge at random, but attacks for the most part those mysteries of faith which appeal least to the temperament of the people concerned.[This does not mean that these truths are merely a mental indication of the existing spiritual condition of the person concerned. It is rather a proof of the saying, "grace takes nature for granted." Revelation finds in a man's natural turn of mind the necessary spiritual premises by which the truths, which are of themselves mysteries, can be more easily grasped and adhered to.]

If a prayer therefore stresses any one mystery of faith in an exclusive or an excessive manner, in the end it will adequatelysatisfy none but those who are of a corresponding temperament and even the latter will eventually become conscious of their need of truth in its entirety. For instance, if a prayer deals exclusively with God’s mercy, it will not ultimately satisfy even a delicate and tender piety, because this truth calls for its complement — the fact of God’s justice and majesty. In any form of prayer, therefore, which is intended for the ultimate use of a corporate body, the whole fullness of religious truth must be included.

Here, too, the liturgy is our teacher. It condenses into prayer the entire body of religious truth. Indeed, it is nothing else but truth expressed in terms of prayer. For it is the great fundamental truths [It is a further proof of Pius X's perspicacity that he made universally accessible precisely those portions of the liturgy -- Sundays, the weekly office, and especially the daily Masses of Lent -- which stress the great fundamental mysteries of faith.] which above all fill the liturgy — God in His mighty reality, perfection, and greatness, One, and Three in One; His creation, providence, and omnipresence; sin, justification, and the desire of salvation; the Redeemer and His kingdom; the four last things. It is only such an overwhelming abundance of truth which can never pall, but continue to be, day after day, all things to all men, ever fresh and inexhaustible.

In the end, therefore, prayer in common will be fruitful only in so far as it does not concentrate markedly, or at any rate exclusively, on particular portions of revealed truth, but embraces, as far as possible, the whole of Divine teaching. This is especially important where the people are concerned, because they easily tend to develop a partiality for particular mysteries of faith which for some reason have become dear to them.

On the other hand, it is obvious that prayer must not be overladen and as a result form a mere hotchpotch of ill-assorted thoughts and ideas — a thing which sometimes does occur. Yet without the element of spaciousness, spiritual life droops and becomes narrow and petty. “The truth shall make you free” — free not only from the thralldom of error, but free as a preparation for the vastness of God’s kingdom.

While the necessity of thought is emphasized, it must not be allowed to degenerate into the mere frigid domination of reason. Devotional forms on the contrary should be permeated by warmth of feeling.

On this point as well the liturgy has many recommendations to make. The ideas which fill it are vital: that is to say, they spring from the impulses of the heart which has been molded by grace, and must again in their turn affect other eager and ardent hearts. The Church’s worship is full of deep feeling, of emotion that is intense, and sometimes even vehement.

Take the Psalms, for instance — how deeply moving they often are! Listen to the expression of longing in the Quemadmodum, of remorse in the Miserere, of exultation in the Psalms of praise, and of indignant righteousness in those denouncing the wicked. Or consider the remarkable spiritual tension which lies between the mourning of Good Friday and the joy of Easter morning.

Liturgical emotion is, however, exceedingly instructive. It has its moments of supreme climax, in which all bounds are broken, as, for instance, in the limitless rejoicing of the Exultet on Holy Saturday. But as a rule it is controlled and subdued. The heart speaks powerfully, but thought at once takes the lead; the forms of prayer are elaborately constructed, the constituent parts carefully counterbalanced; and as a rule they deliberately keep emotion under strict control. In this way, in spite of the deep feeling to be found in, say, the Psalms (to instance them once more), a sense of restraint pervades liturgical form.

The liturgy as a whole is not favorable to exuberance of feeling. Emotion glows in its depths, but it smolders merely, like the fiery heart of the volcano, whose summit stands out clear and serene against the quiet sky. The liturgy is emotion, but it is emotion under the strictest control. We are made particularly aware of this at Holy Mass, and it applies equally to the prayers of the Ordinary and of the Canon, and to those of the Proper of the Time. Among them are to be found masterpieces of spiritual restraint.

The restraint characteristic of the liturgy is at times very pronounced — so much so as to make this form of prayer appear at first as a frigid intellectual production, until we gradually grow familiar with it and realize what vitality pulsates in the clear, measured forms.

And how necessary this discipline is! At certain moments and on certain occasions it is permissible for emotion to have a vent. But a prayer which is intended for the everyday use of a large body of people must be restrained. If, therefore, it has uncontrolled and unbalanced emotion for a foundation, it is doubly dangerous. It will operate in one of two ways.

Either the people who use it will take it seriously, and probably will then feel obliged to force themselves into acquiescence with an emotion that they have never, generally speaking, experienced, or which, at any rate, they are not experiencing at that particular moment, thus perverting and degrading their religious feeling. Or else indifference, if they are of a phlegmatic temperament, will come to their aid; they then take the phrases at less than their face value, and consequently the word is depreciated.

Written prayer is certainly intended as a means of instruction and of promoting an increased sensibility. But its remoteness from the average emotional attitude must not be allowed to become too great. If prayer is ultimately to be fruitful and beneficial to a corporate body, it must be intense and profound, but at the same time normally tranquil in tone. The wonderful verses of the hymn — hardly translatable, so full are they of penetrating insight — may be quoted in this connection:

Laeti bibamus sobriarn
Ebrietatem Spiritus
…,

[From the Benedictine Breviary, Lauds (i.e., the prayer at daybreak) of Tuesday. (Literally, "Let us joyfully taste of the sober drunkenness of the Spirit.")]

Certainly we must not try to measure off the lawful share of emotion with a foot-rule; but where a plain and straightforward expression suffices we must not aggrandize nor embellish it; and a simple method of speech is always to be preferred to an overloaded one.

Again, the liturgy has many suggestions to make on the quality of the emotion required for the particular form of prayer under discussion, which is ultimately to prove universally beneficial. It must not be too choice in expression, nor spring from special sections of dogma, but clearly express the great fundamental feelings, both natural and spiritual, as do the Psalms, for instance, where we find the utterance of adoration, longing for God, gratitude, supplication, awe, remorse, love, readiness for sacrifice, courage in suffering, faith, confidence, and so on. The emotion must not be too acutely penetrating, too tender, or too delicate, but strong, clear, simple and natural.

Then the liturgy is wonderfully reserved. It scarcely expresses, even, certain aspects of spiritual surrender and submission, or else it veils them in such rich imagery that the soul still feels that it is hidden and secure. The prayer of the Church does not probe and lay bare the heart’s secrets; it is as restrained in thought as in imagery; it does, it is true, awaken very profound and very tender emotions and impulses, but it leaves them hidden.

There are certain feelings of surrender, certain aspects of interior candor which cannot be publicly proclaimed, at any rate in their entirety, without danger to spiritual modesty. The liturgy has perfected a masterly instrument which has made it possible for us to express our inner life in all its fullness and depth, without divulging our secrets secretum meum mihi. We can pour out our hearts, and still feel that nothing has been dragged to light that should remain hidden.

