Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Heart Knows

"Were not our hearts
 burning within us ..."

When we are in conversation with someone, and they are speaking while we are listening, there are certain dynamics happening within us. In our minds we evaluate what we hear, referencing it to what we understand and know to be true. But on an other level, what we hear may evoke certain responses on a deeper level, where our deeper emotions reside. Not only do we think about what we hear, we register various feelings about what we are taking in.

St. Ignatius recognized this to be true as one prayed and reflected on the scriptures, asking for a deeper understanding of its meaning and message to them personally. From this, he formed rules for identifying different ways one's heart may be moved in prayer. These are now known as the Ignatian Rules for Discernment. (Read more about the heart in prayer)

There are two general ways one's heart is moved in prayer; one is identified as Consolation the other as DesolationIgnatius defines consolation as: 

  • Every increase in faith, hope and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly, and to the salvation of our soul, by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord.
He defines desolation as:
  • What is entirely the opposite of consolation … darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness arising from many disturbances which lead to lack of faith, lack of hope, and lack of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord.
What is clear is that we need to have an understanding of what is going on in our hearts. "Know thyself." When you open the morning paper to look up the sports scores from the night before, you read down the list of scores as a matter of fact until you come to your favorite team. Now it's, "Oh no, they lost", or "Ya, they won". What makes this score different is not the numbers you are reading, rather, that you have a special attachment to the fortunes of this team. It means a lot to you.

When we take up a text to scripture for prayer, what, if any response it may evoke, tells the story of our spiritual state; from none to deep. What follows next is to understand why. This will require that we work at it. Besides our own investigation and study, having the guidance of one who is experienced in prayer and discernment is a great advantage.

For a comprehensive article  on this subject go to; Discernment: Recognizing God’s Voice, by Brian Incigneri.

There is the site, Ignatian Spirituality.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Message

So far, in these notes on prayer, we have looked at five subjects:

  1. Prayer, Hearing Is Believing
  2. A Place To Pray
  3. In His Presence
  4. First Principle
  5. Passage
These subjects are connected to a new series, on the New Evangelization. In order to evangelize, one must "know" and "understand" the Message they are proclaiming. Here, knowing flows directly from a personal experience of the Message encounter in prayer. Understanding of the Message is rooted in the heart, as one is deeply moved and their life is transformed by what they hear.

It is good and necessary to study scripture from an academic perspective, drawing on the rich resource of knowledge handed on through knowledgeable and dedicated scholars. But when one is taught by the Spirit in prayer, not only do they know about the Lord, they "know" the Lord as one whom they have met personally.

There is a beautiful and inspiring example of this in the gospel story of the two disciples encountering the risen Lord on the Road to Emmaus.    

  • They know Jesus as the holy man of God from Galilee.
  • They have heard him teach, saw his works of power and are deeply impressed.
  • They number themselves among his followers.
  • Their expectation about Jesus, like the others, has been crushed by his Crucifixion.
  • They even have heard reports that he may still be alive.
Yet, it is not until they encounter him personally, that their faith becomes a true work of grace, not a product of man's doing. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

Only Grace can set our hearts burning within us, when the Spirit opens the scriptures. "...... Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures ......" It is from this experience of grace that the true evangelist springs forth.

What do I hear?

In the account of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, there is a particular sequence of events that serves as a helpful model for our prayer experience.

1. They are reviewing the events leading up to Jesus Crucifixion. We have a passage of scripture that we are pondering for our prayer. So we:

  • ... retell the event in our own words, as if recounting it to someone else.
  • ... who do I see, who stands out to me, who draws my attention, why?
  • ... what are they doing, what are they saying, is it anything like what I would do?
  • ... what impresses me, what repulses me, what puzzles me about the event?
  • ... of the dialogue, describe what I hear in my own words ... what do I agree with, what do I disagree with?

2. Jesus enters into their discussion, things change.

  • ... here I invite the Lord to enter my prayer, to speak to me, to guide and direct the course of what will follow in this prayer.
  • ... now I speak to the Lord ... I redirect, what I have been considering, to the Lord, telling him how I see things, what moves me, what stumps me about this text.
3. Now Jesus speaks, they listen!

  • ... am I listening or am I still trying to figure things out? (Be quiet myself)
  • ... what new thoughts are emerging ... no mater how unusual?
  • ... back to quiet, to listening.
4. "Were not our hearts ..."

  • ... rather than answers, I look to my heart ... what is moving, changing the way I feel?
  • ... what is uplifting, encouraging, inspiring, drawing me to it?
  • ... do I feel encouraged to meet what challenges?
5. They urged Jesus, "stay with us ..."
  • ... when a certain text stands out, we should stay with it, returning to the text as often as it continues to speak to us; even if we have been following a set outline of texts.
6. “They recounted what has happened … and how he was made known to them          
     in the breaking of the bread.”
  • When Grace is at work, positive feelings remain with you, continuing to speak to our hearts, especially in places and at times when Grace is near, especially during the Eucharist.
  • As we share what has been told to us, we see how others are moved by what we say.

The New Evangelist

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. 1Cor. 2:12

Sunday, 16 June 2013


Choosing a Passage of Scripture for Prayer

There are many different approaches one can use for choosing scripture passages for their prayer. In general, drawing on the daily Mass readings provides a very good source for texts. The scripture readings for Sundays  and Weekdays are design to go through the whole mystery of salvation, from beginning to end. Over a three year cycle of Sundays and a two year cycle for Weekdays, the greater part of the bible is read, including the whole of the New Testament.

