Meditation n°6

Summer 1916 :  “What are you doing?  Pray, pray very much!  The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have merciful designs for you.”

 

Private Prayer

 

During the summer of 1916, the second apparition of the Angel took place.  The three little cousins were playing near the well at the dos Santos’ house.  What could be more natural for children than to play when they are not at school ?  However, the Angel begins by mildly reproaching them:  “What are you doing?  Pray, pray very much.”  For the third time, the Angel asked them to pray.  This insistence on prayer is significant and should incite us to go deeper into this necessity to pray often.

Pray constantly

This thinking is profoundly evangelical.  Our Lord said:  “Pray always” (Luke 21:36).  And after Him, Saint Paul said:  “Pray constantly” (1 Thes. 5:17).  But in our modern lives, how can we “pray always” or “pray constantly”?  The saints have shown us how.  For example, Saint Teresa of Avila deplored passing a quarter of an hour without thinking of Jesus.  But how can we pray constantly and at the same time accomplish the duties of our state of life?

It should not be forgotten that there are different forms of prayer.  First of all, everything we do, by offering it for the love of Jesus, is already a prayer in itself.  This is why it is important to never forget to begin the day by offering up everything that we are going to do.  In particular, during this preparation, we should offer our day for the conversion of sinners. 

Amongst the different forms of prayer, one of the most important, but too often neglected or forgotten, is private prayer, which is the real food of the soul.  

What is private prayer?

Private prayer is quite simply a heart-to-heart talk with God.  There are two types of private prayer:

  • very short prayers throughout the day, which are also called aspirations,
  • prayer as a set time (10, 15, 30 minutes) dedicated to God.

In each case, what is essential is finally having one’s soul in contact with the Lord, or living in His presence all the time.  This is what is meant by praying constantly.  And aspirations as prayers teach the soul to stay in the presence of God.  Let us make a brief analysis of each of these two forms of prayer.

Aspirations

To acquire the habit of reciting little prayers throughout the day, begin by choosing a very short prayer (one sentence, or even a single word) and decide to recite it as often as possible.  A few examples:

  • “Jesus I love you, Jesus Mary, Joseph, …”;
  • The prayer of the Russian pilgrim who proposes repeating only the name of Jesus;
  • The prayers of the Angel and of Our Lady of Fatima, in particular the prayer of Our Lady to be recited after every sacrifice offered.

The little shepherds often repeated the Angel’s first prayer, which we suggest you choose in this preparation for the consecration on the 13th of May.

The principal difficulty here is not so much reciting the chosen prayer, because it is very short, but to remember to do it.  For that, it is useful to have a few little tricks, such as trying to recite it every time we open a door, for example.

Another idea is to make use of a few free moments after having parked the car to go to a meeting;  or park further away than necessary (instead of looking for a place as near as possible) and use the time for walking to say a short prayer.

This kind of prayer does not demand any particular sacrifice.  Rather, it makes use of time during which we can’t do much else.

A time for God

The other form of prayer is a little more demanding, as it asks us to sacrifice a few moments of our time.  We should go somewhere quiet, then reach into the depths of our heart so that we can find Jesus.  During this moment of calm, we should try to listen to what God is saying to us.  God only speaks in silence.

Most important is to be with Him.  When you think about it, this requires no effort, as all that needs to be done is to let go, and be like a leaf carried on the wind …  Nevertheless, many find this difficult.  So how is it done?  Here is some advice which may be of help.

As it’s God who’s acting, we should begin by invoking the Holy Spirit (for example, by reciting the Veni Sancte Spiritus) to ask Him to come to us.  Thus, he will help us.

Next, don’t bother trying to find a method in learned books:  it’s God who makes our prayer happen.  We should let Him do it.  Private prayer is passive:  we shouldn’t expect anything, we shouldn’t say anything, we should simply be there, in the presence of Our Lord.  Even if we don’t “feel” anything, we know, by faith, that He has received this time and that He will use it however He wishes.  This is His time.  The only thing we have to do is to give Him this little piece of our time by simply being with Him.

To illustrate this point, Father Caffarel, the great apostle of private prayer, used the metaphor of sunbathing.  To go sunbathing, all you have to do is lie in the sun, and the sun does the rest.  For private prayer, all you have to do is put yourself in the presence of God, and God does the rest.

Finally, we should end our private prayer with a carefully said ‘Our Father’, as it is the prayer par excellence, the prayer taught to us by Jesus.