[The liturgy here accomplishes on the spiritual plane what has been done on the temporal by the dignified forms of social intercourse, the outcome of the tradition created and handed down by sensitive people. This makes communal life possible for the individual, and yet insures him against unauthorized interference with his inner self; he can be cordial without sacrificing his spiritual independence, he is in communication with his neighbor without on that account being swallowed up and lost among the crowd. In the same way the liturgy preserves freedom of spiritual movement for the soul by means of a wonderful union of spontaneity and the finest erudition. It extols urbanitas as the best antidote to barbarism, which triumphs when spontaneity and culture alike are no more.]

This is equally true of the system of moral conduct which is to be found in prayer.

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The Prayer Of The Liturgy 1 – Fr. Romano Guardini

March 26, 2014
The Liturgy (the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours) is not just powerful and effective. It is the most powerful and effective action of the Church on our behalf. Christ participated in it historically; and continues to do so eternally in heaven and on earth and we participate in His prayer through his mystical body, the Church.

The Liturgy (the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours) is not just powerful and effective. It is the most powerful and effective action of the Church on our behalf. Christ participated in it historically; and continues to do so eternally in heaven and on earth and we participate in His prayer through his mystical body, the Church.

Romano Guardini (17 February 1885, Verona – 1 October 1968, Munich) was a Catholic priest, author, and academic. He was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century.
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An old theological proverb says, “Nothing done by nature and grace is done in vain.” Nature and grace obey their own laws, which are based upon certain established hypotheses. Both the natural and the supernatural life of the soul, when lived in accordance with these principles, remain healthy, develop, and are enriched. In isolated cases the rules may be waived without any danger, when such a course is required or excused by reason of a spiritual disturbance, imperative necessity, extraordinary occasion, important end in view, or the like. In the end, however, this cannot be done with impunity. Just as the life of the body droops and is stunted when the conditions of its growth are not observed, so it is with spiritual and religious life — it sickens, losing its vigor, strength and unity.

This is even more true where the regular spiritual life of a corporate body is concerned. Exceptions play a far greater part, after all, in the life of the individual than in that of the group. As soon as a group is in question, concern is immediately aroused with regard to the regulation of those practices and prayers which will constitute the permanent form of its devotion in common; and then the crucial question arises whether the fundamental laws which govern normal interior life — in the natural as in the supernatural order — are in this case to have currency or not.

For it is no longer a question of the correct attitude to be adopted, from the spiritual point of view, towards the adjustment of some temporary require-mentor need, but of the form to be taken by the permanent legislation which will henceforth exercise an enduring influence upon the soul. This is not intended to regulate entirely independent cases, each on its own merits, but to take into account the average requirements and demands of everyday life. It is not to serve as a model for the spiritual life of the individual, but for that of a corporate body, composed of the most distinct and varied elements.

From this it follows that any defect in its organization will inevitably become both apparent and obtrusive. It is true that at first every mistake will be completely overshadowed by the particular circumstances — the emergency or disturbance — which justified the adoption of that particular line of conduct. But in proportion as the extraordinary symptoms subside, and the normal existence of the soul is resumed, the more forcibly every interior mistake is bound to come to light, sowing destruction on all sides in its course.

The fundamental conditions essential to the full expansion of spiritual life as it is lived in common are most clearly discernible in the devotional life of any great community which has spread its development over a long period of time. Its scheme of life has by then matured and developed its full value. In a corporate body — composed of people of highly varied circumstances, drawn from distinct social strata, perhaps even from different races, in the course of different historical and cultural periods — the ephemeral, adventitious, and locally characteristic elements are, to a certain extent, eliminated, and that which is universally accepted as binding and essential comes to the fore. In other words, the canon of spiritual administration becomes, in the course of time, objective and impartial.

The Catholic liturgy is the supreme example of an objectively established rule of spiritual life. It has been able to develop kata ton holon, that is to say, in every direction, and in accordance with all places, times, and types of human culture. Therefore it will be the best teacher of the via ordinaria — the regulation of religious life in common, with, at the same time, a view to actual needs and requirements.

[It is not by chance that "the religious Pope" so resolutely took in hand the revision of the liturgy. The internal revival of the Catholic community will not make progress until the liturgy again occupies its rightful position in Catholic life. And the Eucharistic movement can only effectually distribute its blessings when it is in close touch with the liturgy. It was the Pope who issued the Communion Decrees who also said, "You must not pray at Mass, you must say Mass!"

Only when the Blessed Sacrament is understood from the point of view of the liturgy can It take that active share in the religious regeneration of the world which Pius X expected of It. (In the same way the frill active and moral power of the Blessed Sacrament is only free to operate unchecked when Its connection with the problems and tasks of public and family life, and with those of Christian charity and of vocational occupations, is fully comprehended.)]

The significance of the liturgy must, however, be more exactly defined. Our first task will be to establish the quality of its relation to the non-liturgical forms of spiritual life.

The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of the individual’s reverence and worship for God. It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such. Nor does the onus of liturgical action and prayer rest with the individual. It does not even rest with the collective groups, composed of numerous individuals, who periodically achieve a limited and intermittent unity in their capacity as the congregation of a church. The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful as such — the Church — a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.

The liturgy is the Church’s public and lawful act of worship, and it is performed and conducted by the officials whom the Church herself has designated for the post — her priests. In the liturgy God is to be honored by the body of the faithful, and the latter is in its turn to derive sanctification from this act of worship.

It is important that this objective nature of the liturgy should be fully understood. Here the Catholic conception of worship in common sharply differs from the Protestant, which is predominantly individualistic. The fact that the individual Catholic, by his absorption into the higher unity, finds liberty and discipline, originates in the twofold nature of man, who is both social and solitary.

Now, side by side with the strictly ritual and entirely objective forms of devotion, others exist, in which the personal element is more strongly marked. To this type belong those which are known as “popular devotions,” such as afternoon prayers accompanied by hymns, devotions suited to varying periods, localities, or requirements, and so on. They bear the stamp of their time and surroundings, and are the direct expression of the characteristic quality or temper of an individual congregation.

Although in comparison with the prayer of the individual, which is expressive of purely personal needs and aspirations, popular devotions are both communal and objective, they are to a far greater degree characteristic of their origin than is the liturgy, the entirely objective and impersonal method of prayer practiced by the Church as a whole. This is the reason for the greater stress laid by popular devotion upon the individual need of edification. Hence the rules and forms of liturgical practice cannot be taken, without more ado, as the authoritative and decisive standard for non-liturgical prayer.

The claim that the liturgy should be taken as the exclusive pattern of devotional practice in common can never be upheld. To do so would be to confess complete ignorance of the spiritual requirements of the greater part of the faithful. The forms of popular piety should rather continue to exist side by side with those of the liturgy, and should constitute themselves according to the varying requirements of historical, social, and local conditions. There could be no greater mistake than that of discarding the valuable elements in the spiritual life of the people for the sake of the liturgy, or than the desire of assimilating them to it.

