In the same year that Magna Carta was set to reform the political and social institutions in England, the Fourth Lateran Council was set to reform the political, social and spiritual institutions in the Catholic Church. Its unprecedented success was due to the new mendicant orders – the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Carmelites and the Austin Friars, led by saints like St Francis of Assisi, St Dominic, St Anthony of Padua, St, Thomas Aquinas, St Angela of Foligno and so many others. They all inspired the clergy and laity alike to turn back to prayer to enable the Holy Spirit to work through them to return Christendom to the simple Christian spirituality that had once inspired and then transformed a pagan empire into a Christian Empire a thousand years before. Back to prayer was the message that they all both preached and practised so successfully. So that their example should inspire us to do likewise today, I offer this practical blog to you, to be followed by others in the forthcoming year.
To this end I would like to introduce you to a memory-jog for prayer that you can carry with you in your head at all times to help to remind you of the essential characteristics of all authentic Christian prayer. It is based on the nine letters that make up the greatest prayer of all, that Jesus taught us to say, the – OUR FATHER. If my brief explanation of each letter is not sufficient to help generate your own spontaneous prayer I have enclosed nine of my own to help you to get started. For Morning Prayer the letter O will help remind you to make your Morning Offering, the letter U will help to remind you to make it in Union with, and through Jesus, with and for all others who are alive in him. This therefore, is the time to pray for your family and friends, and for all who have asked you to pray for them, that they may benefit from your endeavour to make the day ahead into a continual prayer, in thought, word, and deed, as you try to put your Morning Offering into practice. The letter R will help you to make the Resolutions that will help you to do this.
For daily prayer begin with the letter F as a reminder to make an act of Faith, not so much in a body of truths, but in the body full of love that rose on the first Easter day to pour out his love on Pentecost day and on every day, on those who are ready and open to receive it. In the full realisation of what this means, the letter A will be a reminder to make an act of total Abandonment to Christ, without any reservations. T will be a reminder to make Thanksgiving for all that has been given to us, and H will remind us to make a spiritual Holy Communion in our hearts. Finally E can be a reminder of the daily Examination of Conscience that we too often neglect and R can remind us of the act of Repentance and the ‘firm purpose of amendment’ that should follow it.
Morning Prayer comprises three prayers that could be preceded by a verse from psalm 69 with which St Benedict instructed his monks to begin the divine office. Then it can be followed by the Glory be… immediately followed by Psalm 62.
O God come to my aid
O Lord make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father and to the son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O God you are my God for you I long;
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
Like dry weary land without water. (Ps. 62)
O – Offering – The Morning Offering
God Our Father, I wish to consecrate all that I say and all that I do to you, in this forthcoming day, just as Jesus did every day of his life on earth. Please accept what I do so imperfectly and unite it with the perfect offering that Jesus continues to make to you in heaven. I offer to you my joys and my sorrows, my successes as well as my failures, because these especially show how much I have need of you. I make my prayer in with and through Jesus in whom we all live and move and have our being. Amen
U – Union – Union
Father, I know that the more your Holy Spirit draws me into your son Jesus, the more I am united to all who are within him. I therefore ask Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul and all the saints, especially those to whom I have a special devotion, to be with me now as I pray, so that my poor prayers may be fortified by theirs. I also want to pray for all my family and friends, and all who have asked me to prayer for them. May they benefit from the day ahead, that I wish to become a perfect prayer, as I offer all I say and do to you, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen
R – Resolutions – Resolutions
Jesus, help me to review the day ahead, to anticipate all that I should do, so that I can love God as you did through everything that I do, and love my neighbour too, as you love all of us. Help me to forgive, as you forgave, my enemies as well as my friends. And give me the grace to seek forgiveness from those I have offended, and never cease trying to be like you and behave like you in all that I say and do. (Short pause to make resolutions for the day ahead)
Daily prayer comprises six prayers. Each Letter of the word FATHER will act as a memory jog to prompt you:-
F – Faith
Father I know and believe that you are all loving, that your love has been permanently transformed into human loving through the human nature of your son Jesus. I know and believe that his love is perpetually poised to possess me at this moment and at every moment. Penetrate and possess me now, permeate my whole being as I try to turn and remain open to receive you. Melt my heart of stone, re-make it, and re-mould it, so that it can at all times be open to receive you. “For unless you enthral me I shall never be free, nor ever chaste except you ravish me”. Amen.
