Archive for the ‘Scriptural Exegesis’ Category

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 5 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 25, 2014
When we love someone truly -- that is, if we feel not merely respect, sympathy, or desire, but are linked to him or her by that bond of inmost belonging -- we are filled with a sense of constant wonderment, almost awe toward the beloved person. It may reach a degree of intensity which makes us want to explain it: "I thank you for being as you are; I thank you for being." Such things cannot be rationally explained, but the heart understands them. With man this mystery can be no more than an intimation; with God it finds its full consummation.

When we love someone truly — that is, if we feel not merely respect, sympathy, or desire, but are linked to him or her by that bond of inmost belonging — we are filled with a sense of constant wonderment, almost awe toward the beloved person. It may reach a degree of intensity which makes us want to explain it: “I thank you for being as you are; I thank you for being.” Such things cannot be rationally explained, but the heart understands them. With man this mystery can be no more than an intimation; with God it finds its full consummation.

Our last installment of multiple posts from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic.

Another recommendation from a good review: “I also found Guardini’s lack of romanticism very refreshing. No platitudes about mystical union and the like, but the simple and practical advice that I would expect from my priest: Prayer is real work, you likely won’t want to do it often, its purpose is not to produce an emotional state within you, get over yourself, you are not alone when you say your prayers, your whole life can become living prayer and here is how you can do it. Just right. Very honest.

While not really a “how to” book, Guardini’s observations feel to me like the description of a beautiful and rugged journey that I am trying to take, but have yet to progress too far in. But with his descriptions, I have a better map of where I am going, how I can get there, what I can expect as I go and where not to go…”

Spend some time payingattentiontothesky this week with one of the great masters of Catholic Life.

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Thanksgiving is Due to God Unceasingly
As soon as prayer is answered it becomes thanksgiving. It comes naturally from the heart; it is man’s response to God’s grace. We should give thanks not only when a wish has been granted but at all times. Unceasingly the heart of man should respond to the dispensations of Divine Providence. This response consists in man being aware that everything he is and everything that happens to him comes from God and that he should acknowledge and be thankful for it.

The Apostle Paul says: “And be ye thankful … singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him. [Co1ossians 3:15-17]

The seriousness of the offense of forgetting to give thanks is brought out in the story of the ten lepers, of whom only one, a Samaritan, returned to give thanks.

And it came to pass, as He was going to Jerusalem, He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered into a certain town, there met Him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off; and lifted up their voice, saying: “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” Whom when He saw, He said: “Go, shew yourselves to the priests.” And it came to pass, as they went, they were made clean. And one of them, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God. And he fell on his face before His feet, giving thanks: and this was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering, said: “Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger.” And he said to him: “Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole. [Luke 17:11-19]

This is a cry of sorrow from the divine heart, similar to the one so often uttered through the mouth of the prophets when the people forgot to give thanks to the Lord who had bestowed so much on them.

Gratitude is Due for Gifts Freely Given
For things which happen by necessity we cannot give thanks. If we know the laws of nature and infer that certain causes will produce certain effects, we cannot feel gratitude, however beneficent these effects may be for us: they were bound to happen. In the same manner, we cannot experience true gratitude when we have sold some goods and received the correct payment for them. We receive this payment by right. Only when we receive something freely, without necessity or legal obligation on the part of the giver, do we spontaneously experience that intimate feeling which we express in the words “I thank you.”

Existence Must Not Be Taken For Granted
It is important that we should recognize — not only with our mind but with our heart — that nothing in life can be taken for granted.
In a restricted sense, as we have just seen, certain natural events must be taken for granted, but this is true only when seen from a standpoint which does not take in life as a whole. We live in the world from which we draw the substances and energies to sustain our existence; we are linked to it by innumerable threads of cause and effect.

We therefore take it for granted, never stopping to think that it might well be otherwise, that this world, which appears to us the basis of everything, might not exist. It is an irreligious attitude to take the world for granted. Although in fact it does exist, there is no reason why it should. The world is not necessary; it exists because God willed it. At this point, there is no causation, only pure sovereign freedom.

The world has emerged out of the freedom of God, and His freedom is love; because it is love we can respond to it by gratitude. It is therefore meet, just, and appropriate to give thanks to God for having created the world.

Nor ought I, as an individual, regard it as a matter of course that I should exist. I happen to find myself in this world, and in this body and mind of mine. In consequence, I take myself and my existence for granted, more so even than that of the world. It appears to me the precondition for everything else. Yet I know that I might equally well not exist. To take a thing for granted means “to accept it as a given fact.”

Things Exist Only by God’s Grace
There is a deep double meaning in “to accept it as a given fact.” On the one hand, it stands for “that which happens to be there” and is, by virtue of it, the precondition for everything else; on the other hand, it acknowledges in the word given that it is there neither by necessity nor by right, but by grace.

It is therefore proper that I should know and acknowledge in my heart that I constantly receive myself as a free gift from the hand of God. By the word grace we usually mean everything we receive from God by way of help, enlightenment, and sanctification, as opposed to those things — good or bad — that arise out of the potentialities inherent in conditions and people. Thus we oppose the concept grace to the concept nature. However, we can use the term grace in a much wider sense to include the origin of everything which does not exist by necessity but as God’s free gift.

Thanksgiving is Due for All Of Creation
This term includes the world as a whole, humanity, myself – in fact everything which exists except God Himself. Everything we take for granted is truly granted by Him, the all-giving. There are moments when we suddenly and directly apprehend the incomprehensible, overwhelming fact that we are.

Despite the tribulations and burdens of life it still remains a great grace and wonder that we are allowed to breathe, to feel, to think, to love, and to act — in short, to live. And that things exist: the jug on the table, the tree in the field, the landscape around us, and the sun in the sky; and that other people also exist: this person whom I love, that other one who is in my care. In those moments one realizes that nothing can be taken for granted; that everything has the hallmark of free gift and of grace; that one must give thanks for everything — and even that one must give thanks for being able to give thanks.

We have just said that we should not take it for granted that other people are. When our higher consciousness is asleep — as it mostly is — we do take their existence for granted. During the rare moments when we are fully awake we get a glimpse of the truth.

Human relationships that matter are of two kinds. One kind arises from an encounter: someone has entered into our life, from somewhere. It is always from somewhere — from somewhere unknown. For however much we know about the reasons and the immediate circumstances which lead to the meeting, how much do we really know of the roots of existence even of those whom we know best?

We have met, and out of this meeting something has developed which we call fellowship, friendship, or love, as the case may be. This is endowed with profound significance; for when it has come about, we feel it could not have been otherwise. Yet it might well have been otherwise; it might never have happened at all.

The other kind of relationship is rooted in life itself. The child springs from the life of the parents, and for this reason it is intimately connected with them and with its brothers and sisters. Their solidarity is not brought about by extraneous circumstances but by innate necessity — or so, at least, it would appear. But is it really so?

Father, mother, and child; brother and sister — each one of them is an individual, a person, and therefore free. For this reason, not even blood relationship should be taken for granted. Its true significance can be realized only in the light of this individual freedom.

Once this is understood, blood relationships become as reassuring, and at the same time as wonderful and given, as relationships that spring from encounters. It follows that we must give thanks also for the givenness of our parents, of our brothers and sisters, and of our children.

Thanksgiving is Due for the Myriad Events Of Life
The same holds good for everything that happens in life. Natural science, the administrators, planners, and all those other experts concerned with directing human affairs have taught us to judge everything from the point of view of ascertainable laws. We are therefore conditioned to believe that things happen either because it is in their very nature that they should happen or in accordance with conditions laid down for them by man. In this way life is systematically robbed of its mystery and as a result we are disenchanted.

Many people feel that it is wrong to think in these terms, not only because it deprives life of so much of its beauty but also because it is fundamentally untrue. There are indeed moments –rare moments of illumination — when the most ordinary objects and commonplace events appear to us suddenly quite different. All at once they shed the shackles of arid matter-of-factness and become free; once free, they step out of the prison of contingent existence to enter the realm of mystery. In such moments we realize that they form part of that hidden pattern of which natural laws and human planning are but the visible projection.

We may express this in a different way: all cosmic processes, all phenomena and events to which our sensory perception and intellect give us access, occur within a system of laws — the very same laws to which perception and intellect are themselves subjected. But the system, as such, is but an instrument in the hand of God’s creative freedom; at the same time it is an expression and proof of the consistency with which this freedom works.

Thus everything that happens, and everything which is, has the character of a gift of grace — and must be included in our thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is due for God’s Providence
When discussing petition in prayer, we found that fundamentally our demands are not concerned with the necessities of life or with help in distress, but with everything that comes to us from the divine superabundance through which we have our being. Our existence is encompassed by a double arc, one part of which ascends from us to God and the other — the more important – descends from God to us. Prayer is the continuous call by man for the descending arc, and thanksgiving is the completion of the arc from man to God.

Man says to God: “I thank Thee, O Lord, that I have my being in and through Thee; I thank Thee that I see with Thy light, act through Thy power, and am sanctified by Thy love.”

Our relations to our fellows, to all things, and to all events obtain their true significance from our relationship to God. People, things, and events come to us as parts and aspects of the same world to which we also belong, but they are also messengers and manifestations of the loving governance of God.

That divine governance may prevail and the will of God be done is the real prayer of the Christian. His thanks consist in accepting life, with ever growing awareness, as God’s gift.

Thanksgiving is Due for God’s Existence
There is an attitude of mind which confers on thanksgiving a truly exalted, almost divine character: when man thanks and praises God for His glory and for His very being. But how is this possible? Have we not just said that we can give thanks only for what we receive neither by necessity nor by right? What can be more necessary in this sense than the existence of God, of whom it is said that He is by His very existence “worthy … to receive glory, and honor, and power: because Thou hast created all things; and for Thy will they were and have been created. [Revelations 4:11]

Yet even God’s existence cannot be taken for granted, although not in the sense in which the existence of the world cannot be taken for granted. The world is because it has pleased God to create it. God is because He is the mystery in itself, the living substantial miracle.