But in spite of the fact that the liturgy and popular devotion have each their own special premises and aims, still it is to liturgical worship that preeminence of right belongs. The liturgy is and will be the lex orandi. Non-liturgical prayer must take the liturgy for its model, and must renew itself in the liturgy, if it is to retain its vitality. It cannot precisely be said that as dogma is to private religious opinion, so is the liturgy to popular devotion; but the connection between the latter does to certain degree correspond with that special relation, characteristic of the former, which exists between the government and the governed.

All other forms of devotional practice can always measure their shortcomings by the standard of the liturgy, and with its help find the surest way back to the via ordinaria when they have strayed from it. The changing demands of time, place, and special circumstance can express themselves in popular devotion; facing the latter stands the liturgy, from which clearly issue the fundament, laws — eternally and universally unchanging — which govern a genuine and healthy piety.

In the following pages an attempt will be made to select from the liturgy and to analyze several of these laws. But it is an attempt pure and simple, which professes to be neither exhaustive nor con elusive.

The first and most important lesson which the liturgy has to teach is that the prayer of a corporate body must be sustained by thought. The prayers of the liturgy are entirely governed by any interwoven with dogma. Those who are unfamiliar with liturgical prayer often regard them as theological formula, artistic and didactic, until on closer acquaintance they suddenly perceive any admit that the clear-cut, lucidly constructed phrases are full of interior enlightenment.

To give an outstanding example, the wonderful Collects of the Masses of Sunday may be quoted. Wherever the stream of prayer wells abundantly upwards, it is always guide into safe channels by means of plain and lucid thought. Intersperse) among the pages of the Missal and the Breviary are readings from Holy Scripture and from the works of the Fathers, which continually stimulate thought.

Often these readings are introduced and concluded by short prayers of a characteristically contemplative and reflective nature — the antiphons — during which that which has been heard or read has time to cease echoing and to sink into the mind. The liturgy, the lex orandi, is, according to the old proverb the law of faith — the lex credendi — as well. It is the treasure-house of the thought of Revelation.

This is not, of course, an attempt to deny that the heart and the emotions play an important part in the life of prayer. Prayer is, without a doubt, “a raising of the heart to God.” But the heart must be guided, supported, and purified by the mind. In individual cases or on definite and explicit occasions it may be possible to persist in, and to derive benefit from, emotion pure and simple, either spontaneous or occasioned by a fortunate chance.

But a regular and recurrent form of devotion lights upon the most varied moods, because no one day resembles another. If the content of these devotional forms is of a predominantly emotional character, it will bear the stamp of its fortuitous origin, since the feeling engendered by solitary spiritual occurrences flows for the most part into special and particular channels.

Such a prayer therefore will always be unsuitable if it does not harmonize, to a certain degree at least, with the disposition of the person who is to offer it. Unless this condition is complied with, either it is useless or it may even mar the sentiment experienced. The same thing occurs when a form of prayer intended for a particular purpose is considered to be adapted to the most varied occasions.

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Learning to Pray – Fr. Romano Guardini

March 13, 2014
The word Abba itself goes back to Gethsemane and the prayer life of Jesus that reached its climax there

The word Abba itself goes back to Gethsemane and the prayer life of Jesus that reached its climax there

Recollectedness Is The Beginning Of Prayer
Prayer must begin with recollectedness, but it is not easy. How little of it we normally possess becomes painfully clear as soon as we make the first attempt. When we try to compose ourselves, unrest doubles in intensity, not unlike the manner in which at night, when we try to sleep, cares or desires assail us with a force they lack during the day. When we want to be truly present we feel how powerful are the voices trying to call us away.

As soon as we try to be unified and to obtain mastery over ourselves, we experience the full impact and meaning of distraction. And when we try to be awake and receptive to the holy object, we are seized by an inertness which lowers our spirit. All this is inevitable; we must endure it and persevere; otherwise we shall never learn to pray.

Everything depends on this state of recollectedness. No effort to obtain it is ever wasted. And even if the whole duration of our prayer should be applied to this end only, the time thus used would have been well employed. For recollectedness itself is prayer. In times of distress, illness, or great exhaustion, it can be most beneficial to content oneself with such a prayer of recollectedness. It will calm, fortify, and help.

Finally, if at first we achieve no more than the understanding of how much we lack in inner unity, something will have been gained, for in some way we would have made contact with that center which knows no distraction.

The Spiritual Realm Of Prayer
Recollectedness opens the door to prayer, reveals its inner “space.” The term is not used here in the literal sense, for this space has no extension; it is neither within nor without. It is a realm of the spirit. But again it is not that realm of the spirit where the images of thought and the intentions of the will dwell, but the realm of the Holy Spirit. It comes into existence only in communion with God. We might liken it to the common ground on which people find themselves who have established a close mutual relationship. It emerges and it disappears in accordance with the esteem, reverence, or love which the two people feel for each other and is as wide or deep as are their feelings. That God has revealed Himself to us, dwells among us, gives us His love, and that we are able to stand before Him in our faith — this constitutes the holy place or ground.

God Summons Us To Recollectedness
One might perhaps say that recollectedness itself in due course brings about the spiritual condition, the holy ground which, in turn, enables man to say, “God is here.” This is the sequence of events as it appears to our limited perception. But in fact, the attainment of recollectedness, the creation of the necessary spiritual condition, the presence of God and man’s communion with Him, form one simultaneous whole. Indeed, man can recollect himself only because God turns to him. The very words “Here I am” could not be uttered by him if God were not present to summon him and indicate the holy ground to him.

God Enables Us To Discover Our Own Deepest Selves
It is God who by His presence creates the holy ground which man discovers by recollecting himself and where, having done so, he stands. God shows man the place where he really belongs, where he will find himself and his true world; where the call can reach him and where he must answer it. Recollectedness, therefore, is the condition which enables man to say, “God is here, the Living, the Holy, of whom Revelation speaks, and here also am I.”

But not the vague I of everyday life, that confused something which sits down at table, walks through the streets of the town, works at the office, but the real I — the self. This is the I which makes me responsible for my existence, that I — humble and poor though he may be — which is unique and irreplaceable and which God had in mind when He created me and to which the words “God and my soul and nothing else in the world” apply. That I awakens only before God.

In the presence of God awakens that with which He has endowed man so that man may respond to Him: spiritual consciousness. Man does not live by the use of his conscious faculties alone; his many and varied needs and aspirations can be satisfied only by drawing on sources lying much deeper in his being. The answer to a routine problem or anxiety over a professional difficulty, the feeling engendered by a great work of art or the devotion to a beloved person — all these reactions rise from equally varied depths which lie close to our essential being.

These sources, however, cannot be tapped at will. Each one will respond only to the need or the object appropriate to it. Many of us do not know what dwells in us and of what we are capable until the right call reaches us. This same condition may be said to apply to spiritual consciousness, which answers to the call of the mystery behind the appearance of things and to the hidden meaning of events; to that which, although in the world, is not of the world — namely, the continuous self-revelation of God.

