Month: February 2020

A SHORT NOTE ON THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF JANE EYRE


“You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness, but I cannot live so: and you have no pity” (Jane Eyre talking to Mrs. Reed at Gateshead)

“Eight years [at Lowood]! you must be tenacious of life.” (Mr. Rochester talking to Jane Eyre)

The most important and famous line in the novel, Jane Eyre, is, “Reader, I married him.” In her marriage to Mr. Rochester all the tensions of the novel, and all the unfulfilled desires of Jane’s heart, are revolved: Jane finds true love, equality of souls, and peace with God. The ultimate meaning of Jane Eyre is that a human being is completed, or made whole, by an authentic love rooted in moral integrity and an equality of justice. If Jane Eyre suffered immensely from being unloved and from living in isolation at the beginning of the novel (at Gateshead), she ultimately finds true love and affirmation in her marriage to Mr. Rochester at the end of the novel (after many struggles and a profound purification of Mr. Rochester’s heart). “In their marriage,” says Eric Knies in The Art of Charlotte Bronte, “all the conflicts of the novel are resolved. Jane is at peace with God and man, and especially with herself.”

The two virtues I see Jane Eyre striving after during the course of the novel are real justice and authentic love. She insists on these two things; she demands them; she will not compromise them, no matter how dear the sacrifice (even if she has to sleep on the ground and almost starve to death). At Gateshead she is precocious precisely because she is treated unfairly by the Reeds. At Lowood she is profoundly upset by unjustly being labelled a liar. At Thornfield she will not consent to be Mr. Rochester’s mistress; at Moor House she cannot accept a marriage proposal by St. John Rivers based on self-sacrifice and moral duty (but without love). Clearly, a blessed rage for justice and true love burns within the heart of Jane Eyre, and she will not compromise it!

Jane Eyre is not primarily a novel about Jane’s growth in self-knowledge (which doesn’t mean she didn’t learn a few things along the way and, to be sure, her dying school-mate, Helen Burns, teaches Jane a powerful lesson about Christian forgiveness in Chapter 6). There is a moral sturdiness to Jane Eyre from the very beginning of the novel, and she has a keen eye for the counterfeit throughout the story. Jane does not suffer from self-deceit, but from the deceit of others (such as Mr. Brocklehurst’s religious hypocrisy, Mrs. Reed’s deception about the inheritance, and Mr. Rochester’s concealment of an existing marriage). Jane will not enter into love on deceptive terms, and her moral integrity is never in doubt throughout the novel, even though there is conflict in her heart when Mr. Rochester essentailly pleads with her to stay with him after their failed wedding at Thornfield. The character in the novel who grows in self-knowledge is Mr. Rochester, who no doubt undergoes a significant conversion after the devastating fire at Thornfield, a conversion not unrelated to his prayer and penitence (“I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were but very sincere”).

In reality, Mr. Rochester underwent the most painful of purifications, losing everything, as his entire life is essentially purged in the devastating fire at Thornfield, wiped out so to speak, burned up. He emerges from this holocaust as a new man, humbled, repentant, blinded and maimed. And yet in God’s Providence, which is an underlying theme in the novel, he and Jane will be reunited, and will experience true happiness, true communion of souls.

Acknowledging Charlotte Bronte’s literary prowess and imaginative genius in weaving a story out of various strands of story-telling techniques, Jane Eyre is, nevertheless, to quote Professor Ruth A. Blackburn (who is in turn relying on Robert B. Martin’s study, The Accents of PersuasionCharlotte Bronte’s Novels)“essentially a religious novel”. Indeed, if one were assigned the task of demonstrating how Jane Eyre exemplifies the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, there would be plenty of material in the novel to successfully complete the assignment. Still, Charlotte Bronte utilized her wonderful skill at incorporating suspenseful Gothic elements into her Jane Eyre story, and relied also on her knowledge and appreciation of the Romantic movement in literature to give the story (to borrow from Milton) a sensuous, personal and passionate style. And yet, for all of this, Bronte is able to maintain the story’s realism.  As G.K. Chesterton acutely observes of Jane Eyre:

“The shortest way  of stating [Charlotte Bronte’s] strong contribution is, I think, this: that she reached the highest romance through the lowest realism. She did not set out with Amadis of Gaul in a forest or with Mr. Pickwick in a comic club. She set out with herself, with her own dingy clothes, and accidental ugliness, and flat, coarse, provincial household; and forcibly fused all such muddy materials into a spirited fairy-tale. If the first chapters on the home and school had not proved how heavy and hateful sanity can be, there would really be less point in the insanity of Mr. Rochester’s wife—or the not much milder insanity of Mrs. Rochester’s husband. She discovered the secret of hiding the sensational in the commonplace: and Jane Eyre remains the best of her books (better even than Villette) because while it is a human document written in blood, it is also one of the best blood-and-thunder detective stories in the world” (The Victorian Age in Literature (1913).

For all its utilization of Gothic literary techniques and Romanticism, Jane Eyre is essentially the story of a quest for authentic, life-affirming human love, and this is realized especially through prayer, perseverance and Providence, and a keen sense of the counterfeit. As Professor Blackburn observes, “Knies agrees…that the theme of Jane Eyre is the search for love; but he makes clear that it must be the right kind of love, based on ‘moral and individual integrity’, each partner retaining ‘his uniqueness as an individual,’ which ‘in turn requires a firm religious orientation’.”

It would be useless to argue that Jane Eyre is not a religious novel, because at major key points in the novel faith, hope and reliance upon God’s Providential care play a key role in the telling of Jane’s story, whether it is Helen Burns teaching Jane about Christian forgiveness or Mr. Rochester attesting to his personal redemption. Here, briefly, in proof thereof, are some of the main examples of the profound religious dimension of Jane Eyre’s life by way of direct quotes from the mouth of Jane Eyre:

“I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it, and framed an humbler supplication; for change, stimulus; that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: ‘Then,’ I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude’!” (Chapter 10).
“Love me, then, or hate me, as you will,” I said at last, “you have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God’s, and be at peace.” (Chapter 21)
“One idea only still throbbed life-like within me – a remembrance of God: it begot a muttered prayer…’Be not far from me, for trouble is near: there is none to help’.” (Chapter 26)
“Trust in God…Believe in Heaven…We were born to strive and endure.” (Chapter 27)
“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?” (Chapter 27)
“God must have led me on…I was weeping wildly as I walked along my solitary way…a weakness seized me and I fell: I lay on the ground some minutes, pressing my face to the wet turf. I had some fear – or hope – that here I should die: but I was soon up: crawling forward on my hands and knees, and then again raised to my feet – as eager and as determined as ever to reach the road” (Chapter 27).
“I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish, nor one of the souls it treasured. I turned my prayer to thanksgiving: the Source of Life was also the Saviour of spirits. Mr. Rochester was safe; he was God’s, and by God would he be guarded. I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long in sleep forgot sorrow.” (Chapter 28)
“Oh, Providence! sustain me a little longer! Aid – direct me!” (Chapter 28)
“I can but die,” I said, “and I believe in God. Let me try to wait His will in silence”…I thanked God – experienced amidst unutterable exhaustion a glow of grateful joy – and slept.” (Chapter 28)
“I adhered to principle and law, and scorned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment. God directed me to a correct choice: I thank His providence for the guidance!” (Chapter 31)
“When his first born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes….On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.” (Chapter 37)

I pray that I might have as much faith in God’s providential help as Jane Eyre during my times of trial and tribulation! Moreover, the claim sometimes made that Jane Eyre is hostile to religion, especially by the manner in which it portrays ministers in the story, is specifically rebutted by Charlotte Bronte in her “Preface to the Second Edition” of Jane Eyre, a preface which also clearly attests to Charlotte Bronte’s strong personal faith.