The real difficulty with private prayer lies not so much in the prayer itself, even if this demands an effort.  It is finding the time, then persevering.  To those who pretend that they don’t have the time for private prayer, Father Descouvemont replied:  “You’ve never seen a man die of hunger because he didn’t have the time !”  It’s the same thing for private prayer:  it is the food of our soul, and we should feed our soul every day.

Moreover, if we make time for God, God will watch over our affairs.  Here is a story which Father Caffarel found and which illustrates this point:

Abdalwâhid Ibn Zeid wanted to know who would be his neighbour in Paradise and he was told:  “Oh, Abdalwâhid, your neighbour will be Mimoûna la Noire”.  “And where is she, this Mimoûna la Noire?” he asked, with more audacity than discretion.  “She’s at Banou Whatshisname’s house, in Koûfa”.  So he went to Koûfa and found out about Mimoûna.  She was, they said, a madwoman who grazed her sheep next to the cemetery.  He found her there, praying.  Her flock was grazing unsupervised, and what was even more amazing was that the sheep were mixed with wolves and the wolves didn’t eat the sheep and the sheep weren’t afraid of the wolves …  “So how is it”, asked Ibn Zeid, “that the wolves get on so well with these sheep?”.  “I improved my relationship with my Lord, and my Lord improved the relationship between the sheep and the wolves.”

To someone who had trouble finding time for private prayer, a priest advised:  “It’s the devil trying to turn you away from prayer.  If you don’t find the time, prolong the time a little when you do pray:  the devil will soon stop telling you that you don’t have the time ! ”

Despite everything, the practice of private prayer is not an easy thing for everyone.  Two small, simple rules are useful:

  • The evening before, decide on a precise hour for your private prayer the next day.
  • The evening of the next day, during your examination of conscience, ask yourself if you have prayed well.

How long should our prayer last?  You can begin with 5 minutes.  It’s better to do 5 minutes every day and to persevere, than 15 minutes from time to time, then less and less, … then never again !

Finally, here is a story showing that private prayer is quite simply being with Jesus.

When the priest entered the room, he found the poor man on his bed, his head supported by two pillows.  There was a chair next to him, so the priest supposed that the man knew he would come to see him.

- I suppose you were waiting for me, said the priest;
- No, replied the ill man.  Who are you?
- I’m the priest your daughter called to pray with you.  When I came in, I noticed the empty chair next to your bed.  I thought that you knew I was coming to visit you.
- Oh, yes, the chair.  Would you mind closing the door?

Surprised, the priest closed the door.  The ill man continued:

- I’ve never told this to anyone, but I lived all my life without knowing how to pray.  When I went to Church, I always heard about prayer, how to pray, and the advantages of doing this, etc.  But these prayers, I don’t know … they went in one ear and out the other.  Anyway, I never had the slightest idea how to do it.  Then, a long time ago, I gave up praying completely.  This lasted until about four years ago, when I was talking with my best friend who told me “José, the point of praying is just to have a talk with Jesus.  This is what you should do.  Sit down on a chair, and put an empty chair in front of you; and with faith you look at Jesus sitting opposite you.  It’s not a mad thing to do because He said ‘I will always be with you’.  So, speak to Him and listen to Him, just the same as you’re doing with me today.”  I did this once, and I liked it so much that I went on for about two hours at a time, every day.  I always take care that my daughter doesn’t see me …  If she saw me, she’d have me locked up straight away in an institution.

Hearing this, the priest was very moved and said to José that it was a good thing he did, and above all, never to stop doing it.  Then he said a prayer with him, give him a blessing and returned to his parish.

Two days later, José’s daughter called the priest to tell him that her father was dead.  The priest asked:

- Did he die in peace?
- Yes, just before I left the house, at around two o’clock in the afternoon, he called me and I went to him.  He told me he loved me and he embraced me.  When I came back after a few errands, an hour later, I found him dead.  But there’s something strange about his death, because apparently just before he died, he pulled the chair next to his bed and laid his head on it.  I found him like that.  What do you think of that?  What could that be about?

The priest, profoundly moved, forced back the tears which came to his eyes and replied:

- We should all hope to be able to leave in such a serene way.

So, let’s ask our Guardian Angel to teach us to pray like José and to remind us, now and then throughout the day, to recite the prayer taught by the Angel of Peace.

For those who wish to go further into the subject, here are two good books to begin with:

  • Du temps pour Dieu by Father Philippe,
  • Cent lettres sur la prière by Father Cafarel.

 

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