In its original, proper sense, mystery does not signify something unexplained which requires, or indeed is capable of, explanation; it signifies that which pertains to the nature of the Deity. Miracle is not in the first place a phenomenon or occurrence which goes beyond the possibilities of known laws; it is a sign from God — a state of transfiguration in which the most ordinary object and commonplace event suddenly shines in the light of God.

Whoever is in the proximity of God experiences His mystery and His all-compelling might and thus knows that he is in the presence of the One who alone is real, substantial, and necessary, the One who calls forth the holy awe in man. From this awe springs thanksgiving.

When we love someone truly — that is, if we feel not merely respect, sympathy, or desire, but are linked to him or her by that bond of inmost belonging — we are filled with a sense of constant wonderment, almost awe toward the beloved person. It may reach a degree of intensity which makes us want to explain it: “I thank you for being as you are; I thank you for being.” Such things cannot be rationally explained, but the heart understands them. With man this mystery can be no more than an intimation; with God it finds its full consummation.

Thanksgiving Is Due Constantly
It is therefore of the utmost importance that we should learn to give thanks
. We must do away with the indifference which takes all things for granted, for nothing is to be taken for granted – everything is a gift. Not until man has understood this will he truly be free.

In the morning, when we are rested from the night and are filled with a pure and exhilarating feeling of life, we should say to God: “I thank Thee that I am permitted to live; I thank Thee that I breathe and that I am; and I thank Thee for all I have and for all that is around me.” After meals we should say: “What I have partaken of is Thy gift; I thank Thee.” In the evening we should say: “That I was permitted to live today; to work, to rejoice; that I met this person; that I became aware of that other person’s loyalty — all that Thou hast given me; for all that I thank Thee.”

We should give thanks for our faith, for the mystery of our rebirth in Christ, for all the hidden and holy bonds between the Creator and ourselves. We should endeavor to extend our thanks to include also all that which is difficult, hard, or incomprehensible in our lives: it is all part of grace. That it should be so is the one aspect of the message of Providence which is for us the most difficult to understand, and demands of us the greatest fortitude – but it is also the one which holds the greatest promise.

To live in harmony with Providence means to live in obedience to the will of God — also against one’s own desires. This submission finds its purest expression in the gratitude which gladly accepts hardship and what appears to be injury from the hands of God. This is not easy and we should not deceive ourselves. We should never go beyond what our sense of truthfulness will permit. But we are capable of greater things than we think at first. Sustained by faith, thanksgiving can extend to tribulations and, in the measure in which it succeeds, it will transform them.

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 4 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 24, 2014
We must not forget that every request is the expression of our will: not only of the rightful and righteous will for existence and life, for fulfillment and expansion, but also the self-seeking, selfish side of that will which puts one's own existence into the center of all things and tries to subject everything to its own ends. This self-assertiveness is contained in our prayers. If, therefore, we expect our prayers to be granted by the Most Holy, we must be prepared to submit them to His judgment, and also prepared for Him to reject or change them. "Thy will be done" must be the core of all prayer, not only because the divine will is irresistible and inescapable, but because it is just and holy and contains within itself everything that is worthy of being.

We must not forget that every request is the expression of our will: not only of the rightful and righteous will for existence and life, for fulfillment and expansion, but also the self-seeking, selfish side of that will which puts one’s own existence into the center of all things and tries to subject everything to its own ends. This self-assertiveness is contained in our prayers. If, therefore, we expect our prayers to be granted by the Most Holy, we must be prepared to submit them to His judgment, and also prepared for Him to reject or change them. “Thy will be done” must be the core of all prayer, not only because the divine will is irresistible and inescapable, but because it is just and holy and contains within itself everything that is worthy of being.

This week I’m featuring a multiple post from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic. From a good review: “The Art of Praying, formerly Prayer in Practice, is one of Guardini’s best books. It is a primer on prayer, and covers all types of prayer, from liturgy, to oral, to contemplative, to all varieties. It is a book to strengthen one in the necessity and possibility of building one’s life around prayer (or at the very least including it in daily actions) and, like all of Father Guardini’s books, profoundly touches on all aspects of the spiritual life in the world – how to seek guidance, the proper deportment in spiritual matters, how to discern God’s voice, the ebbs and flows of our spiritual life, the nature of man, God, and the right relationship of man to God.

It is a book of comfort, acceptance, and the dignity of man. In an age that runs roughshod over the slow, the delicate and the organic, it celebrates the natural rhythms of our lives, and of God’s dealings with us. It is a book that is an experience in prayer itself to read. This is what marked all of Guardini’s actions – to be in his presence OR to hear him speak OR to read one of his books was to come to an experience of the living presence of God, in itself, such was the power of this man.

This is not a book of details about technique – Guardini was not a technician – it is a book of spirituality and philosophy that, by its own holiness, takes one into the presence of God and elucidates timeless, God-given principles on the nature of prayer. Highly recommended.”

Spend some time payingattentiontothesky this week with one of the great masters of Catholic Life.

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We Must Pray For Others
Petition must not forget our fellow men. The believer must include in his thoughts those whom he loves and for whom he is responsible.
God knows of them and loves them with greater purity and power than any human being (even the most loving) is capable of doing. God has the power to protect them, to help them, and to bless them.

It is right that we should think in our prayers of those who are dear to us, dwell lovingly on their problems and cares, and bring these before God. It is comforting to share one’s concern over a person dear to us with the all-providing God and to be able to say to oneself that he is safe in God’s care. It gives peace and confidence; it frees us temporarily from anxiety and torment; and, even if they should return later, the relief which prayer afforded us cannot be undone.

We should also take before God everything that concerns the community as a whole: the events of current history, the needs of the people, the sorrows of the age. Everyone is responsible for the whole of human existence. Although the powers of the individual are, on the whole, very limited, in prayer everyone is able to encompass everything and to take it to Him who guides the destiny of the world. God does not compel man; He has made him free and guides him only through freedom. The door to freedom opens in two aspects of our existence: when we act and when in our prayers we place before God the common cause of mankind.

Prayer is Necessary When Faith Feels Disappointed
We said that man turns to God for succor and comfort by inner necessity and with the same spontaneity and artlessness with which a child turns to his mother. However, it may not always be so. It may happen that we find it difficult, even impossible, to ask anything of God and therefore have to learn anew how to do it. Life brings many disappointments. It may happen that we have prayed in an hour of distress and our prayer has remained unanswered. We may have felt lost and sought God but not found Him.

There may be other reasons: as we grow older many of us also become hardened, relying on our own strength to cope as best we can with the problems of life. This attitude does not favor prayer; it may even make prayer appear childish and futile. If this happens we must strengthen our faith to overrule our feeling. We must seek reassurance in God’s word as revealed to us in the Scriptures and pray in the assurance of His love, even though we may not feel it. If, then, we persevere, our prayers will be heard, even though what we ask for may be granted in a way different from what we had anticipated.

Prayer is Necessary When Faith is Weak
Then, again, we may have the feeling that God is indifferent and is not concerned with mankind; that He dwells in remote spheres while man is delivered up to the hopeless predicament of earthly existence. Such thoughts come readily to people who have gone through much sorrow: to the sad, the silent, and the harassed — and to those who are unable to take things lightly and for whom everything seems to turn out for the worst.

Such people stand in great need of human love and understanding, if only to convince them that things are not as bad as they themselves think. In the absence of such love and such understanding, they must hold on to the faith which tells them that God loves them and they must try again and again to turn to Him in prayer.

Then, again, it may happen that we are unable to conceive of God as a living reality. He appears to us as a pious thought, a holy mood — something beautiful but far away and ephemeral which has no place in the actuality of life. It is not easy to counteract this kind of feeling or mood and to convince oneself that God is a reality, a greater reality than the familiar world.

This understanding cannot be gained by the mind alone but only with the wholeness of our being; for the mind is an instrument which may become blunt and our capacity of feeling may be dulled. We must tell ourselves that the reality of God is of a very exalted and special kind and that, in order to experience it, we must be able to go beyond thought and feeling.

Yet the reality of God is not one which is opposed to the reality of the world which He has created. The familiar world which surrounds us obtains its meaning as an intelligible whole from God. God does not, so to speak, flaunt His reality at the expense of the world. He leaves it to man to recognize it in the things of the world — as it were behind them, above them, and beyond them. Man has the faculty to do this, if he but has the right resolve.

Or it may happen that, confronted with the inexorability of life, we reach the conclusion that God has no power over the world, and that everything happens as it must inevitably happen in accordance with the immutable laws of nature.

Every cause has its effect and every effect in turn becomes a cause. In our own life outward circumstances, inner disposition, and everything that has gone before produce their effect. In all this — in this unbroken chain of causation — there seems little scope for a creative, giving, and helping Deity. This would seem to make prayer for divine intervention an absurdity. Again we must try to probe more deeply; we must try to understand that knowledge, empirically gained, has its validity, but that this validity is limited. As we grow up, understanding gained by observation replaces the more naive beliefs of childhood.

It is quite proper that this should be so, for we have to come to terms with the actuality of life. However, this adult view of life may become destructive if it becomes too rigid, shutting man off from the wholeness of life. Life with all its laws — to which empirical knowledge can give but limited access — lies in the hand of God and can therefore be experienced only in a living relationship between God and man.

If man exercises his privilege of free will and makes the move toward God, he will find that here is the point of growth from which the world may develop and change. For the world as man perceives it is not something which is final and complete. It evolves and completes itself from within man; and for everyone it changes in accordance with his understanding, disposition, and actions. Here, then, man may experience the working of divine government, and may find that prayer (together with faith and obedience) is a means by which he maintains that relationship with God which awakens and keeps alive deeper understanding.

