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Letter to Wilfrid on Prayer

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My dear Wilfrid,

You were trusting enough, and humble enough to share with me something of the difficulties you experience in the prayer of adoration. I pray Our Lord to enable me to respond to you humbly, and lovingly, and wisely.

Prayer Is a Combat

First of all, allow me to say that prayer--all prayer--is a real combat against the proclivities of our fallen nature. God created us to pray naturally: to pray with every breath and with every heartbeat, or, if you will, God created us to adore Him perpetually, in spirit and in truth. The original sin of our first parents was a falling away from prayer, a falling away from perpetual adoration, a break in the ceaseless heart-to-heart and face-to-face in which, and for which, God created man in His own image and likeness.

With the entry of sin into the world, prayer became a struggle. The bitter irony is that, while adoration was, in the beginning, man's natural state, it became, as a result of sin, something hard to do.

Christ, the New Adam

The advent of Christ into the world signaled a return to ceaseless prayer, the reprise of perpetual adoration in spirit and in truth. The heart and mind of the New Adam is, at every moment, waking and sleeping, lifted heavenward and turned Godward, In Him the Father is well pleased, in Him the Father takes delight, because in Him, and in those who belong to Him as members united to their Head, the Father finds again the adoration in spirit and in truth that was integral to His original design.

Prayer: A Gift from the Heart of Christ

The very first thing you might want to consider is that Christ lives forever to intercede for us; that His adoration of the Father is perfect and ceaseless; that the way of pray to which you are called is an insertion into His own prayer. It is a very humble and sober desire for union with Him in His adoration and glorification of the Father: your soul to His soul, your min to His mind, your heart to His Heart. Prayer is not so much an activity in which you engage as it is a gift that you receive from the Heart of Christ by the operation of the Holy Ghost.

The Blessed Sacrament

All of this may come across as being terribly abstract for you. Forgive me for not finding the words to say all of this more simply. I'm trying. I should like to say something about the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist and, in particular, in the reserved Blessed Sacrament. You are not alone in feeling nothing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Great saints before you have said that in the presence of the Deus absconditus, the hidden God, they felt nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing, perceived nothing at all by way of the senses. For some, the mystery of the real presence felt rather like a real absence of God. They would attempt to go to God in the Sacrament of His Love and find themselves rather like a little bird who, attempting to enter a house, flies again and again into a window glass until, at length, he falls to the ground, bruised and exhausted. For one who is trying to pray, this sort of experience becomes discouraging. Like the little bird who gives up trying to fly into the house, the soul gives up trying to pray and looks for diversion in other things. It all seems like a waste of time, an exercise in futility.

The Spark of Desire

What is one to do? Stop praying altogether? Be content to go through the motions of a prayer that is minimalistic? Lapse into what amounts to a practical agnosticism? I would propose two things. First of all, know that if you have the desire to pray, or even the smallest, faintest spark of a desire to pray, you are already praying, and this in spite of all your feelings to the contrary, When you go to prayer, even if you have nothing else to bring to it, bring that tiny spark of desire or, at least, a desire for that tiny spark of desire. The Holy Ghost will work with that.

The Leap of Faith

Secondly, take a leap of faith and say, "Even though I see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing, and understand nothing of it, I believe that Christ is present in the tabernacle, that what I see before me is not, despite all appearances, a piece of bread; it is God's sacramental Face, that is to say, God really present and turned towards me in view of a real relationship with Him." Then say, "If you want a relationship with me, know that I want one with you, even if everything in me protests, declaring such a relationship unlikely or even impossible." This may make it possible for you to say, "Although I feel nothing, I believe that you are here for me, and I want to be here for you. I believe that your being here for me is the expression of your love for me; let my being here for you be the expression of my love for you."

Temptation to Flight

This will be a struggle at first. Fifteen minutes of such a prayer may feel to you like three hours. You may find yourself focused on waiting for the clock to chime. You may begin to plot ways of escaping from something that seems so unnatural, so irrational, so futile. You may even want to get up and flee. This temptation to flight from prayer can be overcome only by a flight to prayer. If you have resolved to make fifteen minutes of adoration, and are tempted to cut the time short, make sixteen minutes of adoration instead. If you have resolved to make a half-hour of adoration, and tempted to run away after twenty minutes, make forty minutes of adoration instead. This may sound harsh, but it is analogous to the struggle to complete a course of physical exercise when one's muscles are aching and one is short of breath. The exercise of prayer makes prayer a habit, and when prayer becomes a habit, it becomes easier.

Anchoring the Soul and Body

There are other things one can do to anchor the soul (and body) in adoration, when the temptation to flight becomes almost irresistible. I find that the repetition of very short prayers, making use of my rosary beads, is the best way to remain in prayer when I want to escape from it. You can, for example, repeat on every bead, "It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy Face from me." Or again, "I am here for Thee because Thou art here for me." Or again, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus." The Holy Ghost will inspire the prayer best suited to your need in a given situation.

There is more that I would want to say, dear Wilfrid, but for today this is, I think, enough. Know that I hold you in my prayer. You are not alone in your struggle. I bless you.

Father Mark

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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