|Photo: Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.|
Haven't you at times told God something that didn't match up with your heart? How about reciting a prayer to simply appease your guilt or instigate your piety? I've been there – done that – time and time again. But prayer is not supposed to be a bed of roses. Thankfully, the Good Lord can be very blunt with me and he is constantly disabusing me of my spiritual opulence. Lately, Christ has been back at it again. This time, he drove me to some mountains in Brazil to invite me to ruminate on the power of prayer. This meditation has taken flesh in some questions: How does prayer affect us? How does it transform our hearts and our lives? What happens to us as we draw near to the living Lord to speak to him of the movements of our hearts? How does God mold us as we discern his presence in our lives? How does prayer change the pray-er?
I have been pondering these questions for several days. I pondered them as I participated in the VII Congress of the Apostleship of Prayer and the Eucharistic Youth Movement in Latin America, which took place in Baturité, Brazil (I was tempted to stay in Brazil for the World Cup, but I have a Brazilion things to do at home). The purpose of the meeting was to continue deepening the recreation of the Apostleship of Prayer (AoP) in Latin America and all around the world (I will return to this in greater detail in a future entry). As we discussed the Way of the Heart that is the AoP, I found myself engaged in conversations about the power of prayer and the way it transforms our hearts and our lives.
As I pondered and wondered about prayer, the film Patch Adams kept coming to mind. At the beginning of the film, Patch, played by Robin Williams, checks himself into a mental care institution to be treated for his depression. He discovers that he is able to connect with the other patients around him and make them feel much better by using his sense of humour. Patch then decides to become a doctor and to put the focus on the personal connection between the doctor and the patient. The scene of the film that kept coming back to me takes place toward the end of the film, when Patch addresses a group of doctors about the best way to treat a patient. Patch tells them that all patients are also 'doctors', for they have within themselves the capacity to be agents of healing for one another.
Something similar occurs when we pray. In prayer, we draw near the Physician of Souls to be made whole, and in the process we receive the mission to attend to a broken world. As we pray, we open our hearts and minds in order to receive all that we need from the Lord, but also to dispose ourselves to be agents of God's love, joy, and peace in the world. In orienting our lives toward Jesus, we acquire the feelings of the Heart of Jesus – we learn to love as Jesus loves, to serve as he serves, and to contemplate reality as he contemplates it. Prayer stirs our sentiments and feelings, and invites us to configure them to the sentiments and feelings of the Heart of Jesus. In our communion with God, he prepares the soil of our hearts to answer prayer in and through us.
This insight is of major importance to me, as it articulates the relationship of prayer and service. I deeply believe that we need to practice daily a spirituality which integrates prayer and service with coherence and depth. Christ feeds us with his Eucharistic Heart to animate us to lead Eucharistic lives. Our Christian vocation is to be connected to God, and to serve the challenges of our world and the mission of the Church. We are called to live a faith that is incarnate; where the Word of God takes flesh in our love and service of God and his people.
As Pope Francis told us last year, “Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers and sisters is a fruitless and incomplete prayer. But at the same time, when ecclesial service only attends to work, not reserving time for dialogue with God in prayer, it risks serving itself rather than God who is present in the brother in need.” Prayer and action ought to be always in profound unity, for in that unity they lead us to the Heart of Jesus. We draw closer to Christ to grow in friendship with the One, who loved us first. The effect of this friendship leads us to want to offer God our own lives each day. Our intimate and personal relationship with Jesus turns us, in spite of our sin, into missionary disciples at the service of the Church, in prayer and in action. Living a Eucharistic life by making a total offering of ourselves every day leads us to pray for and to serve others. It helps us become generous followers of Christ, sent out to make the world a better place.
In our meeting in Brazil, we prayed for the grace of seeing the world from deep within, with all the great variety of persons and circumstances, just as St. Ignatius recommends us to in the Contemplation of the Incarnation in the Spiritual Exercises (No 102):
Here we contemplate how the three Divine Persons, looking at the entire surface of the earth, crammed with people falling into hell, decide in the eternity of Their divinity that the second Person would assume human nature for the salvation of humankind; and that, therefore, when the designated time would come, the archangel Gabriel would be sent to the Virgin Mary as a messenger.Father, Son, and Holy Spirit look down on earth and contemplate all kinds of people, from different races, and ages, in their manners, behaviours, actions, moves into action. Seeing that few enjoyed peace, and many were troubled by war and sin – out of love – the Triune God decides to send the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus the Christ, to work our redemption. The fruit of God's contemplation of reality is the work of redemption. As the three divine persons live their communion, the plan of redemption is put in motion. Today, as God continues to contemplate the reality of our world and of our lives, he presses on his work of salvation in our hearts and our lives.
I am convinced that there is no better way to serve the challenges of our world and the mission of the Church than to help others to grow in faith and solidarity; to live as contemplatives in action. The integration of prayer and service matures our decisions, strengthens our generosity and willpower, increases our self-awareness, and invokes gratitude in all that we do. Christ draws us close to his Heart to transform us and to make us into agents of his transformation in the world. Jesus desires that we become transformed and transformative pray-ers. As you draw near the Heart of Jesus in prayer, let him renew you and accept his invitation to collaborate in his mission. Then, as you do your chores, visit the infirm, and do your job with joy, bring the fruits of your labour to the Heart of Jesus. Prayer and service ought to go hand in hand. In the unity of prayer and service, Christ recreates our hearts and renews the world.