Some thoughts on prayer from Dom Eugene Boylan for today . . .
Jesus knows well our horror of penance; He understands perfectly our dislike of suffering; nay, more, He sympathizes with us in these difficulties. True, He wishes us to help Him to carry His cross, but He also wishes to help us to do so. So sweet is His aid, so enthralling His companionship, that St. Teresa found that it was only the first of her crosses that was really hard; once she had embraced the nettle of her cross she found herself in close union with Jesus.
There is no joy in this life to equal that of sharing the cross with Jesus. It needs courage, it needs grace, it needs perhaps a special call; but the truth is that this path of suffering and of penance – penance, be it well understood, undertaken or accepted according to God’s will and not our own – is the road of highest joy, and the sure path to the heights of prayer. The importance of mortification is not so much that it hurts us, but that it gives Jesus a new life in us; we only put ourselves to death – that is what “mortification” means – in order to clear the way for Christ. That is at once the motive of mortification and its measure. If it only serves to make us more self–satisfied and proud, then it is no longer mortification of self; it is rather the mortification of Jesus.
The true principle of mortification was laid down by St. John the Baptist when he said: “He must increase, I must decrease.” Perhaps a somewhat far–fetched comparison may help to put this process in its true light. The bread and wine that are changed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord at Mass once graced the earth in a glory of purple and gold; they were cut down, beaten and bruised, ground and pressed out of all recognition. Not until many changes had been made in them could the priest say over them the words that would make them the Flesh and Blood of Christ.
Now, in so far as the Mass is a changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus – it is, of course, much more than that; it might be said that Our Lord says Mass with us and our lives as the bread and wine, but it is a Mass in which the grinding of the wheat and the pressing of the grape, the baking of the bread and the maturing of the wine, the offering of the Host and the oblation of the Chalice, the consecration of both and their conversion into the living Body and Blood of Christ, are all going on at the same time.
Every time that we deny ourselves in any way and to that extent offer ourselves to Jesus, He comes and takes possession of us to that same extent, and says: “This is My Body.” More than that: He takes compassion on our cowardice, and sends us trials and humiliations that grind us and press us and make us into suitable bread and wine to become part of Himself. “My meat,” He said, “is to do the will of Him that sent Me. So it is that everything done in accordance with the Divine will gives new life to Jesus in our souls, for He feeds on the doing of His Father’s will.
Every action we do, every suffering we undergo, whatever it be, as long as it is according to the will of God, is an act of communion with Jesus, an act that is no mere desire, but a positive advance in our union with Him; it gives Him new matter over which He can pronounce the saving words: “This is My Body.”
The significance of such a concept for a life of prayer is obvious. Prayer is no longer a matter of some few minutes spent on our knees, struggling to find something to say. It becomes a more or less continual awareness of Jesus living in us, of Jesus growing in us, of Jesus molding us by His providence to His Heart’s desire; our co–operation, our companionship, our submission, our smile of surrender as we continually give up our own way in order to let Him have His way – all these are our prayer.
Mortification, instead of meaning doing hurt to ourselves, comes to mean giving pleasure, giving even life, to Jesus. Every action of the day is intimately concerned with Him. The practice of Christian charity is thus put in a stronger light, for if Jesus lives in our neighbor, and is making our neighbor’s life His own, it becomes much easier to realize what He meant when He told us: “As often as you did it to the least of these, My brethren, you did it to Me.”
To turn our dealings with our fellowmen into prayer, we have no need of words. It is sufficient to remember that “we are doing it to Him,” and our heart will pray by its secret movement of love. The practice of one of the greatest men of prayer and of action that the world has seen – one who comes very close to St. Paul – is full of meaning in His matter. St. Patrick’s mind is given to us in his famous “Breastplate,” that wonderful prayer, full of the spirit of St. Paul, full of the spirit of Christ Himself.
“Christ before me,” he prays, “Christ behind me, Christ about me, Christ be this day within and without me, Christ the lowly and meek, Christ the all-powerful be in the heart of each one to whom I speak – in the mouth of each who speaks to me, in all who draw near me, or see or hear me.” He tells us of how he heard the words: “He Who laid down His life for thee – He it is that prayeth in thee.” On another occasion he writes: “I saw Him praying in me,” and on being told that it was the Spirit who prayeth within him, he recalls St. Paul’s promise that the Holy Spirit should help the infirmities of our prayer.
We have here the secret of St. Patrick’s prayer, the secret of his interior life and, in fact, the secret of the monumental success of his active life – union with God in his own soul, and the service of God in the soul of his neighbor. There is no Christian who cannot imitate that example.
The example of St. Patrick and the insight that the few words just quoted from his writings give us into his heart, show us the secret of the wonderful way in which many of the saints were able to unite a life of prayer with a life of almost continual action. All our activity can be reduced either to the service of Christ in our neighbor, or to the extending of His life in ourselves. It will have been noted that the borderline between prayer, in the usual association of the term, and the rest of one’s activities, is gradually being removed as we progress in the consideration of the spiritual life. And that is as it should be, for Our Lord Himself told us that we ought always to pray.
But it must not be concluded from this that there is no need of some time during the day in which we are to devote our undivided attention to prayer. For, as we have seen, although all our acts can be prayer, they will not be so, unless there are some acts which are nothing else. That is to say: human nature is such, that if the interior life is not fed by reflection and by pure prayer, it will gradually succumb to the lure of natural activity that will soon take complete charge of our actions. In fact, even under the most favorable conditions, the habitual remembrance of Our Lord can only be developed after repeated failures.
But once it has been achieved, even to a somewhat limited extent, the whole spiritual life undergoes a remarkable transformation. In many ways it becomes easier and more attractive.
The thought of mortification and war on self fills many souls with fear, and causes them to turn back and give up the hope of further progress. This is quite understandable, but it is also quite foolish, for Our Lord Himself has said that His yoke is easy and His burden light.
Mortification is like some of those old houses on the Continent, which are grim and forbidding barrack-like structures from the outside, but contain inside a courtyard filled with all the glamour of a southern garden, echoing with the music of falling fountains and fragrant with the rich odor of flowers. We have looked through those grim gates and have seen that what seems to be the living death of mortification is in reality the growth of Jesus in our soul, filling us with the warmth of His smile, the melody of His companionship, and the glow of His love. For by dying to ourselves we have given Him a new measure of life.
The above excerpted from Dom Eugene Boylan. “Difficulties in Mental Prayer”. My copy is an old, out of print book. A reader has advised me that a paperback book now in circulation appears to have been corrupted by neo-modernism. If any reader has helpful information on this, it would be appreciated.
† Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
† Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Viva Cristo Rey!
~ for love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, King.
Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O Sacred Virgin! Give me strength against thine enemies!