Awakened by His touch, guided by His call, spiritual consciousness seeks Him: this is religion. But it remains unsure, confused, full of errors until God speaks explicitly, first through His messengers and then through His Son, Jesus Christ. If man puts his trust in this message, he reaches God. This happens in rightly informed prayer. This is the holy encounter. In it awakens not only the religious consciousness but a new and higher consciousness, which we might call the spiritual heart of the child of God.

God Reveals Himself To Us In Prayer
On this holy ground the reality of God becomes manifest. It may happen that man experiences it suddenly and is overcome by its grandeur and flooded by its proximity. If this happens, he knows that he is receiving the great and intimate mystery of prayer. He must receive it with reverence and guard it well. But such an event is rare indeed and more often than not nothing happens. The God of whom the worshipper had said “He is here” remains silent and hidden. Then the prayer, supported by faith alone, must go out into this silent darkness and maintain itself there.

God’s Being Differs From Our Being
In recollectedness the worshipper says, “God is here and here also am I.” In saying this, he becomes aware of an important distinction. He realizes that in the two sentences “God is here” and “Here act I” the verb to be has different meanings. Differences of meaning also attach to it in ordinary life. If someone asks, “What is in this room?” and I answer, “In the center stands a table, on the windowsill is a rose, on the carpet lies a dog, before me sits my friend,” then I have said of all these various things and living beings that they are in the room.

But they are not there in the same manner. The plant which lives and grows is more than and is different from the table; the dog who knows me and answers my call also is, but he is more so than the plant, and in a different way. But man also is — differently and more intensely, being endowed with freedom and dignity and able to reason and to love. And different men possess, to varying degrees, the power and the manner of being.

Someone enters the room and is there, but he is there only in the sense that one has to take notice of his physical presence and position in space. Another one, however, is there to a degree which demands that we pay attention to what he says. A third will, by his mere presence, become the center of interest. From this, what has been said about the different meanings of the verb to be becomes clear. God is, as nobody and nothing is. He is from Himself and by reason of Himself. Thus He alone has substance; He alone verily is. The Scriptures express that He is the Lord. He does not become the Lord by virtue of His power over things; He is Lord of His very nature — the absolute Being.

I, however, am not from myself and by reason of myself. I am through Him: not being, but existing by His grace; not absolute, but contingent. Between my way of being and His, the coordinating conjunction and has no place. The sentence “God and I are” is devoid of meaning. Were I to maintain it in all seriousness, I would be blaspheming.

My being stands in an entirely different relationship to God than does the being of a creature to that of his fellow. I am only before Him and through Him. [Romans 11:36; Ephesians 4:6] In a state of true recollectedness, one experiences this truth. One will have learnt something very important when one knows that one is before God, and in reality only before Him. It is something very great; it can become frightening and at the same time joyous, and we shall see that on this realization rests one of the fundamental acts of prayer, that is, adoration.

Prayer Brings Us To Know The Face Of God
Who, then, is this God, toward whom man may, in a proper state of recollectedness, direct his thoughts — direct them because He Himself enables man to do so? He is not only the all-embracing ineffable, the mystery of existence, the ground of the world, or whatever term one may use to designate that which cannot be named. All these are attributes of God, but it is merely the breath of God, the vibration with which He penetrates the universe. God Himself is more: not merely meaning or idea, but reality; not only the depth, structure, center, width of the universe, but Being pure and absolute; not mere potentiality, but Himself.

The beginning and end of all Revelation is contained in that made to Moses on Mount Horeb when God revealed Himself and Moses said: “I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them: `The God of your fathers hath sent me to you.’ If they should say to me: `What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses: “I Am Who Am.” He said: “Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: `He Who Is hath sent me to you.’ [Exodus 3:13-14.] 

In this solemn moment God dispenses with all such attributes as the mighty, the just, the merciful and calls Himself as He is, in Himself responsible to Himself alone, free — the God who is. It is this being in His own right that is His essence.

God is Himself Person — not only the most powerful, exalted, purest person, but the Person in itself. When we spoke of the reality of God we said that it was of a kind which precluded finite reality from being mentioned in the same context. God is, but man is only through Him and before Him. Here we say that God is the essential person, but man becomes person only when God calls him.

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A Universal Prayer – Pope Clement XI

February 21, 2013
Praying hands also known as Study of the Hands of an Apostle, is a famous Pen-and-ink drawing by the German printmaker, painter and theorist Albrecht Dürer made circa 1508. The artwork is stored at Albertina museum  --  Graphische Sammlung in Vienna, Austria. Dürer used white heightening technique and black ink on (self-made) blue colored paper. The drawing shows two male hands palm to palm praying, the body to the right (not seen). Also, the partly up-folded sleeves of the prayer are seen. The drawing is a sketch (study) for an apostles' hand who was planned to be in the center panel of the triptych for the Heller altar. On the same paper is a sketch of the apostle's head, but the sheet has been divided from it. Overall, Dürer made 18 sketches for the altarpiece. Dürer painted the Heller altarpiece, a triptych, between 1507 and 1509 together with Matthias Grünewald. The artwork was named after Jakob Heller who ordered it. Dürer painted the interior, Grünewald the exterior.The hand sketch is realized on the triptych in the inside center panel on the right in similarity, although in smaller size. The painting was destroyed by a fire in 1729. The famous Dürer copyist Jobst Harrich painted a duplicate in the 17th century. The central panel is also called große Taffel von unser lieben Frauen Himmelfahrt mit den zwölf Aposteln. The first public recognition of the artwork was in 1871 when it was exhibited in Vienna. The image depicts probably the master's own hands.

Praying hands also known as Study of the Hands of an Apostle, is a famous Pen-and-ink drawing by the German printmaker, painter and theorist Albrecht Dürer made circa 1508. The artwork is stored at Albertina museum — Graphische Sammlung in Vienna, Austria. Dürer used white heightening technique and black ink on (self-made) blue colored paper. The drawing shows two male hands palm to palm praying, the body to the right (not seen). Also, the partly up-folded sleeves of the prayer are seen. The drawing is a sketch (study) for an apostles’ hand who was planned to be in the center panel of the triptych for the Heller altar. On the same paper is a sketch of the apostle’s head, but the sheet has been divided from it. Overall, Dürer made 18 sketches for the altarpiece. Dürer painted the Heller altarpiece, a triptych, between 1507 and 1509 together with Matthias Grünewald. The artwork was named after Jakob Heller who ordered it. Dürer painted the interior, Grünewald the exterior.The hand sketch is realized on the triptych in the inside center panel on the right in similarity, although in smaller size. The painting was destroyed by a fire in 1729. The famous Dürer copyist Jobst Harrich painted a duplicate in the 17th century. The central panel is also called große Taffel von unser lieben Frauen Himmelfahrt mit den zwölf Aposteln. The first public recognition of the artwork was in 1871 when it was exhibited in Vienna. The image depicts probably the master’s own hands.

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith.
I trust in you: strengthen my trust.
I love you: let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.

I worship you as my first beginning,
I long for you as my last end,
I praise you as my constant helper,
And call on you as my loving protector.

Guide me by your wisdom,
Correct me with your justice,
Comfort me with your mercy,
Protect me with your power.