Jane Eyre’s faith is intensely personal, subjective in nature (characteristic of the Romantic movement), and this subjectivity is seen too in Helen Burns who appears to hold to an overly idealistic view of salvation, touching upon the idea of universal redemption in stark contrast to the fire and brimstone preaching of Mr. Brocklehurst (see Chapter 6 where Helen says, “I hold another creed…for it extends hope to all: it makes Eternity a rest…not a terror and abyss.”). This is the biggest theological difficulty presented in the novel (along with the concern about syncretism in certain places within the novel), but fortunately it does not compromise the strong moral thrust of the story (see postscript note below).

At the end of Jane Eyre, Jane glories in the joy and happiness of being loved, and of giving and receiving love. She says:

“I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest – blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward’s society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character – perfect concord is the result.” (Chapter 38)

Finally, by an equality of justice (as I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this note), or perhaps I should call it an equality of love, I am referring to Jane’s social commentary in Chapter 12, where she says:

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”(Chapter 12)

It was this equality of souls that endeared Jane to Mr. Rochester, and helped her to fall in love with him. As she said in Chapter 23, when she thought Mr. Rochester was going to marry Blanche Ingram, necessitating Jane to leave Thornfield:

“I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield – I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life, -momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic, and high. I have talked, face to face, with what I reverence; with what I delight in, -with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind. I have known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever. I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death.”

Of course, however important this equality of love (or equality of souls) is –  it is, nevertheless, not sufficient, in and of itself, to secure a happy marriage for Jane Eyre. It is not until Mr. Rochester’s profound conversion and turning towards God that all the difficulties in the novel are resolved paving the way for the novel’s joyful ending!

CONCLUSION:

Jane Eyre’s incredible journey in search of authentic, life-affirming love, a journey which took her from Gateshead, to Lowood, to Thornfield, to Moor House, and ultimately to Ferndean, is not so much a geographical journey but a journey of the heart. But it is ultimately a journey sustained by faith and trust in God!

It is a journey sustained by Jane’s quest for justice; it is a journey sustained by Jane’s tenacity for life; it is  a journey sustained by Jane’s quest to be loved; but ultimately it is a journey sustained by Jane’s faith in God and in His providential care for her life, a faith sustained even in the midst of tremendous sufferings and heroically endured privations. In this regard, who can ever forget Jane’s advice to Mr. Rochester in Chapter 27 as some of the best advice anyone could ever be given:

         “Trust in God…Believe in Heaven…We were born to strive and endure.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: I looked at a bunch of internet notes on Jane Eyre in preparation for this post (which were helpful), but in my particular case what was most helpful was an old study guide by Professor Ruth A. Blackburn, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and, more precisely, the note therein entitled, “Survey of Criticism,” pertaining to the novel. The influence of Gothic and Romantic literary styles in Jane Eyre is touched upon in many commentaries. The commentators agree that the burning down of Thornfield is symbolic of Mr. Rochester’s personal purification.

Theological Problems in Jane Eyre: Theologically speaking, I am personally able to separate the good from the bad in Jane Eyre, and it seems to me that the novel ends on a strong Christian note (the fleeing from sin, trust in God, the redemption of Mr. Rochester, the praise of God’s mercy and the value of a God-centered marriage). In short, Jane Eyre gives a boost to my faith although I am not unaware that there are theological difficulties present in the novel such as universalism, syncretism and excessive subjectivity of faith not adequately linked to the community and the Church.

The main difficulty in Jane Eyre is not its criticism of clergymen but the “blurring” or “merging” of Christian spirituality with other forms of spirituality that opens Charlotte Bronte to the charge of syncretism, although I suspect that she would be able to mount a defense to this charge.

The difficulty with universalism in Jane Eyre is mentioned in a number of internet articles (Google: Charlotte Bronte and universalism). The difficulty (and examples thereof) of syncretism in Jane Eyre is also discussed in a number of internet articles (Google: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, syncretism, and the merging of spiritualities in Jane Eyre).