In common experience it is the things and events of the world which appear to be real and effective. To counteract this erroneous notion, we must meditate upon the eternal, timeless reality of God, through whom everything exists. We must dwell upon the ways of God and say to ourselves that He does not work as man does with his tools, but in a thousand mysterious, subtle, and hidden ways through the very essence of things which are His servants. The place where God’s governance is directly experienced is the inmost heart of man: in man’s free will and in his capacity for love.

Wrong Attitudes Interfere With Prayer
Arrogance which consists in wanting to rely entirely on one’s own power may close the door to prayer; so also may hurt pride or shame.
A proud person does not want to humble himself by supplication; he should know that spiritual pride hardens the heart and deludes the mind.

We exist by the grace of God; to admit this and to act accordingly is both truth and humility. This is the lesson the proud must learn. They must also learn that their conception of God is wrong, for they forget that God honors man.

A great deal of harm has been done by a mistaken kind of piety which believes that by degrading man we render honor to God. When this kind of piety speaks of the mercy of God, the term carries the implication of a rich man throwing crumbs to a beggar. The terms love, charity, grace, and help are cheapened by a suggestion of condescension on the part of God toward man which must cause offense to any upright person.Such an interpretation is very wide of the mark. Man is not contemptible. It is true that he has sinned and what this means we can learn from the history of mankind and also by trying to visualize what Christ suffered for our sins.

Yet the dignity which the Creator has bestowed on man is thereby not extinguished. It is his very dignity which is the measure of man’s guilt. Thus everything which comes from God to man contains, as its inmost core, respect; and everything which goes from man to God must contain that which God’s respect has conferred on man namely, dignity. For this reason, praying to God for help can be done in all dignity, as the granting of our wishes is done with honor.

We Must Ask that God’s Will May Be Done
Our prayer should never cease to go out to God, not only as a call in distress but as a constant appeal to His creative might and sanctifying grace.

That is why all prayer must carry by implication the words “Not as I will, but as thou wilt. [Matthew 26:39] We do not know whether what we ask for when we are in distress is good for us. Nor do we know whether the shape we want to give to events in a particular situation will really lead to the proper solution. Our life does not obey the laws which govern business or professional work, where plans are drawn up and put into effect more or less successfully as the case may be. Only a small part of what happens in our life results from what we see and understand; the other, and greater part, comes from unseen realms. It is to the unseen — the mystery of God — that we must direct our prayers; and we must be prepared to receive what is right in the eyes of God.

Moreover, we must not forget that every request is the expression of our will: not only of the rightful and righteous will for existence and life, for fulfillment and expansion, but also the self-seeking, selfish side of that will which puts one’s own existence into the center of all things and tries to subject everything to its own ends.

This self-assertiveness is contained in our prayers. If, therefore, we expect our prayers to be granted by the Most Holy, we must be prepared to submit them to His judgment, and also prepared for Him to reject or change them. “Thy will be done” must be the core of all prayer, not only because the divine will is irresistible and inescapable, but because it is just and holy and contains within itself everything that is worthy of being.

Finally, in the realm to which we direct our prayer reigns not only supreme justice, power, and order, but also the love of the living God. This love He bestowed on us in absolute freedom. In our prayers we take our needs and wishes to God, beseeching Him to act in accordance with the sovereign decisions of His love. The sentence “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt,” ultimately means “may Thy love prevail.”

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 3 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 23, 2014
God's love for man must be worthy of God Himself: this it can be only if it is worthy of man as a person. Having invested man with the dignity of free will and responsibility, God treats him in a manner befitting this status; in other words, He honors man. This does not imply that man possesses anything in his own right which would compel God's respect, for whatever man possesses, including his status as a person, God has given to him. But having given it to him, God treats him accordingly. For the sake of His own honor, God maintains the dignity of man.

God’s love for man must be worthy of God Himself: this it can be only if it is worthy of man as a person. Having invested man with the dignity of free will and responsibility, God treats him in a manner befitting this status; in other words, He honors man. This does not imply that man possesses anything in his own right which would compel God’s respect, for whatever man possesses, including his status as a person, God has given to him. But having given it to him, God treats him accordingly. For the sake of His own honor, God maintains the dignity of man.

This week I’m featuring a multiple post from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic. From a good review: “This is no promotion of a vague kind of spirituality designed simply to make a person feel good. Prayer as Guardini speaks of it is to be always centered on Christ and his work of salvation for us.

This is a compassionate book. Guardini warns that prayer is almost always difficult, that we have an innate tendency to resist it, and that we should simply persevere. However, he also speaks with sympathy regarding times of darkness and depression, and he urges honesty before God. At all times, the focus of the book is about how prayer draws us closer to Christ and better fits us to dwell with Him eternally; it is not a “how-to” book on demanding wealth, fame and riches from a God whom we conceive to be a great Santa Claus. One of the most helpful and practical books on the Christian life I’ve ever read.”

Spend some time here this week with one of the great masters of Catholic Life.

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God is Worthy Of Praise
The greatness of God is expressed in the very names by which we call Him. He is the Uncreated, who has made everything; the One without beginning who is self-sustained; the Infinite; the Immortal; the Eternal. Because He is master of Himself, Lord of His own divinity, He is the Master and Lord of all that is. Thus the universe is His by dominion and by right.

Man inclines himself in adoration before Him completely and unconditionally, in freedom and dignity. In the Scriptures, God’s greatness and His majesty are experienced also as splendor and glory, terms which convey the all-penetrating radiance — the effulgence of the Divine Reality — before which adoration assumes the character of praise and jubilation. Thus the Scriptures contain passage after passage proclaiming the splendor of God, singing His praise, extolling His holiness, majesty, might, eternity, infinite freedom, justice, goodness, mercy, and patience.

One might object that there is something embarrassing about such fulsomeness; that it savors of the submissiveness of the weak, of the sycophancy of the defenseless, which is contrary to the dignity of man and even more so to the dignity of God.

No doubt, when the motives are not absolutely pure, praise — especially the praise of God — deserves this criticism. But when the motives are pure, bestowing praise is perfectly consistent with dignity and honor. One may, for example, have occasion to commend a person for his reliability. Ought one to refrain from it for fear of being thought a flatterer? Indeed, it may sometimes be a real act of friendship to let a person know how highly we think of him and how much we rely upon him. To convey to a person spontaneously and gladly what we find attractive or praiseworthy about him is not flattery but a form of praise which makes for the beauty of human relations.

God certainly does not need our assurance that we value His lofty qualities, yet it is “meet and just” and a form of the purest and truest prayer when man rejoices in God and glorifies Him. The Scriptures, as has been noted, abound in songs of praise. Among the Psalms there are many which, springing from man’s profound experience of the glory of God, pour forth holy emotion in praising His qualities and His works one by one. In the Prophets also, praise of the Lord breaks through again and again, to give as an example only the great song of praise of the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision: “And they cried one to another, and said: `Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of Hosts, all the earth is full of His glory.’ [Isaiah 6:3]

In the New Testament we find the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55] and the song of Zachariah. [Luke 1:68-79] The Liturgy, too, is permeated by songs of praise such as the Te Deum and many hymns and sequences.

Sometimes it is as though the praise of God filled the world; as if it went out to and enfolded all creation, as for instance the Psalms of creation [Psalms 32, 46, 95, and 99 should be given special mention (RSV: Psalms 33, 47, 96, and 100)] or in the response which those songs have found in the hearts of God-enraptured people such as St. Francis of Assisi. In the last of the Psalms mentioned above, creation and creatures are exhorted to praise God:

Praise ye the Lord from the heavens:
praise ye Him in the high places.
Praise ye Him, all His angels:
praise ye Him, all His hosts.
Praise ye Him, O sun and moon:
praise Him, all ye stars and light.
Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens:
and let all the waters that are above the heavens
Praise the name of the Lord.

For He spoke,
and they were made:
He commanded,
and they were created.
He hath established them for ever,
and for ages of ages:
He hath made a decree,
and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
ye dragons, and all ye deeps:
Fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds,
which fulfill His word:
Mountains and all hills,
fruitful trees and all cedars: Beasts and all cattle:
serpents and feathered fowls.
[Psalms 148:1-10 (RSV: Psalms 148: 1-10).]

This is not a fairy-tale approach to nature in which the sun and the moon, the trees, and so forth are personalized and given voices with which to sing the praise of God; it is an inspired poetic rendering of the idea that the sun and the moon and all created things are a mirror of God’s glory because, as His creation, they reflect something of His nature. In so doing, they praise Him by their very existence. They themselves know nothing of it, but man does; he can think himself into their silent song of praise; he can voice it on their behalf, offer it up to God and thus act as the spokesman of creation.

When discussing adoration we said that man humbles himself before God, not because God is all-powerful, but because He is truth and goodness and worthy of adoration. In other words, God proves — if one may express it thus — His divinity by His character. With Him, being and doing are one; essence and existence are one; promise and fulfillment are one. From this derives the ultimate justification of praise.

“Lord, Thou art almighty” is synonymous with “Lord, Thou art worthy of being almighty; Thou livest Thy almightiness — with Thy character and acts. Thy almightiness is the supreme consummation of justice and truth.” It is therefore fitting to praise God.

Man’s spirit rejoices that God is that He is. This joy pours forth in praise. The attributes of God which man is able to name are merely like so many rays of that effulgent light, like so many emanations of that arch-unity of being and necessity that is His inmost essence which cannot be named, in short, like so many emanations of the Who Am (“God said to Moses: `I Am Who Am’ ,) [Exodus 3:14.]

It is Who Am which enkindles in man the flame of gladness which turns to gratitude and finds expression in praise. We praise God and give thanks to Him for the glorious reality of His being. In the words of the Gloria: “We give thanks for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly king, God the Father.” And in the words of the Preface: “It is truly meet and just that we should always, and in all places give thanks to Thee, all-holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God.”

Praise Elevates the Person Praising
The praise is the purer, the more profound the experience of God’s glory and the truer the joy to which it gives rise. In praise, man himself becomes pure and great, for his greatness derives not only from what he is in himself, but from his ability to value and honor that which is greater than himself.