I offer you, Lord, my thoughts: to be fixed on you;
My words: to have you for their theme;
My actions: to reflect my love for you;
My sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.

I want to do what you ask of me:
In the way you ask,
For as long as you ask,
Because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding,
Strengthen my will,
Purify my heart,
and make me holy.

Help me to repent of my past sins
And to resist temptation in the future.
Help me to rise above my human weaknesses
And to grow stronger as a Christian.

Let me love you, my Lord and my God,
And see myself as I really am:
A pilgrim in this world,
A Christian called to respect and love
All whose lives I touch,
Those under my authority,
My friends and my enemies.

Help me to conquer anger with gentleness,
Greed by generosity,
Apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself
And reach out toward others.

Make me prudent in planning,
Courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer,
Temperate in food and drink,
Diligent in my work,
Firm in my good intentions.

Let my conscience be clear,
My conduct without fault,
My speech blameless,
My life well-ordered.

Put me on guard against my human weaknesses.
Let me cherish your love for me,
Keep your law,
And come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing,
That my true future is the happiness of heaven,
That life on earth is short,
And the life to come eternal.

Help me to prepare for death
With a proper fear of judgment,
But a greater trust in your goodness.
Lead me safely through death
To the endless joy of heaven.

Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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The Philokalia On Prayer 2 – Various

February 8, 2013
The Early Church Fathers of the Western Christian Tradition are widely known, but the Early Desert Fathers of the Orthodox Church (The Writers of the Philokalia) are not as widely known or understood. What makes them unique is their unusual asceticism. Most of them became hermits and lived in the caves of Egypt to uncover the deepest secrets of the inner soul of man. It was in this profound aloneness and heightened dispassion, that these Early Desert Fathers found God. And it was in this utter silence, that they expounded the deep truths which they discovered and wrote down for generations to come. ‘Writers of the Philokalia’ seeks to simplify the four to six volume collection of the Philokalia by introducing the lives and teachings of these Desert Fathers in an Overview fashion.

The Early Church Fathers of the Western Christian Tradition are widely known, but the Early Desert Fathers of the Orthodox Church (The Writers of the Philokalia) are not as widely known or understood. What makes them unique is their unusual asceticism. Most of them became hermits and lived in the caves of Egypt to uncover the deepest secrets of the inner soul of man. It was in this profound aloneness and heightened dispassion, that these Early Desert Fathers found God. And it was in this utter silence, that they expounded the deep truths which they discovered and wrote down for generations to come.

Prayer, like faith itself, is a gift from God. But we must actively accept the gift through our participation.

The Fathers define prayer as a spiritual weapon. Unless we are armed with it, we cannot engage in warfare, but are carried off as prisoners to the enemy’s country. Nor can we acquire pure prayer unless we cleave to God with an upright heart. For it is God who gives prayer to him who prays and who teaches man spiritual knowledge.
St. Theodoros The Great Ascetic, A Century Of Spiritual Texts, Sec. 8

Especially important is pure prayer — prayer that is unceasing and uninterrupted. Such prayer is a safe fortress, a sheltered harbor, a protector of virtues, a destroyer of passions. It brings vigor to the soul, purifies the intellect, gives rest to those who suffer, consoles those who mourn. Prayer is converse with God, contemplation of the invisible, the angelic mode of life, a stimulus toward the Divine, the assurance of things longed for, “making real the things for which we hope” Hebrews 11:1). As an ascetic you must embrace this queen of the virtues with all your strength. Pray day and night. Pray at times of dejection and at times of exhilaration. Pray with fear and trembling, With a watchful and vigilant mind, so that prayer may be accepted by the Lord. For, as the psalmist says: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer” (Psalm 34:15).
St. Theodoros The Great Ascetic, A Century Of Spiritual Texts, Sec. 60

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The monastic tradition emphasizes the importance of rising early to praise God.

Whatever a man loves, he desires at all costs to be near to continuously and uninterruptedly, and he turns himself away from everything that hinders him from being in contact and dwelling with the object of his love. It is clear therefore that he who loves God also desires always to be with him and to converse with him. This comes to pass in us through pure prayer. Accordingly, let us apply ourselves to prayer with all our power; for it enables us to become akin to God. Such a man was he who said: “O God, my God, I cry to Thee at dawn; my soul has thirsted for Thee” (Psalm 63:1, LXX). For the man who cries to God at dawn has withdrawn his intellect from every vice and clearly is wounded by divine love.
St. Theodoros The Great Ascetic A Century Of Spiritual Texts, Sec. 94

Prayer gives thanks for blessings received and asks for failures to be forgiven and for power to strengthen us for the future; for without God’s help the soul can indeed do nothing. Nonetheless, to persuade the will to have the strongest possible desire for union with and enjoyment of God, for whom it longs, and to direct itself totally toward him, is the major part of the achievement of our aim.
St. Theodoros The Great Ascetic, Theoretikon

Almsgiving heals the soul’s incensive power, fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for the contemplation of created things. For the Lord has given us commandments that correspond to the powers of the soul.
St. Maximos The Confessor, First Century On Love, Sec. 79

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In the West, there is a strong tradition of prayer using images (kataphatic prayer), as well as imageless (apophatic) prayer. In the East, however, and especially in the Athonite (that is, having to do with Mount Athos) spirituality contained in the Philokalia, the use of images in prayer is strongly discouraged.

When during prayer no conceptual image of anything worldly disturbs intellect, then know that you are within the realm of depression.
St. Maximos The Confessor, First Century On Love, Sec. 88

He who truly loves God prays entirely without distraction, and he who prays entirely without distraction loves God truly. But he whose intellect  is fixed on any worldly thing does not pray without distraction, and consequently he does not love God.
St. Maximos The Confessor, Second Century On Love, Sec 1

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Christ becomes king over man’s soul through man’s frequent prayer and the outpouring of his self. He becomes the true center of its being and movements. At that stage, man will never find rest in anything except in Christ alone, where the image would rest in its own likeness. Since the soul has been created for immortality, it will thus find in Christ, when it unites with him, its ultimate joy. Through his existence, he consummates its own existence and immortality.
Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life: The Inner Way

Two states of pure prayer are exalted above all others. One is to be those who have not advanced beyond the practice of the virtues, the other in those leading the contemplative life. The first is engendered in the soul by fear of God and a firm hope in him, the second by an intense longing for God and by total purification. The sign of the first is that the intellect, abandoning all conceptual images of the world, concentrates itself and prays without distraction or disturbance as if God himself were present, as indeed he is. The sign of the second is that at the very onset of prayer the intellect is so ravished by the divine and infinite light that it is aware neither of itself nor of any other created thing, but only of him who through love has such radiance in it. It is then that, being made aware of God’s qualities, it receives clear and distinct reflections of him.
St. Maximos The Confessor, Second Century On Love, Sec. 6

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Imageless prayer is seen as superior to the use of images in prayer, and as necessary to unceasing prayer.

