Fourth Letter to Wilfrid on Prayer

Transfiguration Bellini

My dear Wilfrid,

The Holy Ghost and the Sacred Liturgy

It has been some time since my last letter. I was very touched when you asked if I might give you some practical guidance for your adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The very fact that you sought help is a clear indication that you are being docile to the Holy Ghost.  The proud man, though he be pious in his own way, thinks that he knows it all and has no need to ask for guidance in his prayer.  The humble man admits that he needs help with his prayer.  Saint Paul says that “the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought” (Romans 8:26).  The Holy Ghost helps us to pray rightly, first of all, through the sacred liturgy.  A praying man who surrenders his personal preferences to the preferences of the Bride of Christ, the Church, can be certain of never going off the rails of orthodoxy.

Prayer Is Not a Private Affair

There are, alas, men who are content to cobble together a personal rule of prayer from the vast array of devotions and private revelations that spring up like grass in the morning, but by evening wither and die.  The prayer of such men is a privatized affair; they allow the feasts and seasons of the Church to come and go and, through them all, and in spite of them, persist in preferring their own pious practices to the breadth and height and depth of what the Holy Ghost has given the Church in her time–tested and liturgical tradition.

Upward and Outward

The man who prays with the Church, using the words and gestures of her liturgy, is making an act of submission to the Holy Ghost. He is choosing the inspired prayer of the Church over his own subjective tastes and inclinations.  This involves a certain austerity.  The liturgy of the Church, while sublimely rich in sentiment, has nothing sentimental about it.  It directs the soul upward and outward, away from herself and into the mystery of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost.  Although the liturgy is marked by repetition, it is a repetition quickened by the Holy Ghost, a repetition that never grows old, a repetition marked by freshness.

Divine Office

You will want to attend closely to the antiphons of the Divine Office, dear Wilfrid, and to the verses of the psalms that give rhythm to the day.  When you sense that a particular word or phrase of the Divine Office has leaped off the page of your breviary and into your heart, make a mental note of it, and return to it later in the quiet of hour of adoration.  This is something that I have done for over forty years, and it still nourishes my soul.

Praying on the Beads

There are days when one goes before the Blessed Sacrament to make one’s hour of adoration with a thousand thoughts darting about in one’s head, or with no thoughts at all, with a mental weariness and a complete inability to take even the first step in prayer.  It is in situations like these that I have recourse to the simple, quiet repetition of phrases gleaned in the Divine Office or in the Proper of the Mass.  Often I will use my rosary beads, repeating the same phrase on each bead until I have gone round them all; and then I start again.  “In today’s Office of the Transfiguration, for example, the words of the Father recur again and again:  This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.” (Matthew 17:5).  What better prayer in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament than to repeat back to the Father, in a spirit of profound adoration, This is Thy beloved Son, in whom Thou art well pleased.  With all my heart I desire to hear Him.

The Right Words

You asked me what phrases I found especially helpful.  I’m happy to share my own prayer with you, but remember that what suits one man may not suit another.  What is fitting in one season of the interior life may not be what is needed at another time and in other circumstances.  The sacred liturgy is vast enough and rich enough to provide souls of every temperament and sensibility with just the right words.  Here, then, are some of the words that have sustained me in adoration over the years:

I set the Lord always in my sight. (Psalm 15:8)

To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. In thee, O my God, I put my trust. (Psalm 24:1)

It is Thy face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy face from me. (Psalm 26:8–9)

I have put my trust in thee, O Lord: I said: Thou art my God. (Psalm 30:15)

My soul is thirsting for God, the strong and living God; when shall I see Thee face to face? (Psalm 41:3)

To be near God is my happiness; my happiness lies in Thee alone. (cf. Psalm 72)

Invocations that Warm the Heart

There are other phrases that I pray as well;  they are not lifted directly from the liturgy, but they harmonize with it, flow out of it, and lead back to it.  The first of these is the little invocation, O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy loving mercy.  I never tire of repeating this prayer in the radiance of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face, close to His Heart.  It contains the inexpressible sweetness of the Name of Jesus, and the confession of His kingship of love; it expresses sentiments that recur in a hundred different ways in the psalms.  Another prayer that I never tire of saying is the invocation dear to the Irish and English martyrs: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus!  The Name of Jesus means God saves.  This little prayer echoes Psalm 34:3, “Say to my soul: I am thy salvation.”

Persevere

The crucial thing in all of this, dear Wilfrid, is to persevere in prayer humbly, gently, and quietly.  There is no need for you to force yourself to produce acts, or draw conclusions, or make resolutions.  Prayer is not cramming for an examination.  It is a loving attention to Our Lord’s gaze and an abiding close to His Heart.  Allow the Holy Ghost to direct your prayer through His divine masterpiece, the liturgy of the Church.  For the rest, make use of the provisions that you will have stored up in the granary of your heart, and allow the Word of God dispensed in the sacred liturgy to fix your heart in love, in adoration, and in a holy desire.  Our Lord Himself will do in you the things that, of yourself and by yourself, you cannot do.  He will change in you the things that you cannot change.  And, silently and almost imperceptibly, He will draw you to Himself in love.

With my blessing,

Father Prior

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