A – Abandonment
Father, You have freely chosen to share your own inner life and love with me now through Jesus, as a foretaste of the ecstatic joy that you have planned for me, and for all who love you in heaven. As there is no limit to the way you have poured out your loving goodness and mercy on me I can only totally abandon myself to you in return. I therefore solemnly concentrate every moment of every day to you and to your honour and glory, in and together with your son Jesus Christ. Amen.
T – Thanksgiving
Father, although you are infinitely distant you are infinitely near too, for you inhabit the inner marrow of my being, where I now humbly thank you for being with me and for all you have given me today, for life itself and all and everyone that has made it worth living. Give me the grace to praise honour and thank you, as much as I am able, and more than I am able, not just in words, but in a life that I now freely dedicate to you. Amen
H – Holy Communion
Jesus, at the Last Supper you promised to make your home in all who would obey your new commandments, help me to obey them now and at every moment of my life. For when I love the Father and love my neighbour, as you did, there is nothing to stop you making your home in me and me making mine in you. Let the joy and the peace that comes from abiding in you suffuse all I say and do, so that others may be drawn into the Holy Communion that begins in this life and comee to its completion in the next. Amen
(Now is the time to remain still and silent for a few moments of Contemplation to relish what, or rather who we receive in this Holy Communion. A short prayer could be repeated gently whenever distractions threaten to draw the attention elsewhere. A prayer such as Come Lord or Come Lord Jesus would be ideal or some other short prayer of your choosing.
E– Examination of Conscience
‘Lord that I may see’ so that all that prevents you making your home in me may be ‘spirited way’. Strengthen me to live the new commandments as you lived them, so that the same Holy Spirit who filled you, guided you, and raised you from the dead may do the same for me. Show me the sins that keep you out and give me the power to overcome them, for without you I have no power to do anything. Amen
Father, I ask your forgiveness for the sins that have prevented you from possessing me as you would wish this day. (A short pause to review our behaviour in the past day.) I am deeply sorry for failing you yet again, and with your grace I will never let my pride delay me from turning back to you the moment I fall. Until I can love everyone as I should, help me to do them no harm and give me the sympathy and compassion of the person in whose footsteps I want to walk. Amen
Conclude with one “Our Father” one “Hail Mary” and one “Glory Be”
N.B. The spiritual theology on which these prayers are based can be found in my blogs for 2014. And, for how vocal prayer develops into mental prayer, and meditation develops into contemplation please read my blogs for 2015. For those who receive this essay privately, just go directly to my website. From there you will be able to access my blogs and listen to the podcasts, as I post more of them in the forthcoming year to help 2015 to become a Year of Grace for all of us : – http://www.davidtorkington.com
A Suggestion for night prayer – taken from an ancient tradition traced back to the Desert Fathers.
When you’re already in bed take a short prayer and repeat it slowly and prayerfully. It might simply be the word ‘Jesus’, or the full Jesus prayer: – ‘Jesus Son of God have mercy on me a sinner’.
This prayer and others like it came to be used, most particularly in the Eastern Church, with slow rhythmical breathing. It was not just a device for relaxation, but for reminding the believer of the all-pervading action of the Holy Spirit. The ancient Jews believed that a person’s breath was their life-principle, their spirit, so naturally they believed that God’s breath was His life-principle, His Spirit. As a mark of respect, God’s breath or His Spirit came to be called the Holy Spirit. So deep rhythmical breathing that often accompanied short prayers ‘of the heart’ helped remind them of the ever incoming Spirit who dwelt within them with ever increasing power the more they prayed.
It can be a reminder to us too, particularly when preparing for sleep. The prayer ‘Come Holy Spirit’ for instance, can accompany the slow intake of breath followed by the prayer ‘conceive Christ in me’ as we breathe out. With the next breathe pray again ‘Come Holy Spirit’ followed by ‘fill every part of me’, and again with the next breath ‘Come Holy Spirit’, followed by ‘bring Christ to birth in me’. Then the three prayers could be repeated again and again. Other short prayers could be used like ‘Come Lord’, or ‘Come Lord Jesus’ or whatever short prayer you feel helps you best. When this practice becomes a habit it can be far more effective than sleeping pills, and there are no side effects either! Whenever you have finished trying to pray, be at peace. You have done the best you can, now leave the rest to God, remembering the words of St Padre Pio: –
“Pray, trust and don’t worry”
If you have found this blog helpful to you, and feel it might be helpful to others please send it to all you friends and to whoever you feel might find it helpful too.
Happy Christmas to all of you – From David and Bobbie my wife.