Therefore, it is “meet and just” to do homage to Him who is the supreme greatness and glory; at the same time this act of homage is an act of self-realization for him who performs it. Man’s real world is, as it were, above him. Praising God means ascending into that homeland of our spirit where, it may be said, we truly live.

Thus we should practice giving praise to God. This discipline widens and edifies the spirit. The whole day assumes a different character if, on waking in the morning, rested and refreshed from the night, we recite the words of the Te Deum or of the 148th Psalm. There are no morning prayers more beautiful than these.

Certainly it is right for us to ask in prayer and to put before God the problems of our burdensome existence. Yet it might profit us more if we directed our gaze away from ourselves toward Him. Our cares and needs would not be forgotten for, in Christ’s words, “Your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8]

The Loving God is Generous and Bountiful
God’s being is inexhaustible. Ever new aspects of His being reveal themselves to us in contemplation and religious experience, and to every one of them our souls can respond in prayer. Thus theology itself almost becomes a school for prayer.

This book is merely an introduction; we shall therefore confine ourselves here to considering a final group of divine attributes to which we make direct appeal in our prayers: God is bountiful and generous. He cares for man; He values and loves him. Two forms of prayer in particular — petition and thanksgiving — go out to these aspects of God.

God Loves Us
Some conceptions of the Deity preclude all possibility of either petition or thanksgiving (for example, that God is merely the First Cause — the unmoved mover of the universe — or the idea of the good). To such a god the heart of man could not turn when in distress. In his sight, petition would be as futile as gratitude; awe and admiration would be the only possible reaction to a god conceived in this way.

However, the Scriptures tell us that God is vis viva; that He is the power of willing and of action; that He is Person, able to listen and respond. God is spirit, not in the impersonal sense of an intellectual principle in which the word is often understood, but in the sense given to it by the Scriptures when they refer to Him as the “living God.”

God is the creative, the inexhaustible, the ever close and benevolent One. He is also the “rich” God, as the spiritual masters put it, who is willing to share the abundance of His being with us. He is the ever giving, who can never suffer diminution by His gifts; who never tires in His generosity; who can never be disappointed, for He does not depend on the response of those to whom He gives. He gives creatively. To such a god the heart of man can turn.

Our God does not dwell in Olympian heights, in blissful self-sufficiency, indifferent to the plight of human existence. If this were so, prayer would be of no avail; indeed, it would be undignified and hopeless from the start. The Scriptures tell us that God is concerned with man and that He loves him. God’s love for man is the main theme of the Gospel and the whole of Christ’s life proclaims it. This is true Revelation — that is, something which the mind of man could not have grasped on its own.

This love, so revealed, means not only that God wishes His creatures well but that He truly loves them with an earnestness to which the Incarnation bears witness. It means that God has given Himself in this love, making it — if we may thus express it — His destiny.

This love prepares the ground for its ultimate self-revelation by the creation of the world; its design becomes more distinct in the course of the sacred history which leads up to Christ. In His life and His teaching it comes out into the open, to spread in the pattern of Divine Providence through space and time to its final consummation in the new creation and in the coming of the kingdom of God.

A profound mystery surrounds the origin of divine love, so that to the question as to why God loves man, man himself cannot give an answer. God’s love must be regarded as pure gift, as the creative cause of itself.

There is another aspect to this love, which must be understood in order to get a balanced picture. God’s love for man must be worthy of God Himself: this it can be only if it is worthy of man as a person. Having invested man with the dignity of free will and responsibility, God treats him in a manner befitting this status; in other words, He honors man.

This does not imply that man possesses anything in his own right which would compel God’s respect, for whatever man possesses, including his status as a person, God has given to him. But having given it to him, God treats him accordingly. For the sake of His own honor, God maintains the dignity of man.

This must be strongly emphasized, for there is a manner of interpreting the sovereign, absolute status of God which consists in contrasting it with the contingent, doubtful status of man. This interpretation does not serve the glory either of God or of His creature, for one does not honor God by degrading man.

It is true that man is but a creature, and a fallen, erring one at that. But he is not mere nothingness or sheer demerit; he has significance in the sight of God when God loves him.

Prayers of Petition
To this God we lift up our hearts in prayer. We turn to Him, the omnipotent being, of whose love we feel certain, as the child in distress turns to his mother or as we turn to a friend when we need comfort or help. Christ taught us that we should turn to the Father and ask Him to “give us this day our daily bread” — meaning the necessities of our daily life. He admonished us to do it simply and trustingly, because “your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8]

Christ Teaches us to Ask for Assistance
How simple and natural is this asking we know from the incident related in the eleventh chapter in the Gospel according to St. Luke. There the disciples come to the Master asking Him to teach them to pray. He teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, which is one long petition. It encompasses the whole of our existence, acknowledges its dependence on God, and receives it from His hand.

We are taught to pray for everything: for the necessities of life, for strength in our labors, for comfort in spiritual distress, for support in our moral struggles, for the understanding of truth, for greater charity and righteousness. Man is ever conscious of his want and helplessness; it is only right, therefore, that he should turn to the bountiful and almighty God, who is not only ready to give and to help, but greatly rejoices in it.

Prayers of Petition Acknowledge God’s Bountifulness
Asking for help means more than turning to God only when we have reached the end of our resources. His help does more than merely fill the gaps in our own ability. Therefore, what we ask for in prayer is, strictly speaking, not help in the sense of something additional or supplementary to what we have — our whole life is founded in God. Everything we do comes to us from Him and goes out to Him. There is no such thing as a complete, self-sufficient human being, a human being at his own risk and responsibility. To be man is to have one’s being from and in God. This fact is constantly stressed in the Scriptures.

Prayer, therefore, is not really a call for help but the acknowledgment of the fact that man receives substance and existence, life and meaning, freedom and strength, through God’s creative dispensation — that he exists by the grace of God. All this may be called grace in a wider sense, because he receives as a free favor what he can neither claim nor enforce.

Grace in the strict meaning of the term is everything that comes to us by God’s redeeming love in the form of light, strength, guidance, spiritual comfort, and liberation. Thus all petition in prayer is ultimately petition for grace in the wider as well as the more precise meaning of the term. This prayer for grace must be constantly renewed, since at every instant we have our being by the grace of God. Prayer for grace is as essential to life as breath.

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 2 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 22, 2014

It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: "For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8] More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us -- the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.

It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8] More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us — the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.

This week I’m featuring a multiple post from Guardini’s classic The Art of Praying. Nothing is more essential to our faith, our health and well being than prayer. Learning to pray is one of the great challenges of our being Catholic. For many of us we get this from our parents or grandparents, a loving sibling. But for most of us we limp along really not doing what we are supposed to be doing. This is where Fr. Guardini comes in. Spend some time here this week with one of the great masters of Catholic Life.

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Prayer’s Second Motive: The Yearning For Union
The second motive for prayer begins with the recognition that, despite our resistance to God, we cannot be without Him. The first motive expresses what Peter said to Christ when he felt His mysterious powers by the lake of Genesareth: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. [Luke 5:8] The second finds its expression once again in the words of Peter at Capharnaum, when our Lord promised the Eucharist: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God. [John 6:69-70]

If the knowledge of our sinfulness leads us either to arrogance or dejection, the link between God and man breaks and we turn away from Him. But if it leads us to humility and truth, then we may say, “It is true that by my sins I have forfeited the right of being in the presence of God, but where else shall I be if I cannot be with Him?”

God’s Holiness Calls us to Him
The same holiness which turns man away also recalls him, for holiness is love. It rejects man so that he may find true humility and the new way. When he has done this — however insufficiently — it calls him anew.

We know that God is the supreme good, the supreme being, salvation — life. That is why we yearn for God. If we do not have this yearning — life may have disheartened or disillusioned us or made us dull and indifferent — we must endeavor to awaken it through faith. We must guard against that attitude of spiritual pride which makes us say, “What I do not feel I do not need.”

We must allow for the possibility that our feelings may be unreliable and therefore we must honestly strive to correct them. Yearning for God is inborn in human nature. If it is lacking, it does not follow that we have no need of God, but rather that we may be sick and in need of healing. It may be humiliating to have to admit to oneself that one is lacking something which is an intrinsic part of human nature. It may easily lead one to adopt an attitude of defiance, which, although giving an impression of superiority, is in fact rather pathetic.

We said previously that even if we do not directly apprehend God’s reality we must accept it as a fundamental tenet of our faith. In the same way, we must have recourse to faith if our own feelings do not prompt us to seek God. This is the truth — all else is error.

The Yearning For God is a Form of Prayer
This yearning for God — a yearning for union, for participation — is also prayer.
The story is told of St. Thomas Aquinas that when he had finished an important section of his great work on divine truth, Christ appeared to him and said, “Thou hast written well about me, Thomas. What shall I give thee?” St. Thomas, the legend goes, answered, “Thyself, Lord.” St. Teresa expressed this yearning even more forcefully when she wrote: “Only God is sufficient.” [St. Teresa of Avila, Poem 9, Nada to turbe.]

The deepest core, the highest aspirations, the whole essence and purpose of man’s striving can be summed up in the proposition: man’s soul longs for union with God. This is not merely the expression of a pious sentiment; it is the precise truth.

We want to possess that which we consider to be precious and real. But is there anything in the world which we are really able to possess? Something catches our fancy, we buy it, we take it and carry it home, but do we really possess it? It is true we can make use of it; we can prevent anyone else having it, but is it ever truly ours? Not only may we lose it, not only can it be ruined, not only shall we have to give it up one day — we never really have it; we only hold it externally. We are never able to form that innermost union between ourselves and things which alone can be called having; there always remains a gulf.

The same applies to human relations. We want to establish a close relationship — a true union — with another person. We want to be certain of the other person, but can we ever achieve this? We may gain a person’s confidence or love; we may be linked to that person by the strongest bonds of loyalty and devotion, but ultimately that person still remains distant and inaccessible. God alone, the all-true, the all-being, the Holy, the Remote, is able to give Himself fully to man. Neither things nor persons, nor even we ourselves can fully become our own: only God can create that nearness that fulfills our yearning.

