Chapter Three: The Life of Prayer.
The Battle of Prayer.
2725 Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and He [Jesus] Himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle.
Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The "spiritual battle" of the Christian's new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.
I. Objections to Prayer.
2726 In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer.
- Some people view prayer as a simple psychological activity
- Others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void.
- Still others reduce prayer to ritual words and postures.
- Many Christians unconsciously regard prayer as an occupation that is incompatible with all the other things they have to do: they "don't have the time."
Those who seek God by prayer are quickly discouraged because they do not know that prayer comes also from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves alone.
2727 We must also face the fact that certain attitudes deriving from the mentality of "this present world" can penetrate our lives if we are not vigilant. For example:
- some would have it that only that is true which can be verified by reason and science; yet prayer is a mystery that overflows both our conscious and unconscious lives.
- Others overly prize production and profit; thus prayer, being unproductive, is useless.
- Still others exalt sensuality and comfort as the criteria of the true, the good, and the beautiful; whereas prayer, the "love of beauty" (philokalia), is caught up in the glory of the living and true God.
- Finally, some see prayer as a flight from the world in reaction against activism; but in fact, Christian prayer is neither an escape from reality nor a divorce from life.
2728 Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer:
- discouragement during periods of dryness;
- sadness that, because we have "great possessions," (cf. Mark 10:22) we have not given all to the Lord;
- disappointment over not being heard according to our own will;
- wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners;
- our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift, and so forth.
The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.
II. Humble Vigilance of Heart.
Facing difficulties in prayer.
2729 The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction. It can affect words and their meaning in vocal prayer; it can concern, more profoundly, Him to whom we are praying, in vocal prayer (liturgical or personal), meditation, and contemplative prayer. To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for Him and lead us resolutely to offer Him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve. (cf. Matthew 6:21, 24)
2730 In positive terms, the battle against the possessive and dominating self requires vigilance, sobriety of heart. When Jesus insists on vigilance, He always relates it to Himself, to His coming on the last day and every day: today. The bridegroom comes in the middle of the night; the light that must not be extinguished is that of faith:
"'Come,' my heart says, 'seek his face!'" (Psalm 27:8)
2731 Another difficulty, especially for those who sincerely want to pray, is dryness. Dryness belongs to contemplative prayer when the heart is separated from God, with no taste for thoughts, memories, and feelings, even spiritual ones. This is the moment of sheer faith clinging faithfully to Jesus in His agony and in His tomb.
"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if dies, it bears much fruit."
If dryness is due to the lack of roots, because the word has fallen on rocky soil, the battle requires conversion.
(cf. Luke 8:6,13)
Facing temptations in prayer.
2732 The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart:
"Apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5)
2733 Another temptation, to which presumption opens the gate, is acedia. The spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, and carelessness of heart.
"The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)
The greater the height, the harder the fall. Painful as discouragement is, it is the reverse of presumption. The humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancy.