When Peter arrived the following morning from his hermitage on the island of Calvay, he was aware that time was running out to instruct James Roberson. So Peter began where he ended the previous day with the mnemonic, or memory-jog using the letters of the Our Father in Latin, Pater Noster.
“Let me now go on to the final section of the blueprint for prayer, which begins with N for Needs. This is the time to recall all I said previously about the all-embracing context of our prayer. Not only should this be the time to pray for family and friends, but also particularly for those who are most in need of the help we can give. Here we pray for the depressed, for the lonely, for those suffering the final ordeal alone in some anonymous deathbed, for those who are imprisoned, those who are being tortured at this moment writhing in the hands of some obscene sadists. Then we can pray for our own needs. The sad thing is that we do not even know what they are to begin with. We are so warped with selfishness that initially our prayer is not ‘Your will be done’. Even though we may use this precise phrase because we believe it is what we ought to say, deep down in our hearts we are shouting, ‘My will be done’ and we are annoyed and disgruntled if our prayer is not granted. It is one thing to have the right words on your lips, it is quite another to pray them with your whole heart. Until this happens, we just have to try our best to want the right thing and to pray that we begin to see and desire what is really good for us.
Your will be done
“Actually, one of the first signs that our attitude is gradually being changed by God is when we begin to notice that we are starting to pray, ‘Your will be done’ and genuinely mean it, so that the prayer is not qualified with half a dozen ifs and buts. You know the sort of thing I mean. ‘Lord, I wish to do your will in all things, as long as you do not ask me to give up my cushy little job, or make any major alternations in my lifestyle, and I am sure you would not want me to pack up smoking and an odd snifter now and again, and my television is my only little pleasure. But I am sure all these things are according to your will, as long as they are used in moderation.’ In other words, what I am trying to say is that until we have been changed by God’s love, our prayers of petition for ourselves will either be for downright material advantages of one sort of another, or even when we use the right words, there will be a dozen ifs and buts lurking in the background of our minds.”
James looked concerned and admitted that what Peter was saying was frightening him.
“In what way?” asked Peter, looking somewhat surprised.
James admitted that the impression Peter was giving was that before we can really become selfless and start asking for the right things for ourselves, we have somehow to give up everything that we like or enjoy, as if all pleasures and comforts, even in moderation, are wrong. Peter exclaimed immediately that this was not the point he was trying to make.
The Asceticism of the heart.
“All I was only trying to show is how mixed up and divided we all are inside when we first begin to pray. You may remember how I strongly criticized what I call the tough-guy approach to changing ourselves, because it never works. We cannot change ourselves in that way. My general line of approach when it comes to self-discipline, which used to be called asceticism, is this. Do not give up anything that you like or enjoy doing, except insofar as it stops you giving your daily time to God in prayer. But anything that consistently keeps you from your daily prayer period must go. Discipline and asceticism are not out, they are very much in, but they are primarily directed to creating the daily space and time to allow God’s love to burst into our lives through prayer. Once this happens, he will progressively possess us in such a way that we will just cease to want or even desire anything but him. What we once called our little pleasures, our innocent enjoyments, will no longer interest us. The same will happen to those ingrained habits that have bugged us for years. They will simply evaporate without any tortuous ascetical gymnastics.
“Remember what happened to my degenerate cousin, John once love entered his life. It changed him irrevocably for the better. When God’s love gets loose in our lives the results will be even more dramatic. We have so complicated the spiritual life in the past that we have almost to have a theology degree in order to understand it. The principal concern of the spiritual life is how to let God’s love invade our lives, and how to close ourselves to everything and everyone that prevents this process taking place. Prayer is simply the only way to do this effectively. This is what I called the asceticism of the heart and it was this that I was referring to earlier when I spoke about preparing for prayer.”
Peter looked momentarily vague and perplexed. “Oh dear, I’m getting off the point again.”
James reassured Peter that what he was saying was very much to the point, at least as far as he was concerned, but reminded him that he was up to the letter O.
The Morning Offering
Peter continued his blueprint with the letter O which stands for Offering, for the Morning Offering.
“The practice of making a Morning Offering was once commonplace but sadly, through ignorance, it has mainly fallen into abeyance. God’s plan for us is not just that we should be drawn up in Christ’s life but also taken up into his action and not just any action, but the most important action he ever performed and continues to perform, to give or offer himself, all that he was, all that he did, and all that he does now, in an enduring act of unalloyed selfless loving. In other words, he first practised for himself what he then preached to others, by loving and continuing to love God with his whole heart and mind and with his whole being. So after praying for others, the next letter, O, reminds us to join with Christ in offering ourselves to our common Father.
“When primitive peoples offered sacrifices to their gods it was usually to get something out of them. They wanted their help to ensure a successful hunting expedition, a good harvest or just good health for themselves and their families. There was another reason too. They wanted to keep their gods sweet so they would not show their displeasure by visiting on them what the insurance men call ‘acts of God’. However, the prophets gradually taught the ancient Jews how to offer sacrifices to their God, not just to exploit him, nor just to thank him for what they received from him, but to thank him for being God and to give him glory just for being himself. To give him praise, honour, glory and thanksgiving at one and the same time.
The offering of an open and loving heart
“When Jesus came, he did not destroy the old idea of offering things to God through sacrifice, but he brought it to completion. Every sacrifice must be made with a pure and contrite heart, as the prophets had taught, but now the real sacrifice that God wanted was not of sheep, oxen, goats or whatever, but of our own selves – all that we do and all that we are. Nor must this offering be made through a sort of feudal subservience, but through a love that reaches out to God far more effectively than the fire and smoke of old used to attract his attention in Old Testament sacrifices. It is not the sweet savour of roasting meat that pleases God, but the offering of an open and loving heart which he will never fail to enter. All this has now become possible, as never before, because the offering that we make is made in, with and through Christ.
“Now therefore, in, with and through him we can all become priests, because only we can offer ourselves – no one else can do it for us – but only he can make that offering effective, because it is made through his. That is why the early Christians were so aware of their priesthood. And that is why they went to exercise it with others on the first day of the week, the Day of the Sun or Sunday as it came to be called, for the rising sun became for them a dramatic and unique symbol of the Resurrection. Then they would return to their own homes to use what they had received through the sacred mysteries, to offer every moment of every day to God, as Jesus had done, until they returned the following Sunday.
As Rumpelstiltskin turned straw into gold.
“The Morning Offering that my mother taught me was to remind me before each day began how I could become, as she put it, a little priest, turning ordinary commonplace things into something precious, as Rumpelstiltskin turned straw into gold. She taught me to remind myself of the offering I had made at the beginning of the day by practising little acts of sacrifice throughout the day.
The expression, ‘offer it up’ became a family catchphrase that was not always appreciated, because it seemed to me that all too many daily sacrifices were demanded in the war years when everything worthwhile seemed to be rationed. I, for one, did not particularly like having to offer up wearing clothes handed down from other members of the family, or going without sugar in my tea, eating bread and milk instead of cornflakes, or sharing half my meagre ration of sweets with those less fortunate than me. However, the habit did die hard, at least in my mind, for I have never forgotten it. Would that I had practised it over the years as my mother would have wished. Anyway, I always think of her when I come to the letter O in my morning prayer. Later studies may well have enabled me to understand the deeper significance of what she taught me, but I have learnt nothing to take away from her simple practical spirituality. It was she who first taught me about the priesthood to which we are all called in Christ, and how to put it into practice in our daily lives, not just by what she said but by the continual example she showed me.”
There were tears in the hermit’s eyes as he climbed into his boat and set sail for his hermitage home.