I will always remember Jane Eyre as the woman who said to Mr. Rochester, “I advise you to live sinless,” and to God as she walked through the valley of the shadow of death (I paraphrase), “Lead me on.” It would be hard to get better advice than that!

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WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR LENT?

 2048px-US_Navy_080206-N-7869M-057_Electronics_Technician_3rd_Class_Leila_Tardieu_receives_the_sacramental_ashes_during_an_Ash_Wednesday_celebration

“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and alms-giving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1438)

Someone emailed me the question, “CAN I RELAX MY LENTEN FAST ON SUNDAYS?” Here’s my response:

Here’s my take. The “forty” day fast during Lent you have in mind (of giving something up during Lent as a penance) is purely voluntary and traditional…it is not mandated by Church law, but is highly recommended in our tradition. 

What is mandated during Lent is to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – which means one full meal and two snack meals on those two days. This is called a fast (age requirement: obligatory for those 18-59 years old).

Also during Lent we are required by canon law to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. This is called abstinence (age requirement: anyone 14 or older).

Naturally, you are not required to fast or abstain from meat if you have a medical condition that prevents you from doing so.

The so called forty day fast during Lent is in imitation of our Lord’s forty day fast in the desert. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 540, which reads:

“‘For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning’ [Heb 4:15]. By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (CCC 540).

The 40 day fast (or penance) is not mandatory, only voluntary. The only binding rules during Lent are mentioned above. The “Sunday” exception is thus really only an exception to a non-binding idea of justice for those doing the 40 day fast voluntarily, based on two considerations: (1) that Sunday, celebrating the Resurrection, is a day of celebration, not fasting, and (2) the period of time from Ash Wednesday to the official ending of Lent with the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday is actually 44 days long, so you’re still going about 40 days even if you skip Sundays!

What do I do? I do my voluntary fast every day from Ash Wednesday until the dawn of Easter! I’m with you…once I start I stay in the desert with Jesus until Easter Sunday! However, to answer the question posed  –  Yes, you can skip fasting on Sundays during Lent, and this is simply up to your own choice.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday!

God Bless you,

Tom Mulcahy

P.S. I do relax my 40 day fast on my wedding anniversary, and perhaps for other good reasons.

Ref. I reviewed a number of internet articles on this issue, and found the posts by Jimmy Akin to be among the most helpful. Photo by “U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian May,” in the Public Domain, U.S.A., per Wikipedia.

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A SIMPLE AND LOVING GAZE UPON GOD (THE PRAYER OF SIMPLE REGARD)

“Those who are able thus to enclose themselves within the little heaven of their soul where dwells the Creator of both heaven and earth, and who can accustom themselves not to look at anything nor to remain in any place which would preoccupy their exterior senses, may feel sure that they are traveling by an excellent way, and that they will certainly attain to drink of the water from the fountain, for they will journey far in a short time” (Saint Teresa of Avila)

INTRODUCTION

In this note we are looking at what is sometimes called the prayer of simple regard or the prayer of simplicity, which, in its essence, involves a simple and loving gaze upon God (and which is explained in detail below).

By supernatural prayer I mean the infused, loving contemplation of God which God bestows upon the soul as a grace through an experimental knowledge of His presence, although there are many levels of this contemplative union with God. This is a grace that, strictly speaking, cannot be merited, but we can prepare for it through the practice of virtue, a profound sacramental life, the practice of prayer, and acceptance of the passive purifications God sends to us in order to rid us of the many defects we cannot overcome by our own effort. These few words do not do justice to the profound purification a soul goes through before God grants the grace of supernatural prayer. Still, all those in sanctifying grace are called to this lofty state.

Thus Father Garrigou-Lagrange states:

“….far from being essentially extraordinary, the mystical life alone, which is characterized by the reality of the quasi-experimental knowledge of God present in us, is completely normal. Only the saints, all of whom live this sort of life, are fully in order. Before experiencing this intimate union with God present in us, we are somewhat like souls still half-asleep, souls not yet spiritually awakened. Our knowledge of the consoling mystery of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity is still too superficial and bookish, and yet overflowing life is offered to us.”

