My dear Wilfrid,
Discouragement: the Worst Enemy
First of all, thank you for being honest with me about your ongoing difficulties in quiet prayer. You are not alone in experiencing such struggles. Your worst enemy is not your apparent inability to pray; it is your discouragement.
The Evil One’s Script
The Evil One wants to push you to the point where you begin saying to yourself things like this: “I cannot pray. I have nothing to say to God, and God has nothing to say to me. Prayer is a waste of time. I have better things to do. Why stay before the Blessed Sacrament wishing that I were somewhere else? What a waste of time! If prayer is such a struggle for me, it is a sign that God isn’t interested in me. I should just give up trying to pray this way; then the struggle will be over, and I will able to move on to a more productive way of using my time.”
To Get You to Quit Praying
Thoughts such as these are not new, nor are they very original. Saints have wrestled with them for two thousand years. They are the common temptations of any man who gets serious about giving time to God alone. The Enemy has one objective: to get you to quit praying.
The greatest obstacle to interior prayer, Wilfrid, is fear. We resist getting down to the business of prayer for fear of what God will ask of us, or do to us, should we let Him have His way with us. Know this: God will not ask of you anything that He will not equip you by his grace to do. God is exquisitely, divinely courteous. He will not force you to do anything. The inner sufferings we experience are not the effect of a divine inbreaking; they are the effect of our resistance to it.
In the Light of Thy Countenance
Prayer, and in particular Eucharistic adoration, is a dangerous transaction because it threatens the state of mediocrity into which one has settled. In adoration, Our Lord acts upon the soul directly. The soul, in all its poverty, nakedness, and sin, is exposed to to the searching gaze of Christ. The psalmist experienced this: “Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee; our secret sins are in the light of Thy countenance” (Psalm 89:8).
Be Still and Know that I Am God
I understand that you feel that quiet, interior prayer is a prolonged experience of nothing happening. In spite of what you may be feeling, or not feeling, something very real is going on. Eucharistic adoration, for example, gives Our Lord space in which to work in a soul. It is the great corrective for those of us who, by our personality and character, are in constant movement, and restless when not occupied by something tangible. From the tabernacle or from the monstrance, a small quieting voice says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 45:10).
When We Think Nothing Is Happening
Saint Bernard describes what happens during those times when we think nothing is happening. This is what he says:
I confess, then, though I say it in my foolishness, that the Word visited me, and even very often. But although He very frequently entered into my soul, I have never at any time been sensible of the precise moment of His coming. I have felt that he was present. … You will ask, then, how, since the ways of His access are thus incapable of being traced, I could know that He was present? But he is living and full of energy, and as soon as He has entered into me He has quickened my sleeping soul, has aroused and softened and goaded my heart, which was in a state of torpor, and hard as a stone. He has begun to pluck up and destroy, to plant and to build, to water the dry places, to illuminate the gloomy spots, to throw open those which were shut close, to inflame with warmth those which were cold, as also to strengthen its crooked paths and make its rough places smooth, so that my soul might bless the Lord, and all that is within me praise His holy Name.
God Content to Wait
It is not God’s way to break down the doors of one’s heart. “Behold,” He says, “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, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Apocalypse 3:20). If you open the door to Him, He will enter quietly and humbly. He will make Himself unobtrusive, like a servant waiting in the shadows to be summoned. He wants to show you His face. He wants to reveal to you the thoughts of His Heart. He wants to converse with you as a man converses with his dearest friend, but He is also content to wait in perfect silence until you are ready for the conversation.
All That He Does Is Love
There are souls who go through life keeping God at a distance because they fear what He might do or, rather, what they imagine He might do, should they allow Him to come close to them. Such souls do not know God as He is. If they knew Him even a little bit they would know that He is Love and that all that He does is Love.
A Comforting Homeliness
Eucharistic adoration is a remedy for the fear that keeps one at a distance from God. Why? Because in the pale round Host, so fragile, and so unimpressive, there is a poverty, a silence, a vulnerability, a powerlessness with which one can easily identify. One can focus the gaze of the soul on the Host without being blinded. One can remain in the presence of the Host without being annihilated. There is no crushing weight of glory, no terrifying theophany, no throne of judgment. There is, rather, a comforting homeliness, and a stillness that affords you all the time you need to adjust to the Mystery of the Presence.
How Frightening It Can Be
I have tried to say something helpful to you, dear Wilfrid. It is difficult sometimes to know what exactly needs to be said, and what needs not to be said. Know that I am with you in your struggle. I know by experience how frightening it can be to have given one’s life over to prayer, only to discover that one cannot pray at all. Abbot Marmion wrote to one of his spiritual children:
It is very painful. Sometimes God leads us to the edge of the precipice; it seems to us we are on the point of uttering hateful blasphemies. It is the devil working on the surface of the soul! Jesus Himself was given over to the devil’s fury. “This is your hour and the power of darkness.” From that moment the heart and soul of Jesus were the object of hell’s terrible attacks. “Surely He hath borne our infirmities.” Nothing purifies the soul like this inmost trial. It prepares for Divine union. Then the strength of Christ becomes the soul’s only strength.
Wrestle On Until Daybreak
You may not at all feel like you are being prepared for Divine union. I understand that. I beg you, nonethless, not to forsake prayer. You may have to wrestle until daybreak; but daybreak will come and with it the certainty that, all along, you have been in a holy place.
I bless you,