It is said that the highest state of prayer is reached when the intellect and the flesh and the world, and while praying is utterly free from matter and form. He who maintains this state has truly attained unceasing prayer.
St. Maximos The Confessor,  Second Century On Love, Sec. 6

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Enmity is considered not only alien to the life of prayer, but as an enemy of prayer. Here Maximos exhorts us to accept an apology (if made), or to assume that we are at fault. The point is not to establish who is right, but to be forgiving and humble.

Has a brother been the occasion of some trial for you and has your resentment led you to hatred? Do not let yourself be overcome by this hatred, but conquer it with love. You will succeed in this by praying to God sincerely for your brother and by accepting his apology; or else by conciliating him with an apology yourself, by regarding yourself as responsible for the trial, and by patiently waiting until the cloud has passed.
St. Maximos The Confessor, Fourth Century On Love, Sec. 22

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Maximos provides practical guidance for each part of the soul and body. The Eastern approach is holistic.

If you want to be a just person, assign to each aspect of yourself — to your soul and your body — what accords with it. To the intelligent aspect of the soul, assign spiritual reading, contemplation, and prayer; to the incensive aspect, spiritual love, the opposite of hatred; to the desiring aspect, moderation and self-control; to the fleshly part, food and clothing, for these alone are necessary (1 Timothy 6:8).
St. Maximos The Confessor, Fourth Century On Love, Sec. 44

Who in this generation is completely free from impassioned conceptual images, and has been granted uninterrupted, pure, and spiritual prayer? Yet this is the mark of the inner monk.
St. Maximos The Confessor, Fourth Century On Love, Sec. 51

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The Philokalia on Prayer 1 – Various

February 7, 2013
The Philokalia is a "principal spiritual text" for all the Eastern Orthodox Churches; the publishers of the current English translation state that "The Philokalia has exercised an influence far greater than that of any book other than the Bible in the recent history of the Orthodox Church."

The Philokalia is a “principal spiritual text” for all the Eastern Orthodox Churches; the publishers of the current English translation state that “The Philokalia has exercised an influence far greater than that of any book other than the Bible in the recent history of the Orthodox Church.”

The Philokalia is a collection of writings by monks of the fourth to the fifteenth centuries and more than any other text reflects the Eastern Church’s interpretation of the Bible’s meaning. Philokalia means “Love of the Beautiful” and shows the text’s emphasis on the mystical and contemplative practices to engage all our senses in the acts of worship and prayer. The translations here are done by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Bishop Kallistos Ware. The annotations by Allyne Smith.

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Evagrios the Solitary (346-399), also known as Evagrius of Pontus, was a monk and an ascetic. His spiritual father was Makarios of Alexandria (died ca. 395), and he also knew Makarios of Egypt. He was ordained reader by Basil the Great (ca. 330-379) and deacon by his friend and mentor, Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), known in the East as Gregory the Theologian. He was greatly influenced by the Cappadocians — Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 340-394), Gregory of Nazianzus, and Macrina (ca. 330-380) — and by Origen (ca. 175-254). His works, written in Greek and subsequently translated into Syriac and Latin, were very influential in shaping the Eastern spiritual tradition.

If you are disheartened, pray, as the apostle says (James 5:13). Pray with fear, trembling, effort, with inner watchfulness and vigilance. To pray in this manner is especially necessary because the enemies are so .malignant. For it is just when they see us at prayer that they come and stand beside us, ready to attack, suggesting to our intellect the very ‘things we should not think about when praying; in this way they try to take our intellect captive and to make our prayer and supplication vain and useless. For prayer is truly vain and useless when not performed with fear and trembling, with inner watchfulness and vigilance.
Evagrius The Solitary, Outline Teaching On Asceticism And Stillness In The Solitary Life

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Obedience to God’s commandments is the first step in the spiritual life.

When the soul has been purified through the keeping of all the commandments, it makes the intellect steadfast and able to receive the state needed for prayer. Prayer is the communion of the intellect ith God.
Evagrius The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec. 2-3

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John Chrysostom is thinking along these lines when he writes, “The mystery [of the Eucharist] requires that we should be innocent not only of violence but of all enmity, however slight, for it is the mystery of peace.”

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If you desire to pray as you ought, do not grieve anyone; otherwise you “run in vain” (Philippians 2:16). “Leave your gift before the altar; first go away and be reconciled with your brother” (Matthew 5:24), 1 when you return you will pray without disturbance. For rancor darkens the intellect of one who prays, and extinguishes the light of prayers.
Evagrius The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec. 21-22

Undistracted prayer is the highest intellection of the intellect. Prayer is the ascent of the intellect to God. If you long for prayer, renounce to gain all. Pray first for the purification of the passions; second, for reverence from ignorance and forgetfulness; and third, for deliverance from all temptation, trial, and dereliction.
Evagrios The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec. 35-38

Do not pray only with outward forms and gestures, but with reverence and awe try to make your intellect conscious of spiritual prayer.
Evagrios The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec. 28

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Buddhists refer to this distraction from prayer as “monkey mind” — when we try to still the mind, it seems determined to “jump from tree to tree,” that is, from thought to thought.

If intellect is still distracted during prayer, you do not yet know it is to pray as a monk; but your prayer is still worldly, embellishing the outer tabernacle. When you pray, keep close watch on your memory, so that it does not distract you with recollections of past. But make yourself aware that you are standing before God. For by nature the intellect is apt to be carried away by memories during prayer. While you are praying, the memory brings before you fantasies either of past things, or of recent concerns, or of the face of one who has irritated you. The demon is very envious of us when we pray, and uses every kind of trick to thwart our purpose. Therefore he is always using our memory to stir up thoughts of various things and our flesh to arouse our passions, in order to obstruct our way of ascent to God.
Evagrius The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec.. 45-47

The state of prayer is one of dispassion, which by virtue of the most intense love transports to the noetic realm the intellect that longs for wisdom
Evagrios The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec.. 53

He who prays in spirit and in truth is no longer dependent on created when honoring the Creator, but praises him for and in himself.
Evagrios The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec.. 60

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For the Church Fathers in the Eastern Christian tradition, theology refers first to God the Trinity; second to the experience of God the Trinity; third to the worship of God the Trinity; fourth to the Holy Scriptures; and last (and arguably least) to “thinking about God.”

If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you heologian.
Evagrius The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec.. 61

I shall say again what I have said elsewhere: blessed is the intellect that is completely free from forms during prayer. Blessed is the intellect that, undistracted in its prayer, acquires an even greater longing for God. Blessed is the intellect that during prayer is free from materiality and stripped of all possessions. Blessed is the intellect that has acquired complete freedom from sensations during prayer.
Evagrius The Solitary, On Prayer, Sec. 1 17-120

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Hesychios the Priest (eighth or ninth century) was thought by Nikodimos to have been the early fifth-century Hesychios of Jerusalem, but nowadays he is believed to have been the later Hesychios, who was abbot of a monastery on Sinai. His work draws on Maximos Confessor, Mark the Ascetic, and John Klimakos (ca. 579-649). He emphasized devotion to the name of Jesus.

