Pope Benedict XVI: Prayer is The Breath of The Soul and of Life
well: "How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you" (Confessions 10, 20: PL 32, 791).
That many today fail to grasp such a concept is an immense tragedy. Fleeting pleasures and the many distractions of life are given priority, for they are rather easily attainable and provide a measure of temporary happiness, while God is viewed as a distant, impersonal "power" that is largely unreachable and who therefore is incapable of satisfying our thirst for happiness. The visible seems the more real, while the invisible Other who is Creator of reality as it is, is pushed into the background. Rather than seek happiness correctly, looking for it where it truly is, it is sought incorrectly in evanescent, created objects.
Although God is still thought of as "something" important, "something" that we need and rely upon, it is thought that he no longer intervenes in the natural course of events. Further, there is often little certainty that God is personally and actively present in one's life, or that he will reveal himself in a perceptible and unforgettable way to those who seek him.
Setting the disastrous effects of sin aside for the moment, perhaps this situation is -- among other things -- due to a lack of diligent and zealous persistence. That is, in today's consumeristic environment of quick gratification, it is somewhat difficult to find even Christians who are willing to put forth a consistent and prolonged effort in walking the path of faith in free and loving obedience. For instance, the Gospel life of humility, simplicity and prayer is deemed to be burdensome and unrewarding; the ascetic life of personal sacrifice that the saints embraced is thought to be far too radical; and an interior life of grace lived in unceasing prayer is labeled as "entirely unrealistic." Consequently, the heights of sanctity and perfection in which the joyous bliss of union with God is experienced is dismissed as nothing but "talk borne from an overactive, pious imagination." Again, many remain unconvinced of God's immanent presence and astonishing love: an incomparable love that, once tasted, cannot be forgotten -- not ever.
But union with God is a truly new and wondrous existence. And persistence is indeed necessary. The great mystics of the Church frequently wrote of the spiritual life of endurance. Beginners in prayer must often endure a prolonged period of dryness and darkness in which God seems distant, and in which even a small amount of suffering is found to be very difficult. How far along such a road each beginner must travel is unknowable: its distance and duration is a matter of God's good favor. It hardly seems possible, however, that those who persist in prayer and passionately live out the sacramental life in the womb of the Church would remain static: "I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry" (Psalm 40:2).
Sin: The Self-Imposed Obstacle To Happiness
If we desire holiness and to become a person of prayer as a true disciple of Christ, if we thirst to set out on the road of life in the Spirit and taste the sweetness of the Lord (Psalm 31:19), it is crucial that we take a hard, serious and honest look at our life: are we living in grave sin? Are we attached to sin? Do we refuse to participate in the Liturgy of the Mass on days of obligation? Are we living in open dissent from the Magisterium of the Church? While there are many other serious questions we should ask ourselves, it is important to note that it is possible to pray or communicate with God while yet remaining unrepentant. In such a case, our relationship with Christ is superficial and insincere. The remedy is to return to God completely through heartfelt repentance, as did the Prodigal Son (see Lk 15:11 ff.).
Blessed John Paul II taught that repentance is an essential first step in returning to God and therefore must not be disregarded: "To acknowledge one's sin, indeed -- penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one's own personhood -- to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God. . . . In effect, to become reconciled with God presupposes and includes detaching oneself consciously and with determination from the sin into which one has fallen. It presupposes and includes, therefore, doing penance in the fullest sense of the term: repenting, showing this repentance, adopting a real attitude of repentance -- which is the attitude of the person who starts out on the road of return to the Father " (Reconciliation and Penance 13).
"Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; . . . If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; . . ." (Isaiah 1:18-19).
God Is My Helper; The Lord Is The Protector of My Soul (Psalm 54:4)
From eternity the Father has called us by the sacrifice of his Son into the womb of holy mother Catholic Church, that we become a people of prayer, true worshipers who will worship him in "spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23). God himself, therefore, draws us into his blissful embrace, where we are to become fully who he has made us to be. "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 Jn 3:1). That astonishing Love, so stupendously manifested in Christ crucified, cannot be accessed apart from the life of prayer as a child of God.
If we experience a yearning to set out on the path of prayer and holiness, it is important to note that it is God himself who begets in us any measure of desire for such a sublime journey (Phil. 2:12-15). Therefore we should not for a moment fear that we are incapable or unequipped to engage the adventure of life with God. For it is the Spirit who seeks to embrace us and lead us to Christ; the choice to respond to such an immense gift of grace is ours. Through prayer we are led along the correct path, strengthened that we may focus our being on the wondrous "things of heaven" rather than on the mundane "things of earth" (Col. 3:2), which, with the help of the Spirit, gives us "new eyes" and a "new light for the journey":
Through prayer nourished by the Word of God we "see reality with new eyes," said Pope Benedict, "with the eyes of the faith and the Lord, who speaks to the mind and to the heart, gives new light for the journey in all times and situations. . . . If the lungs of prayer and of the Word of God do not nourish the breath of spiritual life, we risk suffocating in the midst of a thousand daily cares. Prayer is the breath of the soul and of life" (Pope Benedict qtd. from Vatican Information Service).
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic Faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever receive. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at catholicpathways.com
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Pope Benedict XVI, prayer, the life of prayer, interior life of grace, repentance, happiness, seeking happiness, the goal of man, F. K. Bartels
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