Another approach is to use a book designed for prayer and meditation, that is structured around various themes. There are many such books from which to choose. Some online sites for suggestions:
It is not necessary to have a new passage every day. When a passage stands out for you, going back to it may prove profitable, as it takes you deeper into its particular message for you.

Often a scripture passage may just come from no fixed plan you may be using. You hear it, read it in passing and immediately it stands out for you. Sometimes just opening the bible randomly and pointing to a text allows the Spirit to lead you to the Lord's Voice for you.

Some may have a spiritual director to direct them, suggesting passages they deem appropriate. Being part of a praying group can be a excellent source of passages for prayer.

The key in all of this is to see scripture as your way to HEAR the Lord's voice speaking to you. This is not scripture study, it is a way to listen.

Review the page; Let Us Pray the Scriptures Together. See the different "senses" there are for the scriptures. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

First Principle

Why Am I Praying?

So far, in these notes on prayer, we have looked at three subjects:

  1. Prayer, Hearing Is Believing
  2. A Place To Pray
  3. In His Presence
These subjects are part of the new series, on the New Evangelization.

Saint Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercise, begins by having the person, praying the Exercises, look carefully at the fundamental reason upon which the whole of the Exercises rests. Why am I praying in the first place; indeed, why am I here in this world? He calls it, The PRINCIPLE AND FOUNDATION.

In Mark's gospel, we have an account of this very question being put to Jesus. It is framed in the form of a question about the Commandments. 

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.” 
Mk 12:28-34

Every structure is only as good as the foundation upon which it rests. For a journey to end successfully, it must fix its compass, at the outset, on the destination to be reached.   

Consider these parables spoken by Jesus.

I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the flood-waters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn't obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” Lk 6:46

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. He will first sit down and estimate the cost to see whether he has enough money to finish it, won’t he? Otherwise, if he lays a foundation and can’t finish the building, everyone who watches will begin to ridicule him and say, ‘This person started a building but couldn't finish it.’ Lk. 14:28

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continuously. Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it, because what profit will a person have if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life? Mtt. 16:24

The corner stone is the most important building block of any structure because of it's perfect shape; and the direction in which it is placed will be used to calculate and set in place every stone to follow. All too often, people loose their way in their lives, because they have no clear direction for their lives. They well may ask the question, "why am I here", but do not have a clear answer to this all important question.

We are in this world by design. Our existence is not merely some happenstance of nature, we are here because the Designer of this universe placed us here. Our purpose is the one He gives us. Therefore, it is true to say, our lives are not really our own to do with as we will, they are to do His will. Since we did not create this world, nor create our selves in this time and place, it makes perfect sense that we should seek to discover who did, and why.

This being true, the decisions I make  in life must be evaluated, measured up to, the cornerstone principle of my life. How do I know if my life is on the straight and true, I draw a plum-line back to my cornerstone principle to see if it lines up. Then I make corrections as indicated. This is called discernment.

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Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19

Friday, 7 June 2013

In His Presence

The Meeting

One of the most tender and personal encounters with Christ, one that helps us better appreciate this element of prayer, is the story of the Samaritan Woman meeting Jesus at the well. Their meeting was not planned, at least not by the Samaritan woman. Being the hottest time of the day, she was expecting to be alone, away from the accusatory remarks of the other women, because of her failed life. She comes alone bearing the burden of an empty jug and an empty heart. In their meeting, she fills a cup of water for Jesus to drink, but his real thirst is for her empty soul to be filled with the mercy and love only he can give. As their meeting ends, she goes to seek out those whom she had been avoiding, to announce with a joyful heart, "Come and see someone who has told me everything I have ever done - and has forgiven me." John Ch 4:

We often think of prayer as our going to God with our list of needs. While petition is a part of the purpose of prayer, its first purpose is presence, to encounter the Lord and his list of graces he wishes to bestow upon us. In the story of the Samaritan woman, when she discovers that Jesus is a holy man of God, she wants to discus the hot religious question of the day;  when it comes to places of worship, who has got it right, the Jews or the Samaritans? Jesus immediately redirects her attention to his deepest concern, her heart, release from the bondage of guilt, and true peace of soul.

When we pray in this way, our experience is no less real and dynamic than that of the Samaritan woman. Jesus will be present, it remains for us to begin to recognize him and to listen intently to what he has to say to us. He will lead us to that which is of greatest concern for us at this time. Prayer is never in vain. Our part is to bring our thirsting soul to the well of Jesus' love, and to drink fully of his grace. 
"Speak Lord, your servant in  listening."

Monday, 3 June 2013

A Place to Prayer

Choosing a Place for Prayer

Since devoting your whole attention to listening when you pray the scriptures is paramount,  choosing a place to pray with the least amount of distraction is most important. The competition for our attention in today's world is fierce,  so for many, this will be a challenge, one that will require some careful and thoughtful planning. Usually we discover something has to go in order to make room for the Lord's Voice. TV, phones, music, internet, not to mention other people, all contribute to filling the sound waves surrounding us. Some, of course, have control over their space all to themselves. For them, it is a much simpler task.

Some points to consider:

  • Have a definite schedule - same time, same place is ideal. Think of it as an important appointment I must keep.
  • This appointment is with the Lord. He WILL be there, waiting.
  • The earlier, the better, before the day clutters up our minds.
  • Inform other members of the household - this is your, "time out".
  • Your posture during prayer is a consideration. Comfortable, (while not conducive to sleep of course) helps. 
It would obviously seem, that the sports stadium during a game, is a poor choice for a place for your prayer time. However, when choices are not in  your control, the Lord can deal with whatever the situation provides. Earphones and an a iPad type device can change planes and trains and highway gridlock into one's mobile chapel when necessity dictates. 

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio - Pope Francis

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