Again and again the cry “My God” appears in the Scriptures. “I said to the Lord: `Thou art my God.’ [Psalms 139:7 (RSV: Psalms 140:6).], This is the heart’s own cry, called forth by God Himself, who spoke thus: “I will walk among you, and will be your God.” [Leviticus. 26:12]

St. Augustine describes the nature of the human soul by saying that it is “capable of comprehending God.” Capable — and this is even more important — of comprehending nothing but God and therefore, we may add, capable of comprehending the world and people only through God.

This finds expression in the prayer in which we strive for God, strive to partake of His plenitude, strive to be at one with Him. In this striving, prayer becomes love, for love means seeking to be completely at one with another autonomous being. We may acquire a jewel, a flower, or a work of art, and, to the extent to which we are able to establish an inner relationship with one of these objects, we may claim them as our own. But we cannot claim a human being as our own unless the right has been granted to us by that human being, unless he has permitted it of his own accord.

How, then, can God become our own? That He, who is Lord of Himself and of all creation, wishes to give Himself to us, and that it is compatible with His divinity to do so, only He Himself can reveal to us. Moreover, He must give us faith so that we may believe it and consummate the union.

This is the mystery of divine love, that in it all love has its origin and finds its complete fulfillment. We must therefore beseech God for the grace of His love and for grace to respond to it.

These two elements — the turning away from God, conscious that we are unworthy of Him, and the striving after Him in the longing for union — are to some degree present in every prayer which deserves the name. By these two contradictory trends we testify to God’s holiness, for it is God’s holiness which makes us shrink back in the knowledge that we ourselves are unholy, but which at the same time makes us strive after Him in the knowledge that in Him lies our salvation.

God is Almighty
Another aspect of the nature of God, which we apprehend in some forms of religious experience, is His almighty power.
The Scriptures abound in testimonies to the majesty and power of God. Frequently these testimonies are in the form of statements about the greatness of the world, which is then said to be nothing in comparison with God.

The Old Testament opens with the great hymn of the creation of the world. Its realms unfold before our eyes, each one issuing forth from the Word of God. The world is through Him; He is of Himself. Heaven and earth, darkness and light, the waters and the land, are what He commands them to be; He, however, is one and everything. There is no primary matter, no plan; everything comes into being through Him alone.

He is not only greater than the world, but absolute greatness –greatness in itself. The world, however, is only through Him and before His sight.

This greatness is free; it is the first source of all order. God utters the words “Let there be,” and everything becomes. However, when God’s greatness encounters man’s defiance, His greatness becomes inexorable and changes into the wrath of God, of which the destructive powers of nature, such as storms, earthquakes, the scorching sun, and the tumultuous seas are warning manifestations. [Psalms. 75,96 (RSV: Psalms. 76, 97).]

Providence Reveals God’s Loving Power
Yet God’s awfulness is all kindness, wisdom, and tenderness, for does not God teach His prophet that the Lord is not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the whistling of a gentle air? [3 Kings 19:11-12 (RSV: 1 Kings 19:11-12).]

It is in the doctrine of divine Providence that the almighty power of God fully reveals itself to us. In this doctrine, the awfulness of omniscience, the ineffableness of omnipotence, and the unfathomableness of a wisdom which controls the immeasurable threads of existence declare themselves as pure love: in Providence God the Almighty becomes the Father.

God Is Infinite
Human existence is finite in every respect: we are limited in our physical size, in our possessions, in the space we inhabit. Everyone has his own particular disposition and temperament, which is the measure both of his possibilities and of his limitations. Again and again — in being and in having, in our relations to things and people — we learn this lesson: so far and no farther. It is different with God. He knows no restriction or limitation, for He is and has everything: He is the all-embracing, the infinite.

God’s being is inexhaustible in substance. From unfathomable depths it rises and then extends over measureless space. The greatest heights which we are able to conceive can be but a pale intimation of His sublimity.

Our power is as limited as our being. In all our endeavors, struggles, and activities we inevitably reach the point beyond which, we realize, we cannot go: the point which marks the frontier of our knowledge and of our faculties.

God knows no such limitations. He creates, and in the most perfect way: by the Word alone. All that has been given to us the world in all its abundance of forms, its diversity of laws, the immeasurableness of all things great and small — all this issued forth from the Word of God.

God Is The Ultimate Good
Yet all that has been said so far does not do justice to the greatness of God. The attribute great does not merely denote a high degree of being and of power; it also denotes a high degree of value — it denotes excellence of quality. Thus we would call great a man possessing great purity of heart and nobility of mind; we would also call great a work of man if it expressed purity and noble intent. By this token, a painting twelve inches square, if it expressed these qualities, would be greater than one which covered the wall but did not express them.

God is not only the all-real, but also the all-good. When we pronounce the word truth we thereby express that all-embracing plenitude of pure integrity of essence which is God. Again, when we speak of justice, purity, harmony — these are really ways of referring to Him. Beauty is not really an attribute but a proper name of God. It is value — goodness, truth, beauty — from which all that is derives its ultimate right to be.

God not only demands value, and imposes value but is the form (or idea) of value. More than that: God is the supreme Universal – the universal of universals — of which all particulars, including all values, are mere reflections.

Thus His reality is absolutely justified and necessary. He alone has substance and the sovereign right to be.

Mere existence is dark and brooding; value gives it light. “This is the declaration which we have heard from Him and declare unto you: that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. [1 John 1:5]

God’s mighty power, as we have pointed out, is all tenderness and love, capable of giving everything and of giving itself.

Finally, life is more than breathing, growing, working, creating, and experiencing. Life is — or should be — self-experiencing and, ultimately, self-realization. How much there is in us which we do not realize, which, indeed, seems unrealizable!

God is omniscient. His omniscience embraces the world and mankind; but, above all, it is directed toward Himself. God is self-realized in the fullness of His infinite being. Aware of His own majesty, He carries the inconceivable momentousness of His own being in the supreme freedom of His will.

These reflections can do no more than give an intimation of God’s greatness: a greatness which is beyond all measure, yet is not inordinate or unwieldy, but light, luminous, and controlled — in short, perfect.

Adoration is the Proper Response to God’s Goodness
Before this greatness man inclines himself, not only in the literal sense but in the devotion of his heart. He inclines himself without reservation, in complete surrender as the creature before the Creator: in short, he adores. The act of adoration expresses the realization that God is greatness, pure and simple, and that man is smallness, pure and simple; that God exists by reason of Himself and in Himself, but man only through God and by God’s grace.

Adoration affirms: “Thou art God; I am man. Thou art the One that truly is, self-created, substantial from all eternity. I am only through Thee and in Thy sight. Thou hast all plenitude of being, all fullness of value, all sublimity of meaning; Thou art Lord and unto Thyself. The meaning of my existence, however, is derived from Thine. I live in Thy light and the measure of my existence is in Thee.”

God is Worthy of Our Adoration
It is important to stress that in this act of worship man does not submit to God simply because God is so infinitely greater than man. If this were the only reason for man’s submission it would mean that God’s almighty power had left him no choice but to yield.

Man submits because he knows that this is right and just in itself. If adoration merely expressed “I submit to Thee because Thou art stronger than I,” this would be a feeble and ultimately unworthy sentiment. But adoration says: “I submit because Thou art worthy of this act of homage. I have apprehended that Thou art not only reality but truth; not only power but also goodness; not only dominion but infinite merit and the meaning of meaning.”

In the life of man, might and right, strength and merit, actuality and truth, status and worthiness rarely coincide; it is this which makes our existence so drifting and questionable. It demands from us constant striving, and at the same time fills us with a sense of futility. With God it is different. Whenever man encounters God he finds in His might also right, in His greatness also worthiness.

There is no dichotomy in God’s nature; with Him being and action are one. To all this we give expression in adoration.

A God merely all-real and omnipotent, man could not adore. He could not resist such a God; he would have to surrender unconditionally to Him. For the sake, however, of his dignity as a person, he would have to deny Him adoration. In the act of adoration it is not only the body which is bowed down, but the person as a whole, and this can be done only voluntarily and with dignity. The unity of being and meaning in God renders this possible.

This is magnificently illustrated in the book of Revelation in the passage of the four-and-twenty elders (the last representatives of the human race) worshipping Him and casting their crowns before Him, saying: “Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honor, and power: because Thou hast created all things; and for Thy will they were, and have been created. [Revelations 4:11]

Adoration is More Important Than Petition
Apart from the special importance which attaches to the act of adoration as an integral part of religious worship, it is important also as an element in man’s spiritual life as a whole. It is as necessary to man’s spiritual existence as the laws of logic are to his intellectual life or the spatial order is to his physical existence. Or, using a different analogy, we may say that adoration is to man’s spiritual vision what light is to his physical eye.

Human existence is founded in truth, and the foundation of all truth is that God is God — unique, alone, and unto Himself; and that man is God’s creature. By recognizing this fundamental truth and by acting in accordance with it man maintains his integrity and his wholeness. Adoration is the act in which this truth continually rises resplendent, and in which it is acknowledged and consummated.

It is important that we practice adoration because normally we tend in our prayers to put too much emphasis on asking. Of course we should ask, but let us not forget what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask Him. [Matthew 6:8]

More important than petition is adoration, for in it truth will come to us — the truth of life. Everyday cares will find their proper place and our standards will become rightly adjusted. This truth will comfort us; it will put in order what the entanglements and illusions of life have thrown into confusion. It will heal us spiritually so that we may begin anew.