One particular prayer that helps to prepare us for the gift of supernatural prayer is the Prayer of Simplicity. To that end, let us first review the various stages of prayer in their proper – or at least conceptual –  order. “These grades [of prayer] are (1) vocal prayer, (2) meditation, (3) affective prayer, (4) prayer of simplicity, (5) infused contemplation, (6) prayer of quiet, (7) prayer of union, (8) prayer of conforming union, and (9) prayer of transforming union. The first four grades belong to the predominantly ascetical stage of the spiritual life; the remaining five grades are infused [supernatural] prayer and belong to the mystical phase of the spiritual life” (Father Jordan Aumann, O.P.).

So you see from the list above that the prayer of simplicity is the last level of ordinary prayer just prior to the beginning of supernatural prayer which begins in number five above under the name of infused contemplation. The very beginning of supernatural prayer normally involves faint touches of the infused contemplation of God – which is nevertheless a true and experimental knowledge of God. The prayer of simplicity, being a prayer of active, interior recollection helps to prepare us for this transition from ascetical prayer to infused prayer, should God be disposed to grant it to us.

HOW TO PRACTICE THE PRAYER OF SIMPLICITY

Sometimes when I drive on a long trip with my wife we engage in long and productive conversations. At other times during such trips, for example when she is reading a book and I’m driving, I will simply glance over at her, and her back at me, and we both know that all is well between us and nothing more needs to be said. In like manner, the prayer of simplicity is a movement from long meditations about God to a simple glance upon Him. This is fundamentally why it is called the prayer of simplicity.

Father Grou, one of the great writers on prayer, states:

“The true devout man is a man of prayer, whose sole delight is to be with God, and to speak with Him, and who scarcely ever loses his sense of the presence of God. Not that he is always thinking of God for that is impossible here below but because he is always united to God in his heart, and is guided in everything by His Spirit. To pray, he has no need of a book, or of a method, or of great efforts of the head or even of the will. He has only to retire quietly into himself; there he finds God, there he finds peace, sometimes a peace full of joy, sometimes a peace in spite of dryness, but always a deep and real peace. He prefers the prayer in which he gives much to God, and in which he suffers, the prayer in which self-love is undermined gradually, until it can find nothing to feed upon; in short, a simple prayer, denuded of all images or of perceptible feelings, and of all those things which the soul can remark or experience in other kinds of prayer” (from Manual For Interior Souls).

Father Garrigou-Lagrange adds:

“In proportion as the soul grows, the acts of humility, faith, hope… tend, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, to fuse in a gaze of ardent love. Hence a simple method, useful at the beginning, should gradually give place to docility to the Holy Ghost, who breathes where He will. Prayer thus tends to become a prolonged spiritual communion, as the peasant of Ars, whom we quoted above, defined it: ‘I look at our Lord, and He looks at me.’ The prayerful soul says much in a few words, which he often says over and over without ever repeating himself. This prolonged spiritual communion is like the breathing of the soul or its repose in God; by faith and hope it breathes in the truth and goodness of God, and it breathes out love. What the soul receives from God under the form of ever new graces, it gives back to Him under the form of adoration and love.

Consequently, to ask for the grace of Christian contemplation is to ask that the bandage of pride, which still covers the eyes of the spirit, may fall away completely in order that we may be able truly to penetrate and taste the great mysteries of salvation: that of the sacrifice of the cross perpetuated by the Mass, that of the sacrament of the Eucharist, the food of our soul.

