Prayer From the Heart

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The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

Recently I heard a priest talking about a list of prayer requests that he keeps in his missal. He is often asked to pray for people and situations so he adds the requests to the list, prays them from time to time – the list is too long to pray them all every day – and every so often he reviews the list. I thought about this and there was something that didn’t seem right.

My experience is that God hears and answers prayers if they come directly from our heart, out of need, or compassion, inspiration or real necessity. Prayer isn’t about numbers – the more people praying the better – it is about clean, disinterested motives and fervour. Those are the prayers that go straight to Him and you only need one ordinary person who really cares about something to make a difference.

No matter how holy the person is who is praying, if he is praying from a list about people and situations he does not personally know, how are those prayers going to be anything other than lukewarm in reality?

A friend once told me an amazing story. She was a young nurse with two small children. One day she was on duty at the local hospital and she was giving a bed bath to a young mother who was in hospital with advanced breast cancer. As my friend was washing this woman she was suddenly overcome with compassion and sadness. She identified so strongly with her and her heart was sorrowful for the husband who was about to be widowed and the motherless children. It occurred to her that as she was washing the woman she was sort of laying her hands on her so, as she washed and touched her, she sent a little heartfelt prayer asking if it was possible that the woman could get better. She finished the bath and carried on with her tasks.

When she was next on shift she heard that the doctors had been mystified by a certain event. Apparently the latest tests on the woman with breast cancer had shown that the cancer had gone – completely – it just wasn’t there. The doctors were scratching their heads but put it down to one of those unexplained recoveries that sometimes happen.

But this is the amazing thing – my friend told me that she had been so happy to hear the news about the woman but that it was only several days later that she even remembered her prayer!

Her motives had been pure, heartfelt and disinteresed. She hadn’t needed a group of holy people praying from a list. All she needed was, at that moment, to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It may be that God had wanted to heal that woman but needed the right person in the right place at the right time.

We have to be that right person in the right place at the right time – whenever or wherever we are.

Then we become the prayer.

 

The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

The Christ child holds a rosary. The open prayer book is inscribed with verses in Latin from the psalms. The Virgin’s halo is inscribed with the prayer ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord (is with thee)’. In the background, Carthusian monks oversee the construction of the Charterhouse at Pavia

Daily Examen

 

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Cologne Cathedral

This is an excellent examen from Laudate:

What do I want to thank God for and what gifts have I received?

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind what needs to be reviewed.

Look at places you’ve been; things you’ve done; people you’ve been with.

Look for moments of energy and light where you’ve received gifts of the spirit: love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; goodness; trust; gentleness; self-control.

When did you most fully co-operate with God and when did you feel most fully alive. Become aware of the times you were out of tune with God. When did you feel least alive? Just notice.

What do you want to ask forgiveness for?

When have you chosen distance over closeness to God? Perhaps when your own preoccupations have taken centre stage and crowded out others needs? Receive forgiveness and healing with confidence

What do you want to ask God for?

What do you need to strengthen the way you are being drawn by the Spirit?

Ask God to open your heart for whatever surprises may come; to open you eyes to see God in unexpected places; to open your ears to become tuned into God’s voice.

The Holy Spirit

 

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 Westminster Cathedral London

 

From the treatise On the Holy Spirit by Saint Basil the Great, bishop

The work of the Holy Spirit

The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realize that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.

To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end.

The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.

Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self-giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.

As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.

From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations—we become God.

We are all one in the Spirit

 

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 La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

 

All who receive the sacred flesh of Christ are united with him as members of his body. This is the teaching of Saint Paul when he speaks of the mystery of our religion that was hidden from former generations, but has now been revealed to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; namely, that the Gentiles are joint-heirs with the Jews, that they are members of the same body, and that they have a share in the promise made by God in Christ Jesus.

If, in Christ, all of us, both ourselves and he who is within us by his own flesh, are members of the same body, is it not clear that we are one, both with one another and with Christ? He is the bond that unites us, because he is at once both God and man.

With regard to our unity in the Spirit, we may say, following the same line of thought, that all of us who have received one and the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, are united intimately, both with one another and with God. Taken separately, we are many, and Christ sends the Spirit, who is both the Father’s Spirit and his own, to dwell in each of us. Yet that Spirit, being one and indivisible, gathers together those who are distinct from each other as individuals, and causes them all to be seen as a unity in himself. Just as Christ’s sacred flesh has power to make those in whom it is present into one body, so the one, indivisible Spirit of God, dwelling in all, causes all to become one in spirit.

Therefore, Saint Paul appeals to us to bear with one another charitably, and to spare no effort in securing, by the bonds of peace, the unity that comes from the Spirit. There is but one body and one Spirit, just as there is but one hope held out to us by God’s call. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and works through all, and is in all. If the one Spirit dwells in us, the one God and Father of all will be in us, and he, through his Son, will gather together into unity with one another and with himself all who share in the Spirit.

