|man in prayer|
prayer is called mystical because its conversation is altogether secret. In it nothing is spoken between God and the soul except from heart-to-heart, by a communication incommunicable to any others but those who make it. . . (Love of God, Book VI, chpt. 1.)
It is here that we now turn in our discourse on the mystical life: that of the intense prayer life that the mystic leads on his way to union with God.
The Ways of Prayer
We now enter the first realm of the mystical life: that of the ways of prayer. Fittingly enough, for prayer is really the beginning of the road towards perfection; it is the way that every mystic and/or victim-stigmatist travels. The reason for this is that a deeper spirituality is necessary in order to know God's will, to love Him and to be receptive to the graces that He is prepared to give us. If God is the Source of our gifts, then prayer is the channel from which all grace grows and is nurtured. All grace comes through Our Blessed Mother, she is the channel. In the life of the mystic, prayer is particularly important for spiritual growth, for it is through prayer that one communicates with God and hears the soft whispers of His voice. Prayer is the door through which one enters into the mystical state. It is also the door to the active and the contemplative life, and in fact, to any state of life whereby one earnestly seeks a closer relationship with God. It is here that the mystic begins, and it will be here that we will start our mystical journey.
Prayer means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Therefore, like in any discussion on the meaning of mysticism, we will explore many thoughts on this theme from a variety of sources, with the intention of gaining some perspective of what prayer and spirituality are all about.
The most common definition for prayer was given by St. John Damascene (c. 675- c.749), a holy Doctor of the Church. He described prayer as the "elevation of the soul to God." Others from the early Church have expressed the same feeling in slightly different ways. Here are a few samplings of what these saints have believed:
Prayer is a conversation with God. . . (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, 7, 2nd century.)
When prayer is poured forth, sins are covered. . . . (St. Ambrose, Delnterpel. Job, 2, 8, 4th century.)
He causes his prayers to be of more avail to himself, who offers them also for others. . . . (Pope St. Gregory I, Morals, 35, 21, 6th century.)
All the virtues assist the soul to attain to a burning love of God, but, above all, pure prayer. By means of it the soul escapes completely from the midst of creatures, carried to God, as it were, on wings. . . . (St. Maximus the Confessor, Centuries on Charity, 1, 2, 7th century.)
Clearly, there is no one standard definition of prayer, as the above examples show. Prayer is many things to different people. One reason is each individual is unique and special, and God treats him or her as such. Because He communicates His will for each one differently, we are going to have a wide diversity of ways in which the life of the spirit is manifested in our faith experience. Each of us has different needs and unusual gifts; we all relate to God in our own special way. Yet one thing all spiritual people have in common is this: a desire for the love of God. Some feel this desire more intensely than others, and they travel on to a higher, deeper spirituality that encounters meditation, contemplation and for some, the mystical life.
Now that we have a general understanding of the importance of prayer in our faith experience, we will look at the four types of prayer that all are familiar with: adoration, thanksgiving, petition and contrition. All ways are important and each has its place. The ordinary person is most likely to petition when he or she prays, wanting something from God that they do not possess. Giving thanks to the Lord is probably the second most common intention in prayer, especially for those who follow the ordinary way. Because we are focusing on the prayer life of the mystic, we must keep in mind that the perception of and the experiences in their prayer life are not necessarily the same as what the ordinary person perceives or experiences. For these holy ones, prayer usually centers around the life of love and of suffering. For the victim, to love is to suffer, and to suffer is to love. All love is ultimately directed to God, Who is the supreme Love of their lives.
Being advanced and matured in the ways of the spirit, these humble souls seek first to love God with all their hearts and souls in the form of adoration (Lk 10:27); secondly, they love their neighbor as themselves (Mt 19:19) and, including themselves, they plead for forgiveness of past sin, begging the Lord to show them His mercy so that none might ever perish (contrition), but instead have eternal life (Jn 3:16). These two types of prayer are selfless and most charitable, for they are only concerned with love and with sacrifice: a sacrifice of the heart, for God and for man.
It is the passion of love that propels the mystic forward; love is the catalyst that moves the soul and carries it to the heights of the interior life. There, in the deepest recesses of the soul, one is consumed by the all-embracing Love that is God. It is here that the Lord gives us His peace (Jn 14:27), and it is here that He nourishes the soul with the living waters of life (Jn 4:14). "Love is the life of the soul" (St. Francis de Sales), the source of its being: "What do you possess if you possess not God?" (St. Augustine).
It is through prayer that one seeks the Beloved, much as the bride seeks after the groom. In mystical language, the bride is the pure and spotless lamb, whereas the Groom is Jesus Christ, Lord and Shepherd of the soul. In this mystical language of love, it is the kiss of love that each mystic seeks, longing to possess and to be possessed by the fire of divine love. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a victim soul, once said these moving words: "Our heart is made for God. Woe, then, if it be satisfied with less than God, or if it allow itself to burn with any other fire than that of His pure love!"
Most of all, as we have seen in the above examples, the prayers of contrition and adoration adhere to the Gospel message that Jesus gives: love your God, love your neighbor. This is not to say that the prayers of petition and thanksgiving are less important. God forbid! They are every bit as important when used for the proper intentions. The danger most beginners fall into is praying in a way that becomes too self-centered, too self-serving. It is with petition that this is especially troublesome, although it can be found in thanksgiving as well if we choose to thank God for only those things that are beneficial to us, we become victims of self-deception. We must also give thanks for the blessings that others have been given, as well as the trials and tribulations that come from the hand of God.
from the book , THEY BORE THE WOUNDS OF CHRIST by Michael Freze, S.F.O.