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What is prayer? ( - and how do we pray?)

Thoughts on prayer from The Mystery of Love, by Cardinal Basil Hume (DLT 2004)

'Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God.' That definition in the catechism remains, for my part at any rate, the best of all definitions of prayer. But one word was omitted: trying. Prayer is trying to raise our minds and hearts to God. The only 'failure' in prayer is when we neglect it. The only 'success' in prayer is the sense of God's presence, or a deep peace and sense of well-being, a marvellous moment of inner freedom. When that comes, it is a special gift from God. We have no claim on it, we cannot demand it. Our part is to turn to him as best we can, trying to raise our minds and hearts to him.


Becoming friends with God

Holiness involves friendship with God. The movement towards the realisation of God's love for us is similar to our relationship with other people. There comes a moment which we can never quite locate or catch, when an acquaintance becomes a friend. In a sense, the change from one to the other has been taking place over a period of time. But there comes a point when we know we can trust the other, exchange confidences, keep each other's secrets: we are friends. There has to be a moment like that in our relationship with God. He ceases to be just a Sunday acquaintance and becomes a weekday friend.


Talking with God

The sound of gentle stillness has to be within, and in that context think of yourself coming to the Lord like the blind man in St Luke (chapter 18): 'Lord come to me, be merciful to me a sinner: help me.' He stands before you, asking, 'What would you have me do?' And you answer, 'Lord, that I may see, that I may see with the eyes of faith something of the realities of which you came to speak, something about your presence in the world in which I find myself. Touch my eyes that I may see.' I find in that blind man and in the deaf mute good friends because they reflect what we are like. Those words are addressed to you and me because those characters in the Gospel are us. So in moments of silence we reflect a bit on how much the Word of God means to us, and how much the Sacraments mean to us.


Listening to God

It is in silence that we shall hear a voice deep within us speaking to our nobler selves, calling us to high ideals and generous instincts. Silence is the voice of God, sometimes no louder than a whisper, but speaking to us unmistakably if we learn to listen, to listen to God. That silence, that presence of God, will bring peace to our troubled and divided hearts. It will help to heal and restore our society.

Come now, turn aside from your daily employment. Escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts, put aside your weighty cares. Let your burdensome distractions wait. Free yourself for a while for him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul. Shut out everything except God and that which will help you in seeking him. When you have shut the door, say to him: 'I seek your face. Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you.' (Anselm)

Finding forgiveness

In every human life there are things, actions and attitudes that need forgiveness. There are memories of foolishness and weakness that lurk like dark spectres to haunt us when the spirit is low or the going hard. If only we could hear clearly within us that we have been forgiven. If you and I truly want forgiveness, if our sorrow is real, what is it that stops us from knowing that we have been forgiven? Is it our failure to believe in his love for us? If we turn to him, want to love him, and ask for forgiveness, we may be sure that our sorrow for the wrongs we have done will bring us closer to him and, with that closeness, bring us peace of mind.


Finding yourself

A priest started his homily at a funeral by saying, 'I am going to preach about judgement.' There was dismay in the congregation. But he went on: 'Judgement is whispering into the ear of a merciful and compassionate God the story of my life which I had never been able to tell.' It is a very great encouragement to think of being in the presence of God who is both merciful and full of compassion, because God knows me through and through and understands me far better than I could ever know and understand myself, or anyone else. Only he can truly make sense of my confused and rambling story.


God in a box?

A mystery is a reality which we can never understand, nor even discover for ourselves. This mystery can never be solved. It can only be entered and explored by one who accepts with awe and reverence that the deepest reality is unimaginably greater than we can ever comprehend; that beyond the limitations of our senses, and even the horizon of death, lies a place of inexpressible joy, the fountain of all life and love.

To embrace the mystery is to discover the real. It is to walk towards the light, to glimpse the morning star, to catch sight from time to time of what is truly real. It is no more than a flicker of light through the cloud of unknowing: a fitful ray of light that is a messenger from the sun which is hidden from your gaze.

Mysteries are truths revealed by God.


'I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you: search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.'


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