There is also another way of showing that we are made one by sharing in the Holy Spirit. If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the Spirit, it must surely be obvious to everyone that by repudiating, in a sense, our own life, and taking on the supernatural likeness of the Holy Spirit, who is united to us, our nature is transformed so that we are no longer merely men, but also sons of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature. We are all one, therefore, in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are one in mind and holiness, we are one through our communion in the sacred flesh of Christ, and through our sharing in the one Holy Spirit.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, bishop

Lessons in Love from the Unloved

 

 

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A Lovely Saint Joseph in Corpus Christ london

I used to help with a club for people with learning disabilities. It met once a week in a room belonging to a Baptist church. The club was founded and run by a lovely man whose son had Downes Syndrome although his son didn’t live at home and only rarely visited. However, week after week, a small group of us met and, I can tell you, that the  helpers got as much out of it and perhaps more than the club members.

I originally decided to help because I felt called to do so but also because I thought it would be a good service. What a joke! The blessings I received from the club members far outweighed anything I contributed. The helpers took turns running the meeting and I’ll never forget one in particular. I realised that people with learning disabilities often have concrete thinking and abstract ideas can be difficult. We often talked about Jesus but how could he become real to our club members? So, I found lots of different images of Jesus from art on the internet, downloaded them, printed and laminated them. They were only small pictures but I had quite a pile of them. I spread them over a table and I remember the look of joy on faces as we looked at them and as each person got to choose their favourite to take home.

A simple example of a blessing I received. One of the club members came up to me at the end of a meeting, stood in front of me and said “I really like you!” I was so moved and it took me a while to work out why. I realised that it was something we never say. I would never think of going up to a friend and simply saying “I really like you!” I would just assume that the friend knows that and, anyway, it would feel strange to do it –  but the way this kind and genuine compliment made me feel was such a lovely lesson. I realised that I was learning how to love and appreciate others from our club members and that I was a novice compared to them.

There was no other support from the church although we were grateful for the room. However, once a year, some of the ladies organised a Christmas party. They decorated the church hall and we all brought in cakes and biscuits and mince pies as well as organising some games. It was always a lovely occasion.

During one particular Christmas party, one-by-one, individuals started to come into the hall, help themselves to chairs and then go out without acknowledging us or telling us what was happening. One of the helpers ascertained that there was a carol concert rehearsal in the church upstairs and that they were short of chairs. This went on for some time. People trooped in and out but not one of them acknowledged us. It was as if we weren’t there.

I felt very uneasy about this but couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it came to me why no one came up to explain or apologise or even to wish our club members a Happy Christmas – it was because they were learning disabled. For any other party or meeting, permission would have been asked and apologies given but, it seemed, that people with learning disabilities were not offered that common courtesy.

I have seen it over and over again, especially when I went on to work in learning disabilities. These lovely and special people are often not treated with even basic dignity. I thought Christian people would be different but I was wrong. What is wrong with us?

One last word. Whenever there was an open day or outreach at the church and a board of activities was put on display, which club do you think had pride of place? You guessed it and I use the word ‘pride’ on purpose. Our club members were ignored and forgotten by the church for 99% of the time but picked up when they were useful.

Don’t be like this.

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Mother Teresa

Spirit Speaks to Spirit

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Probably by Lorenzo Monaco c1387-8 National Gallery London

 

 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 14-16

For those of us born of the Holy Spirit there is not I – there is only WE. Those who are carrying the Holy Spirit within them are in communion with all others who are also carrying the Holy Spirit – all baptised believers.

Spirit communes with Spirit – for there is only one Spirit. We are even more than brothers and sisters in the Lord. Whether or not you realise it or feel it, the Holy Spirit within you is constantly reaching out to others and your mere presence can be a magnificent blessing without any effort on your part.

The spirit within you is a light to the world and you are the lamp that contains it and carries it with you. Your only responsibility is to nurture the Holy Spirit within you and, by doing so, grow in holiness and that means resembling Christ more and more each day.

 

 

Jesus is the Way

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Giovanni Battista Cima Da Conegliano c1510 National Gallery London

 

The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’

 Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, “Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.”’

The Lord replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.’ So Moses went down to the people and told them. Exodus 19: 20 -25

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.  So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

‘“Among those who approach me
    I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
    I will be honoured.”’

Aaron remained silent.  Leviticus 10: 1-3

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The Trinity with Christ Crucified c1410 National Gallery London

Those who say they know God or have God are kidding themselves. God is so holy, so ‘other’ that we could not stand in His presence and survive. Our sin would destroy us. That is why Jesus came – to take our sin on himself so that we can stand in the presence of God and live.  Jesus explains this himself.   ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

When Jesus takes our sin onto himself it is so that we can approach our Holy Father and so that He can commune with us. God loves us but He also feels the burden and responsibility of our estrangement. Pure love in the form of Jesus was his answer – and what an answer!

 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might:
thy justice, like mountains high soaring above,
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory, thou dwellest in light,
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render; O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!