Bernardo M. Villegas
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Praying In Silence With God

          One of the blessings of the pandemic is the greater amount of time that family members can spend in moments of prayer.  The family Rosary has been more frequently prayed with more members participating.   Some who used to go to Mass only Sundays have developed the habit of attending some online weekday Masses.  Although some actually have spent more working hours at home than they did  in the office before the pandemic because of the significant saving in time that used to be devoted to long hours of commute, there has been more time for quiet reflection at home.  During this second Lenten Season we are spending during the pandemic, It may be time for those who want to take their Catholic faith more seriously to heed the advice of St. John Paul II when he wrote “If in our times Christians must be distinguished above all by the art of prayer, how can we not feel a renewed need  to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament?  How often, dear brothers and sisters have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support.”

         There are Eastern religions that give a lot of importance to spending time in what has been called transcendental meditation, considered as being healthy for both body and spirit.  To a Christian, however, meditation is not getting absorbed with one’s thoughts and concerns.  It is praying silently to God, striking a dialogue with our Creator.  It is God who always initiates the conversation.  As we read in an article in the Opus Dei website entitled “The Art of Prayer”, prayer is a heart-to-heart dialogue with God, and we have to put our whole heart and mind into it.   God speaks to us in many ways.  Prayer is primarily listening and answering.  He speaks to us in Holy Scripture, in the liturgy, in spiritual direction, and also through the world and circumstances in our own lives:  our work ( through which we sanctify ourselves, others and society itself); the good and bad happenings of each day; and our relations with others.  We can learn this divine language only if we spend time alone with God.

         In his book entitled “A School of Prayer,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote:  “In our time, we are taken up with so many activities and duties, worries and problems: we often tend to fill all of the spaces of the day, without leaving a moment to pause and reflect and to nourish our spiritual life, our contact with God.  Mary teaches us how necessary it is to find in our busy day moments for silent recollection, to meditate on what the Lord wants to teach us, on how he is present and active in the world and in our life:  to be able to stop for a moment and meditate.”   The type of prayer that Benedict XVI is referring to is what in Christian tradition is known as “mental prayer.”  It is different from vocal prayer such as the Holy Rosary.  Mental prayer does not consist of words but, rather, is a way of a making contact with the heart of God in our mind.  The Blessed Virgin is our foremost model here.  As Benedict XVI commented:  “Luke the Evangelist repeated several times that Mary, ‘kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.’  As a good custodian, she did not forget; she was attentive to all the Lord told her and did for her, and she meditated, in other words, she considered various things, pondering them in her heart.”

         Trying to talk to God in our own words is proof that we want to show our love for Him.  As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in the “Forge”, “Prayer is not a question of what you say or feel, but of love.  And you love when you try hard to say something to the Lord, even though you might not actually say anything…Remember that prayer does not consist of making pretty speeches, or high-sounding or consoling phrases.  Sometimes prayer will be a glance at a picture of our Lord or his Mother, sometimes a petition, expressed in words; or offering good works, and the fruits of faithfulness…We have to be like a guard on sentry-duty at the gate of God Our Lord; that’s what payer is.  Or like a small dog, or better still, like a donkey, which will not kick the one who loves it.”   In the book “Friends of God”, St. Josemaria, who taught countless souls to converse with God in silence, insisted that mental prayer is not only for priests and religious but for all who want to deepen their love for Christ:  “I would go as far as to say, without fear of being mistaken, that there are many countless, ways of praying.  But I would like all of us to pray genuinely, as God’s children, not gabbing away like hypocrites who will hear from Jesus’ lips ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.’  When we cry ‘Lord!’ we must do so with an effective desire to put into practice the inspirations the Holy Spirit awakens in our soul.”

         By exerting every effort to spend some ten to fifteen minutes daily in talking to God with our own words, we would have derived the greatest benefit from the pandemic in deepening our friendship with God.  The so-called “new reality” after the pandemic should include the daily practice of mental prayer.   It is always God who speaks to us first.    As we read in the “Art of Prayer,” speaking with God means allowing him to take the lead progressively in all that we do.  We are able to understand our own life in order to open it up to grace.  We ask Christ to come into our life so that he can transform it into a faithful reflection of his own.  God the Father predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son and wants to see Christ formed in us, so that we can cry out:  “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  Adopting the daily practice of mental prayer is the surest path to center our whole lives on Jesus Christ.  May the daily practice of mental prayer be the greatest blessing in disguise of the pandemic in our lives.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.