Dear Friends and Benefactors,
What does it mean to ‘pray always’? Does it not seem to be an impossible thing to expect? Granted it may be a special calling for a few privileged souls, for Religious in the silence of the cloister, but surely it is hardly able to be realised by the ordinary Christian living in the midst of a busy world! Such at least seems to be the common opinion today.
Yet the words of Holy Scripture are not addressed to Religious alone, but to every Christian soul! Therefore in this newsletter, we would like to look more closely at what it means to pray always and how this can be realised in the ordinary day to day life of each and every one of us, priests, religious and laity alike.
To put it very simply, every effort to please God is a prayer. Now there is no better way of pleasing God than by performing all our daily duties well with a pure intention of pleasing Him alone. This is of far more value than the greatest penances or a multitude of vocal prayers performed at the expense of the duties of our state of life. It is important to remember that God does not regard what we do so much as the love and the intentions with which we do it.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, clearly understood the value of the smallest actions when done for love of God as her “Little Way” gives ample proof. She did not perform any great penances; she kept no fasts or vigils besides those observed by the common rule of her Carmelite community. Instead she looked for little ways of pleasing God: a smile or a pleasant word when inclined to be silent or show weariness; or if no other opportunity presented itself, she would simply tell Him again and again of her love for Him. These are every day opportunities which each of us can imitate. But Saint Therese was not the first soul to follow the Little Way as we shall see in the life of another Carmelite, who lived over two centuries before her...
Nicholas Herman entered the Carmelite Order in Paris in the year 1666, and took the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. He was 55 at the time, and before leaving the world, he had served as both a soldier and a footman. His superiors assigned him to work in the monastery kitchen, a task which was naturally repugnant to him, as, due to a bad limp, he could only get about with difficulty and he was inclined to break everything.
But realising the will of God in this duty assigned to him by holy obedience, Br. Lawrence gladly served the monastery as cook for 15 years. Indeed, he soon found great delight and tranquillity in his new life, having discovered what it meant to pray always. In his own words: “the time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”
What was his secret? Instead of doing great and big things to “earn” God’s love, Br. Lawrence made use of the small things. When he was cooking a meal, he thought of himself as cooking for God and with God. When he scrubbed the pots and pans or cleaned the floors, he was doing it for God and with God. Recalling God’s presence in this way, Br. Lawrence spoke to Him familiarly as to a friend, in which practice he found great happiness. He would offer to God the duties which awaited him, begging His assistance to perform them well. In this way, in whatever he did, he strove to please God and by doing so he realised in practice what it means to pray always.
“In the ways of God thoughts amount to little whereas love accounts for everything… I flip my little omelette in the frying pan for the love of God, and when it’s done, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the floor and adore my God who gave me the grace to do it, after which I get up happier than a king . Our sanctification depends not on changing our works, but on doing for God what we would normally do for ourselves.”
Such an attitude takes an ordinary, routine moment and makes it worshipful: “we should not weary of doing little things for the love of God who looks not at the grandeur of these actions but rather at the love with which they are performed.” Imagine how such an attitude could transform doing the dishes, driving the daily commute to work, taking care of the laundry, putting up with a boring or stressful job, studying for that exam!
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face?
If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present.
If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea:
Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me.”
Brother Lawrence’s goal in life was brilliantly simple: to become the most perfect adorer (and, rememberer) of God that he could. But once again, he found it more a matter of delight than obligation: “We are to be pitied for our willingness to be satisfied with so little. God has infinite treasures to give us and still we are satisfied with brief passing moments of piety.” Brother Lawrence discovered that “there is no mode of life in the world more pleasing and more full of delight than continual conversations with God.” He became such an enthusiastic practitioner of God’s presence that he said, “If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing else but the practice of the presence of God.”
“We do not have to be in church to be with God. We can make of our hearts an oratory where we can withdraw from time to time to converse with him, gently, humbly, and lovingly. Everyone is capable of these familiar conversations with God, some more, some less…” -- letter to a lay woman