In his book, Small is Beautiful, Schumacher said, “Although people go on crying out for solutions, they become angry when they are told that the restoration of society must come from within and not from without.” The evil that we read about daily in our newspapers or see on our television screens is but the outward projection of the evil that is firstly conceived and spawned within the human heart and mind. That is why, when she was asked how to combat the woes of the world, St Catherine of Siena said, “The trouble with the world is me.”
It is all too easy to blame God, or ask why he does not prevent evil when it tears our lives apart, or the lives of the innocent for whom we can do nothing but offer sympathy. But the truth of the matter is that God is at all times poised to possess anyone who is open to receive the love that only he can give. It is this love that brings the profound inner peace that Jesus promised on the night before he died, so that it can be shared with the world that will always be at war without it. However, love cannot be forced on anyone who does not freely choose to receive it. If we are eaten up with hatred or jealousy, or possessed by pride or prejudice, it is we, not God who are responsible for destroying the peace and harmony that he wants to bring to the world through us.
St Catherine of Siena saw so clearly what she should do to enable God to make her into the greatest politician for peace in her time. She went into the ‘inner room’ to give prolonged periods of time to prayer, to enable the love of God to purify her of all the evil that could prevent her receiving the peace that she was able to share with the world around her.
When St John said, “God is Love” (1 John 4:8), he was not trying to give a definition of what love is in itself, as a philosopher would do. He was describing in his own language that God is loving us continually. The teaching of the great saints and mystics is that this love was sent out by God through Jesus on the first Pentecost day, and this love will continue to be sent out upon us to the end of time. We can only receive it into us if we continually turn and open our hearts to allow it in, or as St Peter put it, “repent”. The great Mystic Angela of Foligno who was a mother before she became a nun, said that prayer is the “School of Divine Love”, the Schola Divini Amoris. Why? Because it is in prayer that we continually practise loving or repenting. As many times as we turn away from distractions and temptations and turn back to God, we are exercising the muscles of our hearts to enable acts of loving to become a habit of loving. This enables God’s love, his Holy Spirit, to enter into our spirit as it reaches out to him.
In prayer then, our spirit becomes like a lightning conductor that can become the means through which the Holy Spirit can enter into our hearts. The more regularly and the more persistently we pray, the quicker we are changed. Firstly, our hearts are changed and then the rest of us. Once purified, our hearts become the medium or the means through which every part of our body and soul becomes infiltrated by divine love. While Jesus was on earth we see this process taking place in his spiritual life, though his heart was never tainted with sin. Now Jesus is in heaven sending the love that he received down upon and into us, so that what was once done in him can be done in us too. He wants it to be done in all of us. But only those of us who freely choose to open ourselves to his love can receive it. Love cannot be forced. Not even God’s love can be forced on those who do not choose to receive it.
St Teresa of Avila said that far from preventing us from praying, we cannot actually pray without distractions. As we turn away from them we are in fact practising saying ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to God. We are learning how to love by practising selflessness. This means that as we try to turn and open ourselves to him, in that very action he opens himself to us to fill us with his love. That is why St Francis of Assisi said that it is in giving that we receive.
Prayer then is the place where we freely choose to receive God’s love despite the unwanted thoughts, fantasies and daydreams that try to distract us from receiving it. It is by daily trying to raise the mind and heart to God in prayer, by giving our time to be there, and then our energy to keep trying to turn to him, that God gives us the only love that can transform us into the image and likeness of Jesus through whom that love reaches out to possess us. That is why St Teresa of Avila said, “There is only one way to perfection and that is to pray. If anyone points in a different direction then they are deceiving you.” In prayer, as we daily try to love by acting selflessly over and over again, the love of God penetrates and then possesses us more and more. With love all things are possible; with God’s love everything is possible, even the impossible (Matthew 19:26). That is why all the books I have ever written are about how to pray from first beginnings to the heights of the Transforming Union
For those who are ready to accept this truth and are prepared to restructure their daily lives to make time for prayer, they will slowly but surely be transformed by the love that only God can give. Different forms and methods of prayer are only means to help keep turning to God in prayer. What helps one person might not help another; what helps us at one time in our lives might not help us at another. There is no perfect means of personal prayer, only different means to help different people at different times to keep doing the one thing necessary that St Peter told us to do at the very beginning; to keep repenting, keep turning and opening our hearts to the only one who can enthral us and make us new.
The message is so simple that it needs the simplicity of the child to see what cynics can only scoff at. We are not helpless; we can do something to combat the evil that we see in the world around us, if we are only prepared to go like St Catherine into the ‘inner room’. It is here that we can seriously turn to the only One who can first bring to us what he would bring to the world that he now chooses to serve through us. It is only in this way that his kingdom, or his rule of love may reign where bitterness and hatred ruled before.