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The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer 1 – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 21, 2014

The first motive for prayer springs from man's awareness of his own unworthiness before the holiness of God. Man recognizes that he is selfish, unjust, deficient, and impure. He acknowledges his own wrongdoings and tries to assess them: not merely those of today or of yesterday, but of the whole of his life. Beyond this he tries to visualize the whole of the human condition with its shortcomings. He realizes sin as it is understood by the Scriptures, sin as it is active in himself. He recognizes that sin is transgression of the moral law and of the natural law. But even more, he recognizes that sin is contumacy before God's holiness, that it is, therefore, not only wicked but unholy. He admits it and sides with God against himself; he says, in the words of the Psalm: "For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged. [Psalms 50:5-6 (RSV: Psalms 51:3-4)]

The first motive for prayer springs from man’s awareness of his own unworthiness before the holiness of God. Man recognizes that he is selfish, unjust, deficient, and impure. He acknowledges his own wrongdoings and tries to assess them: not merely those of today or of yesterday, but of the whole of his life. Beyond this he tries to visualize the whole of the human condition with its shortcomings. He realizes sin as it is understood by the Scriptures, sin as it is active in himself. He recognizes that sin is transgression of the moral law and of the natural law. But even more, he recognizes that sin is contumacy before God’s holiness, that it is, therefore, not only wicked but unholy. He admits it and sides with God against himself; he says, in the words of the Psalm: “For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged. [Psalms 50:5-6 (RSV: Psalms 51:3-4)]

Recollectedness and The Divine Presence
On the holy ground to which we gain access in the state of recollectedness, the divine presence becomes manifest. To approach this divine reality is thus the prime task and toil of prayer; the second task is to hold firm in the holy presence and to comply with its exacting demands.

Toilsome Prayer Is Yet Worthy Prayer
We have used the word toil deliberately because prayer can really be toil. At times, as we have said, prayer comes easily and as the heart’s own language. But generally speaking and with the majority of people, this is not so. Mostly it must be willed and practiced, and the toil of this practice derives partly from the fact that we do not experience the real presence of God. Instead of experiencing His presence, the worshipper is conscious of a void; in consequence everything else appears to him more urgent, more real. He must therefore persevere.

Anyone who says that prayer has nothing to offer him, that he feels no urge to pray, or that his prayer “does not ring true” and that therefore he had better leave it, misses the essential point of prayer. To be able to persevere through the hours of emptiness has a special value which cannot be replaced by the most inspired prayer at some other time. Only he who takes his faith seriously can continue to speak through the darkness without receiving any response — he knows that he is heard by Him to whom he speaks.

God May Reveal Himself in the Void
There are different kinds of voids.
There is the void which is caused by the lack of something — the void of nonexistence. But there is another void, a void which is vibrant with being.

These two kinds are not always easily distinguishable. There are times when it seems that the void we experience when praying is the one of nonexistence. No wonder that we feel discouraged and find ourselves tempted to give up not only prayer, but belief in God altogether.

This is a testing of our faith, for as the song of praise in the Sanctus tells us: “Full are the heavens and the earth of the majesty of His glory.” But we cannot see Him: although He is present, not merely as the stones and the trees are present, but present in a very special, intimate way, close to us, abiding with us — we cannot see Him. This very earth, which is full of the majesty of His glory, also acts as a veil to truth which our senses cannot penetrate.

Into this void of not-seeing, not-hearing, and not-experiencing, there may at times enter something, something inexpressible and yet significant — a hint of meaning amidst apparent nothingness, a meaning which prevails over the nothingness. It happens more frequently than one would expect and one should pay attention to it.

This breath, this vibration, is the manifestation of God, faint and intangible though it is, it can support our faith, so that we may persevere.

If faith perseveres the void may suddenly be filled, for God is not a mere fantasy, idea, or feeling, but the all-pervading reality. He does not dwell above us indifferent in the blissful remoteness of celestial spheres, but with us. To Him who is the all-free, the all-mighty, there are no barriers, not even the coldness of our hearts; and He will reveal Himself to those who persevere in faith.

If God were only an idea, even the supreme idea, we should be justified if we turned in preference to the diversity of particulars: to living people and to the earth in all its beauty and sorrow. But He is the living God who spoke thus: “Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him.” [Revelations 3:20]

The reality of God can make itself felt as a mere breath or the mighty flood which completely fills man. It is experienced in our innermost soul, by the loftiest heights of our spirit, and by all that is most pure in our being. It is unique and simple and yet possesses the most diverse properties. That is why the masters of religious life speak of “spiritual organs of perception,” that is, the inner eye and ear, the inner feeling and taste. They are referring to the different ways in which God can be experienced.

Yet prayer must persevere, independent of such experience. Should God reveal Himself, should it be vouchsafed to the worshipper to stand in the radiance of His light, he should be thankful and treasure the experience; but should all remain dark and void, he must hold on to faith alone and persevere. He may seek comfort in the prophecies at the end of the seven messages in the secret Revelation which speak of the victory in the darkness and misery of earthly life. [Revelations 2:3]

God is the Holy One
Of all the attributes of God of which the Scriptures speak, the one that is paramount and which determines all others is holiness. What this holiness is, no one can know, not because it would be too hard for us to conceive or because it would, in its trail, bring a host of complex questions, but because it is a primary given fact more precisely, the primary given fact. It is His basic nature, the first cause that determines His being. “To whom have ye likened me, or made me equal? saith the Holy One. [Isaiah 40:25]

In these words holiness proclaims itself as God’s inmost essential being, thereby differentiating Him from all creation. Thus one cannot express what it is. One can but indicate: see, hark, and feel. It is impossible to express in conceptual language what light is. But one can say what it does, what laws determine it, how it affects things, and what would happen if there were no light. But one cannot say what it is in itself. One can only say, “open your eyes and see.”

God’s holiness is that primary essential self wherein He has His being, and by which He is known. Every human being has diverse traits of character which can be described and named; but he has something more than those traits — not necessarily the sum of them, but something which flashes into the minds of those who love him, something ultimate and substantial which they regard as being him, as constituting his true being. In the same manner we must regard God’s holiness as His inmost essential being.

People, things, and events are earthly and of this world. God is unearthly; He is transcendent and mysterious. But such words can do no more than indicate and hint at something which is beyond description. Reality cannot be described; it can only be directly apprehended — that is, realized.

The outward forms of religion can but give an intimation. A church, for example, which is not only finely constructed and beautiful, but which also has an atmosphere of piety, may give such an intimation. In such a church we may experience that otherness which compels us to leave the things of the world outside, to become still, and to kneel down.

This is forcefully expressed in the passage of the burning bush: “And He said: `Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ [Exodus 3:5]

There are people who have something of that otherness. They shatter the complacency of one’s habitual existence; they shift the emphasis of things and call up invocations of that which, in the last resort, alone is important. These are intimations of God’s holiness, of that nature which is wholly His own — that unique and supremely precious essence of God whereon depends our all –our eternal welfare, our salvation.

Holiness means that God is pure, that He is of a mighty all-consuming purity which permits no blemish. It means that He is good, not in the sense merely that He has all those qualities which are encompassed by the concept good, but also in the sense that “none is good but one, that is God. [Mark 10:18] In short, God is the supreme good.

That which we call good on earth can be likened to a splinter from the infinite bounty of His being. God is the standard by which all is measured, the ultimate test to which everything has to submit, the ultimate judgment over all and everything.

God’s Holiness Which Makes Prayer Possible
As soon as man comes into the proximity of God, he is confronted by this holiness, becomes aware of it, and responds to it in various ways.

He becomes aware that he himself is not holy, that he is profane and earthly — indeed, that he is sinful and guilty. He realizes that he is not fit to be in the presence of God and wishes either to go away from Him, or to say with Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. [Luke 5:8]

Yet, at the same time, he knows that he stands in perpetual need of this holy God, that it is literally a matter of life or death to him, for he knows that he can live only through Him and that in the final analysis he can be nowhere else but with Him. Thus despite his own unworthiness, he is impelled toward God, impelled to speak in the words of the Psalm: “O God, my God, for Thee do I watch at break of day. For Thee my soul hath thirsted; for Thee my flesh, O how many ways! In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water. [Psalms 62: 2-3 RSV: 63:1]

From these two responses spring the forms of prayer. For ultimately prayer is man’s answer to God’s holiness. A God merely omniscient, all-just, omnipotent, and all-real, would be an enormity otherwise — the Absolute Being. We might admire Him, stand in awe of Him, feel overwhelmed by Him, but we could not pray to Him.

It is God’s holiness that makes prayer possible. It is only holiness which imbues God’s omniscience, justice, and reality with those characteristics, and gives to it those powers of intimate contact which make prayer possible. One might almost say that the act of prayer expresses in man something of that nature, the God’s holiness makes prayer possible supreme — the divine — expression of which is God’s holiness.

God’s Holiness Makes Us Uncomfortable
There is a third human reaction to God’s holiness. It is an evil reaction; it rises from man’s contradictory nature and consists of a feeling of discomfort, irritation, and rebelliousness. A strange manifestation! One is inclined to ask how this can come about if God is the moving Spirit and essence of the universe, and man is His creature — “For in Him we live, and move, and are. [Acts 17:28]

It is indeed difficult to understand; it springs from the mystery of evil. Sin, ultimately, is resistance to the holiness of God. It would be a mistake to think of this resistance merely as an open rebellion against, or as a denial of, God.

Potentially it is present in all of us — sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker; sometimes quite openly, sometimes in the guise of self-sufficient (rational) culture, or healthy common sense. When resistance, open or otherwise, gains the upper hand, prayer becomes impossible.

We must watch out for signs of it in ourselves; we must face it, try to resolve or still it, or overcome it with firm determination, whichever may be for us the most effective way of dealing with it. Let us leave this and return to the two fundamental motives of prayer already referred to.

Prayer’s First Motive: A Sense Of Our Own Sinfulness
The first motive for prayer springs from man’s awareness of hisown unworthiness before the holiness of God.
Man recognizes that he is selfish, unjust, deficient, and impure. He acknowledges his own wrongdoings and tries to assess them: not merely those of today or of yesterday, but of the whole of his life. Beyond this he tries to visualize the whole of the human condition with its shortcomings. He realizes sin as it is understood by the Scriptures, sin as it is active in himself. He recognizes that sin is transgression of the moral law and of the natural law.

