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

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

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!

Help My Unbelief

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Noli me tangere – Master of the Lehman Crucifixion c1370-5 National Gallery London

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands towards your Most Holy Place.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip –
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord watches over you –
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

 The Lord will keep you from all harm –
    he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and for evermore.

Mark 9:24 – Psalm5:2 – Psalm 18:6 – Psalm 28:2 – Psalm 72:12 – Isaiah 58: 9a – Psalm 121

Mary Magdalene first mistook the risen Christ for a gardener shown here holding a hoe. Mary kneels before him but he forbids her to touch him: ‘Noli me tangere’. This is an upper panel from an altarpiece by a Florentine master. Another pinnacle from the same work is in the Lehman Collection (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) hence the name given to the artist.

Praise the King of Heaven

Psalm 150 : Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
 praise him with tambourine and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

 

Detail from The Trinity with Christ Crucified c1410 National Gallery London

 

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honour and glory and praise!’

 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!’ Revelation 5: 11-13

If you are worried about the state of your country, the world or even things that are more personal to you, the solution is to pray and, above all, to praise. Praise lifts the oppression and gives God a window through which to shower His justice and His blessings.

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Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven, Fra Angelico, c1423/4 National Gallery London

 

  1. Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
    To His feet thy tribute bring.
    Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
    Evermore His praises sing:
    Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
    Praise the everlasting King.
  2. Praise Him for His grace and favor
    To our fathers in distress;
    Praise Him still the same as ever,
    Slow to chide, and swift to bless.
    Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
    Glorious in His faithfulness.
  3. Fatherlike He tends and spares us,
    Well our feeble frame He knows;
    In His hands He gently bears us,
    Rescues us from all our foes.
    Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
    Widely yet His mercy flows.
  4. Frail as summer’s flow’r we flourish,
    Blows the wind and it is gone;
    But while mortals rise and perish,
    Our God lives unchanging on.
    Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
    Praise the high Eternal One!
  5. Angels, help us to adore Him,
    Ye behold Him face to face;
    Sun and moon, bow down before Him;
    Dwellers all in time and space,
    Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
    Praise with us the God of grace.

Worship is Priceless

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 Virgin and Child, Hans Memling, c1475 National Gallery London

 The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. John 4:23

The decalogue opens with God’s claim to exclusive worship. This expression of God’s will is not only His command, it is also His desire. But if the ten commandments show us what gives God joy, the temptations in the wilderness reveal what will give joy to Satan. In both cases it is worship. So we have one thing that both God and Satan want. By it we can satisfy either heaven or hell. Worship is priceless. Satan’s whole idea is to rob God of it by ensnaring His people into some kind of idolatry. Idolatry claims another, besides God, to be worthy of worship. It is our privilege to counter this by holding it exclusively for God.

Watchman Nee, From ‘The Table in the Wilderness’, June 16th.

Psalm 24

Of David. A psalm.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Saviour.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.[

Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord strong and mighty,
    the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
    lift them up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty –
    he is the King of glory.

 

 

 

 

The Virgin, who has a halo of golden rays, holds the naked Child on a white cushion. His mouth is slightly open and he raises his right hand as if in blessing.