If we have not attained prayer that is free from thoughts, we have no weapon to fight with. By this prayer I mean the prayer that is ever active in the inner shrine of the soul, and that, by invoking Christ, scourges and sears our enemy.
St. Hesychios The Priest, On Watchfulness And Holiness, Sec. 21

It is written: “Prepare yourself, O Israel, to call upon the name of the Lord your God” (Amos 4:12, LXX); and the apostle says, “Pray without Ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Our Lord himself says, “Without me you can do nothing. If a man dwells in me and I in him, then he brings forth much fruit”; and again: “If a man does not dwell in me, he is cast out as a branch” (John 15:5-6). Prayer is a great blessing, and it embraces all blessings, for it purifies the heart, in which God is seen by the believer.
St. Hesychios The Priest, On Watchfulness And Holiness, Sec. 62

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Unceasing prayer first brings us to the stage of purgation, which Is naturally followed by the second stage of illumination. But Hesychios warns that a lack of humility will prevent this illumination.

It is through unceasing prayer that the mind is cleansed of the dark Ids, the tempests of the demons. And when it is cleansed, the divine light of Jesus cannot but shine in it, unless we are puffed up by esteem and delusion and a love of ostentation, and elevate selves toward the unattainable, and so are deprived of Jesus’ help. Christ, the paradigm of humility, loathes all such self-inflation.
St. Hesychios The Priest, On Watchfulness And Holiness, Sec. 175

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Eight Selections From Forty Texts on Watchfulness — St Philotheos of Sinai (9th-10th century)

November 26, 2012

Unknown Desert Hermit

The Philokalia is “a collection of texts written between the 4th and 15th centuries by spiritual masters” of the Eastern Orthodox hesychast tradition. They were originally written for the guidance and instruction of monks in “the practice of the contemplative life”. The collection was compiled in the eighteenth-century by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth.

Philokalia is defined as the “love of the beautiful, the exalted, the excellent, understood as the transcendent source of life and the revelation of Truth.”In contemplative prayer the mind becomes absorbed in the awareness of God as a living presence as the source of being of all creatures and sensible forms. According to the authors of the English translation, Kallistos Ware, G. E. H. Palmer, and Philip Sherrard, the writings of The Philokalia have been chosen above others because they:

…show the way to awaken and develop attention and consciousness, to attain that state of watchfulness which is the hallmark of sanctity. They describe the conditions most effective for learning what their authors call the art of arts and the science of sciences, a learning which is not a matter of information or agility of mind but of a radical change of will and heart leading man towards the highest possibilities open to him, shaping and nourishing the unseen part of his being, and helping him to spiritual fulfillment and union with God.”

It makes a certain kind of sense that anyone who can produce over 800 posts on the notion of Paying Attention would be inevitably drawn to a ninth century monk who posted 40 times on the topic of Watchfulness.

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Introductory Note
‘It is not clear’, states St Nikodimos, ‘at what date our holy father Philotheos flourished and died.’ He is known to us solely as the author of the present work Forty Texts on Watchfulness. From his name it is evident that he was a monk of Mount Sinai, while the content of his Forty Texts shows that he followed in the tradition of St John Klimakos, abbot of Sinai (sixth-seventh century), whom he quotes (§20; cf §34). His spiritual teaching is also close to that of another Sinaite author, St Hesychios the Priest (? eighth-ninth century); the three of them may be regarded as forming together a distinctively Sinaite ‘school’ of ascetic theology. Certainly later in date, then, than Klimakos, and probably likewise later than Hesychios, Philotheos may have lived in the ninth or tenth century.  Clear and concise, the Forty Texts are especially valuable for the simple definitions that they give of key  concepts.

As the title indicates, St Philotheos assigns central significance to the quality of watchfulness or spiritual sobriety (nipsis). In common with St Hesychios, he sees this as closely connected with inner attentiveness and the guarding of the intellect: the three notions are virtually synonymous. But he underlines, more explicitly than does Hesychios, the importance of bodily asceticism and the keeping of the commandments; the inner and the outer  warfare go together.

Like the other two members of the Sinaite ‘school’, he commends the invocation of the Holy  Name, ‘the unceasing prayer of Jesus Christ’ (§2), which has power to ‘concentrate the scattered intellect’ (§27),  thereby enabling it to maintain continual mindfulness of God. Particularly striking is Philotheos’ insistence upon the  remembrance of death, which is to be viewed not as something morbid and ‘world- denying’, but rather as  enhancing the unique value of each moment of time. 

Contents 1-8

1 . There is within us, on the noetic [vocab: no•et•ic: From the Greek noēsis / noētikos, meaning inner wisdom, direct knowing, or subjective understanding.] plane, a warfare tougher than that on the plane of the senses. The Spiritual worker has to press on with his intellect towards the goal (cf. Philemon 3:14), in order to enshrine perfectly the remembrance of God in his heart like some pearl or precious stone (cf. Matthew 13:44-46). He has to give up everything, including the body, and to disdain this present life, if he wishes to possess God alone in his heart. For the noetic vision of God, the divine Chrysostom has said, can by itself destroy the demonic spirits. 

2. When engaged in noetic warfare we should therefore do all we can to choose some spiritual practice from divine Scripture and apply it to our intellect like a healing ointment. From dawn we should stand bravely and  unflinchingly at the gate of the heart, with true remembrance of God and unceasing prayer of Jesus Christ in the  soul; and, keeping watch with the intellect, we should slaughter all the sinners of the land (Psalms 101:8 LXX).

Given over in the intensity of our ecstasy to the constant remembrance of God, we should for the Lord’s sake cut off  the heads of the tyrants (cf. Habakkuk. 3:14. LXX), that is to say, should destroy hostile thoughts at their first appearance. For in noetic warfare, too, there is a certain divine practice and order.

Thus we should force ourselves to act in this way until it is time for eating. After this, having thanked the Lord who solely by virtue of His compassion provides us with both spiritual and bodily food, we should devote ourselves to the remembrance of death and to meditation on it. The following morning we should courageously resume the same sequence of tasks. Even if we act daily in  this manner we will only just manage, with the Lord’s help, to escape from the meshes of the noetic enemy. When this pattern of spiritual practice is firmly established in us, it gives birth to the triad faith, hope and love.

Faith disposes us truly to fear God. Hope, transcending servile fear, binds us to the love of God, since ‘hope does not disappoint’ (Romans 5:5), containing as it does the seed of that twofold love on which hang ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 22:40). And ‘love never fails’ (1 Corinthians 13:8), once it has become to him who shares in it the motive for fulfilling the divine law both in the present life and in the life to be. 

3. It is very rare to find people whose intelligence is in a state of stillness. Indeed, such a state is only to be found in those who through their whole manner of life strive to attract divine grace and blessing to themselves. If,  then, we seek – by guarding our intellect and by inner watchfulness – to engage in the noetic work that is the true  philosophy in Christ, we must begin by exercising self-control with regard to our food, eating and drinking as little  as possible. Watchfulness may fittingly be called a path leading both to the kingdom within us and to that which is  to be; while noetic work, which trains and purifies the intellect and changes it from an impassioned state to a state of  dispassion, is like a window full of light through which God looks, revealing Himself to the intellect. 