But even more, he recognizes that sin is contumacy before God’s holiness, that it is, therefore, not only wicked but unholy. He admits it and sides with God against himself; he says, in the words of the Psalm: “For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me. Against Thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before Thee: that Thou mayst be justified in Thy words, and mayst overcome when Thou art judged. [Psalms 50:5-6 (RSV: Psalms 51:3-4)]

We Sometimes Deny Our Own Guilt
There are many ways in which man may try to evade this acknowledgment. The crudest form of evasion consists in a deliberate denial of his guilt.
He considers himself pure, persuades himself that he has always been righteous and has committed no sin. He does not realize what presumption there is behind his pretense of righteousness, how much there is amiss behind his allegedly blameless conduct.

What is required here is the will and the courage to face the truth. God has told us that we are sinners, it is unbelief not to take it seriously. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8-10] These words show how self-deceptive is the feeling of our purity and our righteousness. They clearly state our condition before God and point the path to true understanding.

It does not follow that we should torment ourselves over our sinful ways. This also would be acting against truth and, moreover, could become a form of self-indulgence, which might have evil consequences. Obsession with the thought of sinfulness has invariably led either the persons so obsessed — or a later generation — to some form of rebellion. Christian teaching about sin gives us a new understanding which encourages and enables us to strive for purer righteousness. The acknowledgment of our sins must not make us despondent and discouraged; on the contrary, it ought to call forth in us the desire for spiritual purification and renewal.

We Sometimes Wrongly Consider Sinfulness Acceptable
There is another way of attempting to evade the issue: that is, by giving way to that false pride which prevents man from admitting to himself that he is a sinner, although he does not hide the fact that he has done wrong and is doing wrong. But since he cannot alter the fact he simply says, “My place is not with God,” and turns away.

What is lacking here is humility. Man should be able not only to acknowledge that he is a sinner, but also to face the idea – not in a spirit of defiance and self-assertiveness, but with sincerity and good-will; not in a spirit of self-abasement and mortification, but honorably and responsibly. In short, man must reconcile himself to the idea that he is a sinner and must learn to bear the stigma. This will open the way to self-renewal.

We Sometimes Despair
A third form of evasion is caused by lack of courage. When man sees that he is constantly transgressing and that evil is deeply rooted in him, when he begins to feel that all is confusion and that there is no way out, he runs the risk of despairing of himself, especially when he is a person wanting in willpower and, perhaps, in logic. To hold out in these circumstances is most difficult because the mind seems to answer to all good intentions, “You’re not going to carry this through; you will do again what you have always done before.” There is only one remedy: to put aside all inner searchings and recriminations, to have done with all hesitations, and to put one’s absolute trust in God who “quickeneth the dead; and calleth those things that are not, as those that are. [Romans 4:17] From this act of surrender to the Absolute, above and within us, will spring new resolve and new strength. We shall be able to say, “I will and shall, for God the omnipotent wills it.”

God’s Forgiveness Makes Repentance Possible
There is another mysterious aspect of God’s power which makes it possible for man to acknowledge his wrong and to admit and confess his sins. Man knows this intuitively, and the Scriptures have revealed it to us. God is not only the prime cause of the good and the fount of all justice; He is the all-renewer. He can give a new beginning to what appears final and He can undo all deeds. The words of St. Paul quoted above point to this mystery. God who is the supreme holiness, which by definition excludes all evil, is willing and able to forgive and to renew.

True forgiveness, the forgiveness which we are seeking and which alone is of benefit to us, is a great mystery. It implies not only that God decides to overlook what has happened and turns lovingly toward the sinner; this would not be sufficient. God’s forgiveness is creative: it makes him who has become guilty free of all guilt. God gathers the guilty man into His holiness, makes him partake of it, and gives him a new beginning. It is to this mystery that man appeals when he acknowledges his sins, repents of them, and seeks forgiveness. This is the first of those two motives of prayer which come into being before God’s holiness.

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Finding One’s Center – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 18, 2014
Many people don’t know that Pope Francis planned to write his thesis on Romano Gurardini the distinguished theologian and liturgist who had a profound influence on Joseph Ratzinger.  Ratzinger even named one of his most important books with the same title as that of one of Guardini’s (The Spirit of the Liturgy) (We need to read and apply what Ratzinger wrote now more than ever, by the way.) Magister corrected his own entry which now reads: "It was precisely on Guardini that the Jesuit Bergoglio was planning to write the thesis for his doctorate in theology, during an academic sojourn in Germany in 1986 at the philosophical-theological faculty of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt: a plan that was later abandoned." Pope Benedict, the day he stepped-down, quoted Guardini twice in his final speech as Pope.

Many people don’t know that Pope Francis planned to write his thesis on Romano Gurardini the distinguished theologian and liturgist who had a profound influence on Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger even named one of his most important books with the same title as that of one of Guardini’s (The Spirit of the Liturgy) (We need to read and apply what Ratzinger wrote now more than ever, by the way.) Magister corrected his own entry which now reads: “It was precisely on Guardini that the Jesuit Bergoglio was planning to write the thesis for his doctorate in theology, during an academic sojourn in Germany in 1986 at the philosophical-theological faculty of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt: a plan that was later abandoned.” Pope Benedict, the day he stepped-down, quoted Guardini twice in his final speech as Pope.

From the book Romano Guardini: Spiritual Writings

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If young people were to read my memoirs, they would surely be amazed that someone could be as unclear about himself as I had been. The primary cause for this confusion lay above all in me, in the complexity of my personal being which only slowly found its center point.

What brought about my own religious life was also what put great pressure on my religious life until my university years. I was always anxious and very scrupulous. For a young person, this condition is more difficult than an easygoing sense of life. An easygoing sense of life is at least a life, while the self-preoccupation of the anxious conscience is destructive. Help for this condition can properly come only from an older person who sees the anxiety.As a youth, however, I did not meet such a person. Added to this condition for me was the tendency toward depression which later became acute. Nevertheless, this tendency was also a source of creativity for me.

My scrupulosity and tendency toward depression could have led even in my early years to an intense inner life, full of strong experiences. But this did not happen. When I look back on my life, I am not able to see the entire time up until my university years. Nothing comes to me from my early childhood memories — memories which usually make the beginning of an autobiography worthwhile. I do not want to suggest that those years were empty. What unfolded later in my life must have had its roots in my early years.

But everything from my childhood lies as though under water. I have never had the sense of a happy childhood nor the desire to return to my childhood. I would not like to return to my childhood. I wish to add, however, that my parents truly loved us, and we them. We four brothers were closely united despite all conflicts, tensions, and difficulties, and it has remained that way even to this day.

When I finally arrived in Freiburg in 1906, I experienced an indescribable despondency. The prospect of becoming a priest threw me into a dark depression. I no longer understood myself. Today I know that what expressed itself in this despondency was the resistance of an entirely unlived out nature to the necessary deprivations of the priesthood.

Also, since birth, I have borne the inheritance of the depression that my mother experienced. Such an inheritance is not in itself bad; it is the ballast that gives a ship its ability to travel deep seas. I do not believe that there is creativity and a deep relationship to life without having a disposition toward depression. A person cannot eliminate it, but must include it in his or her life. As part of this, one must accept it in an innermost way from God, and must try to transform it into a good for other people.

I did not have this insight into depression when I went to Freiburg. After I arrived there, the flood waters of depression climbed so high in me that I thought I was sinking, and I considered putting an end to my life. I found peace in a few specific places; this sounds pathetic, but it is true. In Freiburg’s cathedral, the Munster, the altar for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament stood to the right of the main altar. When I knelt on the steps of this side altar, the despondency lessened — only to return soon afterward. How long the depression continued I no longer know. In my memory it seems endless. It was in fact not more than a couple of weeks. But it is not only the external duration which makes time seem long.

One day I was going to St. Odilien Church, where a natural spring of water bubbles up, which is a pleasure to watch. On the return way, on the beautiful street that passes the Carthusian house, I prayed the rosary. The sadness lessened, and I became peaceful. It was my first encounter with this prayer, which I later prayed so frequently. Since that moment I have never doubted my call to the priesthood. The dark flow of depression has always continued in my life, and more than once it has climbed very high. It was clear to me, however, that I was being called to the priesthood, and I have kept this conviction into the present.

I must say more about Wilhelm Koch, who was one of our professors of theology in Tubingen. Above all, I must recall that Koch was the person who freed me from the demands of scrupulosity. As I said earlier, scrupulosity had afflicted me since my childhood; during my first semester in Tubingen, I became unbearable. I attribute this senseless self-preoccupation in good part to the fact that my nerves were so sensitive and have never entirely healed. Scrupulosity is connected, too, to my tendency toward depression, and it can to a certain extent have a positive effect because it makes one serious.

But it can also destroy judgment and energy, to say nothing of the danger of inner panic that can drive anxious persons in the wrong direction so that they throw aside all moral and religious restraints.

In any event, Koch had the custom of hearing the confessions of a few students. Some of us — Karl Neudorfer, Josef Weiger, and I — asked him for this favor, and he agreed. He heard someone’s confession in the following manner. At the agreed upon time, the confessee arrived at Koch’s room, and walked back and forth with him in the room. This allowed the penitent to tell all that he had on his heart — whether about studies or practical matters, religious questions or moral issues — and to say what he thought about these things.

Then Koch put on his stole, asked the penitent to give a summary of all that was discussed, and then gave the absolution. In this way, I experienced what a wonderful source of life the sacrament of reconciliation can be when it is performed properly. I learned to stand at a distance from my anxieties, to distinguish unimportant concerns from important ones, and to see the appropriate tasks of my personal and religious formation.

Since Koch was a good person, he offered us some advice that we followed. At that time, we had no knowledge of human sexuality, and he saw how this ignorance burdened us. So he sent each of us to a professor of psychiatry, who was empathetic to us and recommended a good book about sexual matters. This endeavor was a bit risky since Professor G. was not a Christian. The book was entitled Die sexuelle Frage (The sexual Question), by Forel. It treated sexual matters with a matter-of-factness and detail that served us well. We read the book aloud together and found that the whole subject became demystified.

