Flight into Prayer

Sunday, July 24, 2016

“The Lord tells us: 'the first task in life is this: prayer.' But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer, the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord. . . . This is what praying is: opening the door to the Lord, so that he can do something. If we close the door, God can do nothing! Let us think on this Mary who has chosen the better part, and makes us see the way, as the door is opened to the Lord.”
Pope Francis, October 2013 

Flight into Prayer
As an Admiral in the Navy, John O’Connor (future Cardinal Archbishop of New York) was flying in a small two-seater plane with a young pilot. What began as a routine flight quickly turned into a nightmare. Tremendous turbulence and terrible rains began to beat on the little plane. Fog, and darkness enveloped the aircraft – only the glow of the instrument panel offered any light. With over an hour left to fly, the warning light began to flash on the instrument panel that fuel levels were low.  Shortly thereafter, a second warning light flashed indicating there was virtually no fuel in the tank. Nearby airports were contacted.  They hoped for an emergency landing. The same answers came back from all of the nearby airfields, “banked by fog.” No aircraft could land. They radioed the international distress signal, hoping an airfield would take a chance. Cardinal O’Connor recounts the rest of the story in his own words…

No sooner did he call the international S.O.S. that a voice came on the radio. “SX395, I hear you.” The voice was that of a chief warrant officer in the United States Navy…and he simply said, “Follow my voice.” And then minute by minute, “Lower your right wing. Lower your left wing… Just follow my voice.” So calm, so steady. Then he said “Don’t be afraid.” He knew he was dealing with a young pilot… “Just follow my voice.” “Just follow my voice.” Suddenly we looked down. We couldn’t have been more than a hundred feet off the ground when we saw the first lights, they were the landing lights of the field and we glided in to a perfect landing.  I could never forget that voice, the quality of the voice, the kindness of the voice, the experience of the voice, the calmness of the voice. Follow my voice … that is what the Lord says. Follow me. Follow my voice.  Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. I will bring you home…

“Follow my voice…”
Cardinal O’Connor said he liked to share this story because we all come to points in life that “we may feel that we are on a plane that is running out of gas, and just at the right moment the voice of God comes over the PA system,” and this voice is “what we depend on, because the truth is – we are all vulnerable.”  And aren’t we? Plans quickly change, stabilities once secure dissolve in an instant, a sure and steady direction suddenly cuts back, leaving life in a question. Who am I really? What is the best choice? How do I cut through all this confusion? How do I follow God’s voice?

It is in the sacred place of the heart that the Lord speaks.  The catechism reveals that baptism is a birth into “new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1279).  At the moment of our baptism, the Holy Trinity, great mystery of all mysteries, truly comes to dwell within us.  And it is through prayer that this reality is experienced, cultivated, and deepened.  Prayer also allows us to become attentive to the daily work of God in our lives, and respond to God’s invitation to enter into relationship with Him – the relationship through which we become fully alive.  In his Confessions, St. Augustine captures the sentiments of his own soul as he awakened to the presence of God within his own heart:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace...”

“I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.”
It is in prayer we encounter and possess the “more” our hearts long for, because it is in prayer, we encounter God. Other pursuits will leave us wanting - whether running to find the top of a career ladder, keeping up a dazzling online profile, or exercising our way to the perfect image of fitness - in the end they will fail to satisfy the deeper desires of our heart. In bearing God’s image and likeness we crave the eternal. We were created to engage the glory of a relationship with the divine, and dance on the horizon between heaven and earth – the horizon found in that sacred realm of the heart and soul, engaged through a life of prayer.

"Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." (Mark 6:31)
Jesus spent only three years in active ministry and had only a small motley crew to help him, yet two thousand years later Christianity continues to spread to the corners of the world. While they poured themselves into teaching and preaching, the Gospel of Mark reveals that living a fruitful and meaningful life does not rest solely on doing. Seeing they had no time for leisure even to eat, Christ directed his disciples to, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while" (Mark 6:31).  Here, Christ teaches us the importance of making frequent retreats from our lives of business, work, and noise, and finding times and places of solitude, quiet, and rest in Him. This is echoed in the Gospel of Matthew, as he tells us, “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (11:28).  So often prayer becomes the last effort at the end of a long day, or something we squeeze in if there is time. And yet, it is prayer, Christ tells us, we need most to revitalize life, bring meaning to the everyday, and find the grace and space to persevere and sanctify our lives. 

“Put out into the deep…” (Luke 5:4)
Every prayer life will have its seasons, stages, and challenges – it carries all the dynamics of any relationship.  Additionally, every prayer life is different. God has created in each person a unique capacity for relationship with Him.  It is up to each of us to “put into the deep” of his heart, mind, and soul, to harvest the rich catch of grace that awaits him. How does one begin? The saints give us a taste of how to dive into the vast realm of prayer in their own words. St. Therese said that, for me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Once St. John Vianney asked one of his parishioners (an old man that came and sat in the back of the church for hours day after day) how he prayed. His reply? “I look at Him, and He looks at me.” Or St. Teresa of Avila offered that “prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us." Remember always, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, “God wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking.”

Practically speaking, the best way to begin is to make time for prayer everyday. Whether you make the effort to attend Mass throughout the week (the highest and greatest prayer of the Church), find a regular hour for Eucharistic adoration, or dive into the living Word through times of mental prayer and meditation every morning – follow the Divine promptings in your heart. In all prayer - vocal, intercessory, petition, repentance and contrition, meditation, or contemplation, we respond to a God who loves us, always seeks us first, and thirsts for our love in return.  In our prayers He hears the disposition of our hearts – not our voices. A prayer uttered from a heart of sincerity, recollection, and love burns a sweet and pleasing incense before the throne of God, and leads us to ever more abide in Him, and give Him permission to abide in us (John 15:4).

The interior life…
The discipline of prayer helps us to cultivate an interior life. Just as the body has many internal vital organs and systems that allow us to move, play, and work, so too is there a whole interior realm of spiritual structures and realities lending to our living the fullness of life. Engaging and maturing in this area allows us to find the harmony we seek in our lives. As we draw closer to God through prayer we become attuned to His voice, and become more free from the noise that often fills our hearts and minds – the bouncing voices of expectations, obligations, pressures, fears, anxieties, the burden of the day. We recognize there is a greater reality – that of the eternal life and promises of God, not the ever changing pressures and expectations of the world. As we deepen our prayer life we begin to see with God’s eyes, love with His heart, speak with His voice, and understand the world as He does. Mystery itself unfolds in our lives. For example, by meditating on Christ’s Passion we begin to discover meaning in our own daily sufferings and trials. Pondering Our Lady’s incredible compassion that united her with her Son at the foot of the Cross strengthens us to be generous in suffering with our friends who are struggling. Life becomes a movement through the mystery of His presence, always present, everywhere.

There is no greater potential we possess than that which we have living in the present moment with God. Life is not meant to be that of a constant scramble, or knee-jerk effort to overcome obstacles, but rather an adventure in love – an epic journey in which God reveals His loving will for us and we broaden our capacity to receive it and the fullness of beauty it contains. Let us open ourselves to that voice that can get us home in all our dependency and vulnerability.  Strengthened by the union we find in prayer with God, we can truly live out Christ’s call to “be not afraid.”

Some Spiritual Exercises…

Below you will find a few essential and helpful ways to expand your life of prayer …

-Lectio Divina is a fruitful way to pray and meditate on scripture. Read about the basic steps to Lectio Divina here,  http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=2886. If you want be walked through praying with scripture using Lectio Divina, let Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto lead you through a meditation on the Beatitudes. Just click here to begin, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLCLAhNDCms.  

Read More…

-Pope Francis speaks about prayer as a Source of Mercy:  https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160525_udienza-generale.html

-Pope Francis’ “Five Finger Prayer”:  http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=3396