4. Where humility is combined with the remembrance of God that is established through watchfulness and attention, and also with recurrent prayer inflexible in its resistance to the enemy, there is the place of God, the heaven of the heart in which because of God’s presence no demonic army dares to make a stand. 

5. Nothing is more unsettling than talkativeness and more pernicious than an unbridled tongue, disruptive as it is of the soul’s proper state. For the soul’s chatter destroys what we build each day and scatters what we have laboriously gathered together. What is more disastrous than this ‘uncontrollable evil’ (James 3:8)? The tongue has to be restrained, checked by force and muzzled, so to speak, and made to serve only what is needful. Who can describe all the damage that the tongue does to the soul? 

6. The first gate of entry to the noetic Jerusalem – that is, to attentiveness of the intellect – is the deliberate  silencing of your tongue, even though the intellect itself may not yet be still. The second gate is balanced self-  control in food and drink. The third, is ceaseless mindfulness of death, for this purifies intellect and body.

Having  once experienced the beauty of this mindfulness of death, I was so wounded and delighted by it – in Spirit, not through the eye – that I wanted to make it my life’s companion,  for I was enraptured by its loveliness and majesty, its humility and contrite joy, by how full of reflection it is, how apprehensive of the judgment to come, and how aware of life’s anxieties. It makes life-giving, healing tears flow from our bodily eyes, while from our noetic eyes rises a fount of wisdom that delights the mind.

This daughter of Adam – this mindfulness of death – I always longed, as I said, to have as my, companion, to sleep with, to talk with, and to enquire from her what will happen after the body has been discarded. But unclean forgetfulness, the devil’s murky daughter, has frequently prevented this. 

7. It is by means of thoughts that the spirits of evil wage a secret war against the soul. For since the soul is invisible, these malicious powers naturally attack it invisibly. Both sides prepare their weapons, muster their forces, devise stratagems, clash in fearful battle, gain victories and suffer defeats. But this noetic warfare lacks one feature possessed by visible warfare: declaration of hostilities. Suddenly, with no warning, the enemy attacks the inmost heart, sets an ambush there, and kills the soul through sin.

And for what purpose is this battle waged against us? To prevent us from doing God’s will as we ask to do it when we pray ‘Thy will be done’. This will is the commandments of God. If with the Lord’s help through careful watchfulness you guard your intellect from error and observe the attacks of the demons and their snares woven of fantasy, you will see from experience that this is the case. For this reason the Lord, foreseeing the demons’ intentions by His divine power, set Himself to defeat their purpose by  laying down His commandments and by threatening those who break them. 

8. Once we have in some measure acquired the habit of self-control, and have learnt how to shun visible sins  brought about through ‘the five senses, we will then be able to guard the heart with Jesus, to receive His illumination  within it, and by means of the intellect to taste His goodness with a certain ardent longing. For we have been  commanded to purify the heart precisely so that, through dispelling the clouds of evil from it by continual attentiveness, we may perceive the sun of righteousness, Jesus, as though in clear sky; and so that the principles of His majesty may shine to some extent in the intellect. For these principles are revealed only to those who purify their minds.

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Return To Thee – John Henry Cardinal Newman

November 23, 2012

Some of you will be interested in this recording, Heart Speaks to Heart, “a meditation in words and music based on a selection of the spiritual writings of Blessed John Henry Newman” narrated by Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, with music sung by the Schola Cantamus under the direction of Jeremy de Satgé.

Taken from Cor ad cor loquitur, Heart Speaks to Heart… the above CD can be purchased following these directions here.  Prayers are meant to be chanted or spoken aloud. Silent prayer always struck me as sort of a contradiction in terms. Prayer lives in the spoken voice.

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THE SUN SINKS TO RISE AGAIN; the day is swallowed up in the gloom of night, to be born out of it, as fresh as if it had never been quenched. Spring passes into summer, and through summer and autumn into winter, only the more surely, by its own ultimate return, to triumph over that grave, towards which it resolutely hastened from its first hour.

We mourn over the blossoms of May, because they are to wither; but we know, withal, that May is one day to have its revenge upon November, by the revolution of that solemn circle which never stops — which teaches us in our height of hope, ever to be sober, and in our depth of desolation, never to despair…. O my God, shall I one day see Thee? What sight can compare to that great sight! Shall I see the source of that grace which enlightens me, strengthens me, and consoles me?

As I came from Thee, as I am made through Thee, as I live in Thee, so, O my God, may I at last return to Thee, and be with Thee forever and ever….

Eternal, Incomprehensible God, I believe, and confess, and adore Thee, as being infinitely more wonderful, resourceful, and immense, than this universe which I see. I look into the depths of space, in which the stars are scattered about, and I understand that I should be millions upon millions of years in creeping along from one end of it to the other, if a bridge were thrown across it.

I consider the overpowering variety, richness, intricacy of Thy work; the elements, principles, laws, results which go to make it up. I should be ages upon ages in learning everything that is to be learned about this world, supposing me to have the power of learning it at all. And new sciences would come to light, at present unsuspected, as fast as I had mastered the old, and the conclusions of today would be nothing more than starting points of tomorrow.

It is the occupation of eternity, ever new, inexhaustible, ineffably ecstatic, the stay and the blessedness of existence, thus to drink in and be dissolved in Thee…

Since Thou art from everlasting, and hast created all things from a certain beginning, Thou hast lived in an eternity before Thou began to create anything….

There was no earth, no sky, no sun, no space, no time, no beings of any kind; no men, no Angels, no Seraphim. Thy throne was without ministers; Thou were not waited on by any; all was silence, all was repose, there was nothing but God….

Through a whole eternity Thou were by Thyself, with no other being but Thyself; blessed in Thyself and by Thyself, and wanting nothing….

I cannot comprehend Thee more than I did, before I saw Thee on the Cross; but I have gained my lesson. I have before me the proof, that in spite of Thy awful nature, and the clouds and darkness that surround it, Thou canst think of me with a personal affection. Thou hast died that I might live. Amen.

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Canticle

November 18, 2012

To make known to his people their salvation
through forgiveness of all their sins,
the loving-kindness of the heart of our God
who visits us like the dawn from on high.

Benedictus

The Messiah and the one who was sent before him

The Lord will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel!

He has visited his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up for us a mighty saviour

in the house of David his servant,

as he promised by the lips of holy men,

those who were his prophets from of old.

A saviour who would free us from our foes,

from the hands of all who hate us

So his love for our fathers is fulfilled

and his holy covenant remembered.

He swore to Abraham our father to grant us,

that free from fear, and saved from the hands of our foes,

we might serve him in holiness and justice

all the days of our life in his presence

As for you, little child,

you shall be called a prophet of God, the Most High.

You shall go ahead of the Lord

to prepare his ways before him,

To make known to his people their salvation

through forgiveness of all their sins,

the loving-kindness of the heart of our God

who visits us like the dawn from on high.

He will give light to those in darkness,

those who dwell in the shadow of death,

and guide us into the way of peace.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,

world without end.

Amen.

The Lord will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.

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