These steps to inner freedom had the net effect of turning the semester into a good experience. I cannot say that my anxiety totally disappeared. Since it is really part of my very makeup, it always runs as a possibility beneath the surface of my life. I have attained however, a critical distance from it and now am able to distinguish among its demands and assess each of them.

In the course of my last year at the University of Bonn, I was invited to accept a faculty position at Bonn in practical theology and liturgical studies. I had the intuition, however, that I should not deviate from my inner sense of direction, and therefore that I should not take this position. As I mention this, I would like to say that, since the awakening of my spiritual life, I had come to trust my inner orientation, and I have made my life’s various decisions concerning professional, spiritual and personal matters on the basis of this inner sense of direction.

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Disinterestedness – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 15, 2014
The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

From time to time I feature examples of moral values that Fr. Guardini wrote about in his little book, Learning The Virtues That Lead You To God. Taken from a review: “Guardini’s gift is that he can penetrate the indoctrination, distractions and ultimately, the lying of our age and pierce through to the bedrock of our spirtuality, the nature of man, and man in relationship to God. His writings bring man back to what is essential, and strengthen him in trying to live by these precepts. One of Guardini’s purposes in all that he did was to shore up the faith in an age that attacks it mercilessly, and in an age that tries to falsify the nature of man (in advertising, media, manipulation, etc.) This is a wonderful book. It is the holy stratosphere surrounding the throne of God. Highly recommended.”

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Perhaps this title surprises the reader, for who is likely, at present, to consider disinterestedness a virtue; that is, an example of moral value?

There is a proverb which comes from ancient China and which states that the fewer interests a man has, the more powerful he is; that the greatest power is complete disinterestedness. But that idea is foreign to us. The image of man which has become the standard since the middle of the past century is quite different. It presents the active man who moves with decision in dealing with the world and accomplishes his purposes. This man has many interests and considers himself perfect when everything that he does is subordinated to the goals that he sets up for himself.

That such a man accomplishes much would not be denied even by the teachers of that ancient philosophy. But they would probably say that most of it is superficial and bypasses that which is really important.

How, then, does the man live who is ruled by his interests? In his associations with others, such a man does not turn toward another person with simplicity and sincerity, but he always has ulterior motives. He wishes to make an impression, to be envied, to gain an advantage, or to get ahead. He praises in order to be praised. He renders a service in order to be able to exact one in return. Therefore he does not really see the other as a person; instead, he sees wealth or social position, and then there is always rivalry.

With such a man we are not at ease. We must be cautious. We perceive his intentions and draw back. The free association in which true human relations are realized does not develop. Of course, our life with its many needs also has its rights. Many human relations are built upon dependence and aims. Consequently, it is not only right but absolutely necessary that we should seek to obtain what we need and should be conscious of doing this. But there are many other relations which rest upon a candid and sincere meeting of persons. If interests and ulterior motives determine our attitude in such cases, then everything becomes false and insincere.

Wherever the essential relations of “I” and “thou” are to be realized, interests must give way. We must see the other as he is, deal simply with him, and live with him. We must adapt ourselves to the situation and its demands, whether it be a conversation, collaboration, joyfulness, or the enduring of misfortune, danger, or sorrow.

Only in this way are true human values made possible, such as a real friendship, true love, sincere comradeship in working, and honest assistance in time of need. But if interests become dominant here, then everything atrophies.

A man who keeps interests in their proper place acquires power over others, but it is a peculiar kind of power. Here we approach the ancient aphorism of which we spoke in the beginning. The more we seek to gain our own ends, the more the other person closes up and is put on the defensive. But the more clearly he perceives that we do not wish to drive him, but simply to be with him and live with him — that we do not want to gain something from him, but merely to serve the matter at hand — then the more quickly he discards his defenses and opens himself to the influence of our personality.

The power of personality becomes stronger in proportion to the absence of interests. It is something quite different from that energy by which a man subordinates another to his will, and which is really a very external thing in spite of its dynamic quality. The power of personality stems from the genuineness of life, the truth of thought, the pure will to work, and the sincerity of one’s disposition.

Something similar holds true of a man’s relation to his work. When a man who is dominated by his interests works, then his work lacks precisely that which gives it value; that is, a sincere service to the thing itself. For him the first and chief consideration is how he can get ahead and further his career. He knows very little of the freedom of work and the joy of creation.

If he is a student, he works only with an eye to his vocation, and very frequently not even to that which really deserves the name of vocation, which is a man’s feeling that he is “called” to a certain task within the context of human society. Rather, he works with an eye to that which offers the most opportunities for financial gain and for prestige. He really works only for the examination; he learns what is required and what the professor in each case demands. We must not exaggerate; these things, too, have their rights. But if they are the sole motives, then the essential thing is lost. That kind of student never has the experience of living in the milieu of knowledge, of feeling its freedom and its greatness. He is never touched by wisdom and understanding; his interests isolate him. What we have said of students also holds true of other forms of preparation for later life.

Naturally, we repeat, these other things have their rights. A man must know what he wants; otherwise his actions disintegrate. He must have a goal and must orient his life to that goal. But the goal should lie mainly in the object to which be devotes himself. He will pay attention to remuneration and advancement, since his work gives him the means of which he and his family have need and gives him wealth and the esteem of others. But the real and essential consideration must always be what the work itself demands, that it be done well and in its entirety.

The man who has this attitude will not let his actions be determined by considerations extrinsic to the task. In this sense, he is disinterested. He serves, in the fine sense of the word. He does the work which is important and timely; he is devoted to it and does it as it should be done. He lives in it and with it, without self-interest or side glances.

This is an attitude that seems to be disappearing in most places. Persons who do their duty in sincere devotion, because the work is valuable and fine, seem to be becoming rare. Actions are increasingly based upon utilitarian motives and considerations of success apart from the real matter in hand.And yet disinterestedness is the only disposition which produces the genuine work, the pure act, because it frees man for creativity. It alone gives rise to what is great and liberating, and only the man who works in this way gains interior riches.

What we have said also opens the way to the final essence of humanity — selflessness. One of the most profound paradoxes of life is the fact that a man becomes more fully himself the less he thinks of himself. To be more precise, within us there lives a false self and a true self. The false self is the constantly emphasized “I” and “me” and “mine,” and it refers everything to its own honor and prosperity, wishing to enjoy and achieve and dominate.

This self hides the true self, the truth of the person. To the extent that the false self disappears, the true self is freed. To the extent that a man departs from himself in selflessness, he grows into the essential self. This true self does not regard itself, but it is there. It experiences itself, but in the consciousness of an interior freedom, sincerity, and integrity.

The way in which a man puts away the false self and grows into the real self is that which the masters of the interior life call “detachment.” The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

Shall we say, with reference to essentials, that that man has opened himself for God, has become, if we may use the term, penetrable for God? He is the “door” through which God’s power can stream into the world and can create truth and order and peace.

There is an event which reveals this marvel. When St. Francis had lived through the long loneliness on Mount La Verna and had received the stigmata of Christ’s Passion in his hands, feet, and side and returned to his people, they came and kissed the wounds in his hands. Francis, so basically humble, would have, in former times, rejected with horror these marks of reverence. Now he permitted them, for he no longer felt that he, “the son of Bernardone of Assisi” was their object, but Christ’s love in him was. His exterior self had been quenched, but the real Francis shone – he who no longer stood in his own light, but was wholly transparent for God.

Every genuine virtue, as we have seen before, not only pervades the whole of human existence, but it reaches beyond it to God. More correctly, it comes down from God to man, for its true and original place is the divine life. How does this apply in the case of disinterestedness? Does not God have interests — He, through whose will everything exists and whose wisdom orders all things?

We must be careful not to confuse meanings. To “have interests,” in the sense in which we have used the term, means something other than being active. Every activity has a goal, an end to be attained; otherwise, there would be chaos. In this sense, God looks toward the goal He has set, and directs His activity toward it. It is a different thing when the person acting is not simply looking toward the other person or the work to be accomplished, but regards himself, wishes to be recognized, and to secure an advantage. How could God intend anything of the sort? He is the Lord, Lord of the world, Lord of the divine life and existence. What could He need? He has — no, He is — everything!

When He creates the world, He does not do so as a man would make something, in order to boast of it or to serve hisown needs, but He creates through pure, divine joy in the act.We may use the term joy here, in its highest sense. He creates things so that they may exist, that they may be truthful, genuine, and beautiful. We cannot conceive of the freedom and joyfulness of God’s creative activity.

But what of the government of the world, that which we call “Providence”? Doesn’t God have purposes? Doesn’t He guide man, every man, and all the events of his life, to the end that He has proposed? Isn’t the life of one man arranged in a certain way because the life of another is connected with it in this manner? Aren’t the lives of all men oriented toward each other, and isn’t the whole of existence arranged by divine wisdom according to God’s plan?

Again, we must distinguish the meanings of words. Supreme wisdom does not will “interests” which accompany and are extrinsic to the essential thing, but the very meaning of that which is willed, its truth, and the fulfillment of its nature.

This divine will is the power which binds one thing to another, refers one event to another, brings one person into relation with another, and brings every man into relation with the whole. This does not constitute interests, but wisdom, the sovereign wisdom of the perfect Master who creates human existence as a woven fabric in which every thread supports all the others and is itself supported by all the others.

At present, we do not yet see the pattern. We see only the reverse of the tapestry and are able to follow certain lines for a short distance, but then they disappear. But someday the tapestry will be turned, at the end of time, at the Final Judgment; then the figures will stand out brightly.

Then the question never fully answered (or not answered at all) in the course of time — “Why”: Why this sorrow? Why this privation? Why can one do this and not another? — and all the questions of life’s trials will receive their answer from the wisdom of God, which brings it about that things are not a mere mass of objects and events, are not a confusion of occurrences, but that all these together constitute a world.

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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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