We must learn to make our life itself a prayer
Once man has understood that prayer is not an exceptional state but a permanent element of an existence which is directed toward God, he will extend it to every aspect of his daily life. There are different ways of doing this.
There is, above all, the contemplative approach. It originates in the act of prayer itself and consists in introducing certain elements of contemplation into the routine of daily life. For instance, if we frequently recollect ourselves and establish the consciousness of the presence of God, a series of stations of prayer will be set up in the course of the day which will draw closer and closer together. Or from contemplation with its explicit focusing on God we may develop a general attitude of reverence which permeates the day’s activity, imparting to it a religious character. Out of this gradually develops what is called “moving in the presence of God” or “life in the sight of God.”
But we can also make the idea of Providence our starting-point. We can, as it were, live ourselves into this conception and thus establish an intimate contact with God’s rule and a permanent consciousness or feeling that God is at work in every event. If in the course of the day we think again and again of this living, tender, yet mighty mystery, or feel it, this becomes a true act of prayer, which we can extend to any length we desire.
In so doing, we need not turn aside from the normal activities of life because it is just in these activities that the prayer takes place. We receive what happens as coming from the Father and offer our own work up to Him -making it part of His work. We see ourselves in a holy association with Him in the light of which we understand our life from hour to hour. In this armor we can stand forth boldly in the world.
Here life itself becomes prayer. This can bring many profound experiences. Thus St. Augustine tells in the ninth book of his Confessions how he had once suffered from an intense pain and had been delivered from it by his prayer. “But what kind of pain was it? Or how did it leave me? I was startled, I admit, my Lord and God, for I had never experienced anything of the kind in all my life and deep in my heart I understood Thy sign and, rejoicing in faith, glorified Thy name.” [St. Augustine, Confessions Bk9, Ch.4, Para12]
The emotion which even today lives in these words does not spring from the intensity of the pain or its startling relief but from the saint’s experience, in a context of pain, prayer, and liberation, of God’s providential act. It was as if he had been transported to the center of existence of which before he had known only the outer aspect or, at best, had had the merest inkling. Nothing very special had happened.
Pain is a daily occurrence, and there may be many reasons for its disappearance. But in all this he had experienced the mysterious working of Providence. In it the ordinary daily events suddenly become hints and signs which we under stand deep in our hearts and to which we respond with adoration and praise. Such an experience, however, is an extraordinary event and is granted by God’s special favor; it shows the luminous goal of the road which the faithful should tread.
We should offer our lives and suffering to God
Even when we were children we were told that we should, at the beginning of the day and frequently during it, make the “good resolution” that all our actions should be to the glory of God. The meaning and value of any action ultimately depends on what is intended — that is to say, on the motive and mentality from which it springs. The intention changes from time to time with the alertness and purity of our state of mind and with the character of the object.
Thus we have been admonished that the whole course of our life should be dedicated indeflectibly — by an explicit act of resolve — to the greater glory of God. Everything, even the most ordinary and insignificant action, can serve this greater glory, as St. Paul puts it in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” [1 Corinthians 10:31]
In the passage leading to these words St. Paul discusses whether one is permitted to eat certain foods. He brings this matter to a conclusion by saying that such distinctions are of relative unimportance compared with the supreme demand that the whole of life with everything that happens should be a holy service performed before the majesty of God.
By the good resolution our intention should be constantly redirected toward God and the resulting action offered up to Him as a just due. One should not object to this by saying that such an act is contrived and artificial, for what St. Paul had in mind was the basic attitude of the faithful, which should determine every thing, both great and small. No doubt, to make the good resolution could be called something contrived — contrived, however, in the sense of an act of the will which has been mentioned several times in the course of this book. The examining, ordering, and uplifting of our actions to God must, to begin with, be consciously willed until it gradually becomes second nature and can in due course determine our conduct.
The right way to offer ourselves to God
All the same, the way in which this conception should be formulated and put into practice needs to be given some thought. Frequently the so-called ordering of our actions toward God takes very little account of what this really means but merely consists in giving to the action — provided of course it is morally good or at least unobjectionable — a label “To the Glory of God” (rather in the nature of a mathematical sign).
But does not this show a certain disregard for the true essence of the action? The glory of God is not served by doing something merely as a duty or at least to avoid sin, and then offering it up to God, but rather by doing right for its own sake and for what would seem to be God’s own reasons, in the way in which circumstances demand and conscience approves, as men have a right to expect and in accordance with tact, friendship, love, loyalty, and honor. What is thus right in itself is brought by that same dedication before the Creator, the Lord of all things.
There exists, however, a mentality which would overlook the essential rightness of an action and maintain that, as long as no sin is committed, what is being done is fundamentally a matter of indifference. According to this view, what really matters is that the letter of the law should be obeyed and that this obedience should be inspired by the right intention. This may be appropriate at certain moments of the spiritual life when, for instance, the striving toward objectivity has tempted man to set himself up as the ultimate judge of his conduct. Generally speaking, however, this sort of mentality destroys the responsibility which the Creator has imposed on man toward His creation.
By thismean, of course, that achievement as such is the measure action in the sight of God. If this were so, only the most would be capable of serving Him — quite apart fromthat no human achievement can claim to be noteworthy in the eyes of God.
What ultimately determines the value of our action is the intentionbehind it, whether the results are commensurate with this or not.
The intention, however, must not disregard the action itself. On the contrary, must see to it, to the best of our ability, that the action is appropriate and sensible. A good deed does not consist inthe right thing and doing it just anyhow, but rather it consists in our doing it as well as we can and in our obedience to will of the Creator as it is expressed in the laws of the world.
Providence presents to the individual, in the form of an over all situation, people, conditions, and circumstances which are important him at that moment, and demands of him that he should act — on an abstract principle nor, on the other hand, with subjective arbitrariness, but in accordance with the demands inherent in the situation itself.
To recognize God’s will in the challenge of a situation and to comply with it in the appropriate way is truly doing everything to His greater glory.
If, then, the “practice of the good resolution” rests on such foundations, it is endowed with a new depth, and the element of fortuitousness and irrelevance in “everything to the greater glory of God” disappears. The intention to act to the glory of God combines with the responsibility toward His will inherent in the order of reality and the challenge of the situation; thus the action becomes that of a man who is conscious of his responsibility for the care of God’s kingdom.
God continually transforms creation
It is frequently said that Christianity must regain more of its eschatological character. The eschata — the last things — are the things which happen at the end of time: the second coming of Christ, His judgment, the end of the world, and the beginning of the new creation
Eschatological is an attitude in which those last things come into their own. Thus not only does the believer know that the world and history will one day come to an end and that, when everything is submitted to the judgment of Christ, eternity will be in accordance with this judgment; the believer will also realize that that which will one day be revealed openly has now already begun, hidden and denied though it still be.
This also means that everything in existence now does not yet have its true form. What people and things really are will be revealed when our Lord returns. Everything happens with a view to that event, enclosed, enshrined, in the message of Revelation. “Dearly be loved, we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like to Him: because we shall see Him as He is.”
For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us. For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even until now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the first fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen is not hope. For what a man seeth why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience.
The world which is seemingly so clearly defined, distinct, sure, and so utterly concrete, is in fact none of these things; in it God is effecting a constant process of transformation. Under cover of the old, in day-to-day events, encounters, and actions, grows the new world which will be completed at the second coming of Christ. True eschatological feeling consists in bearing the idea of this process in mind and carrying it as a solace and inner strength, putting oneself in contact with the all-permeating mystery of divine government.