Surely without any danger of quietism, [the great spiritual writer] Bossuet invites us to this simplified affective prayer in his substantial little work, A Short and  Simple Manner of making our Prayer in the Spirit of Faith, and in the Simple Presence of God.” I have taken the liberty of editing this famous and important essay of Bossuet and substantially reducing it in size to the following six salient points:

1.”We must accustom ourselves to nourish our souls with a simple and loving look at God and at Jesus Christ our Lord. To do this we must withdraw our souls gently from all reasoning, from all arguments, and from a multiplicity of affections, to keep them in simplicity, respect, and attention, and thus to draw nearer and nearer to God, our only Sovereign Good, our first beginning and our last end.

2. Meditation is very good in its proper time, and very useful in the beginning of the spiritual life. But we must not stop there, since the soul, by her fidelity to mortification and recollection, generally receives the gift of a purer and higher state of prayer, which we may call the prayer of simplicity, because it consists of one simple look of ours, one loving attention on our part, towards God (in His Infinite perfections) or Jesus Christ (in some of his mysteries).

3. The soul, then, leaving all reasoning, makes us of a sweet contemplation, which keeps her in peace, attentive and susceptible to all the Divine operations and impressions which the Holy Spirit communicates to her. She does little, and receives much; her labor is sweet, and nevertheless it is very fruitful; and as she now approaches nearer to the Source of all light, of all grace, and of all virtue, blessings also increase in her more and more.

4. The practice of this kind of prayer must begin by our making an act of faith in the presence of God. After this, we need not try to produce several other dispositions, but we may remain simply and peacefully attentive to the presence of God, knowing that his Divine looks are fixed upon us, and continuing this devout attention as long as the Lord gives us the grace to do so; for this prayer is a prayer with God alone, so that the less the creature labors the more powefully God works in her. And since the work of God is always a rest and a deep peace, the soul becomes in this kind of prayer in a manner like unto Him, and receives also most wonderful effects from His Divine Goodness.

5. The soul might imagine at first she is loosing a great deal by omitting all these acts, but experience will teach her that, on the contrary, she is gaining very much, because the greater her knowledge of God is, the purer will be her love.

6. The best prayer of all is that in which we abandon ourselves most to the feelings and dispositions which God Himself implants in the soul, and in which we study with the greatest simplicity, humility, and fidelity to conform ourselves to the will and example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Regarding this prayer of simplicity, Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey states: “This prayer got its clear and expressive name from Bossuet. When it has reached its more simplified form, others call it the prayer of simple look [or] active recollection. This simple look is always accompanied with love – a love, it may be, almost imperceptible or all on fire, calm or impetuous, bitter or savoury. This love is even that which is the chief thing of contemplation. Thus the soul, ceasing ‘to meditate – that is, to produce acts by dint of reasoning,’ thinks simply on God ‘by an attention, loving, simple, and fixed solely upon its object, almost like that of one who opens his eyes to give a loving look’ ” (The Way of Mental Prayer, pages 191-195, quoting St. John of the Cross, as edited).

CONCLUSION:

Practicing the prayer of simplicity is hardly an invitation to abandon other forms of prayer, although by such practice our vocal prayers may become more interior, our meditations more simplified, our Rosary paused during a mystery simply to unite ourselves to Jesus in that mystery, and our liturgical prayer made in closer union with God. But the real purpose of practicing the prayer of simplicity is to draw closer to God – not so much through knowledge about God but to God Himself by an inward gaze of loving contemplation. In this prayer of simplicity we stand in awe of the God who resides within our soul, loving Him, and resting in His incomprehensible and amazing presence. “The soul does little, but receives much” – because it is so close to the Source of all goodness, whose love is transformative like no other.

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: The quotes from Father Garrigou-Lagrange are from The Three Ages of the Interior Life. The full essay of Bossuet is an appendix in Father Grou’s masterpiece, Manual For Interior Souls.

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FIVE QUALITIES OF A WELL-MADE PRAYER

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Any prayer (it seems to me) where we lovingly lift our heart to God and talk to Him is a good prayer. And even when we experience dryness in our prayer life, or even repugnance, persevering through such difficulties has special merit and helps us to grow in holiness.

In this note we will review five essential qualities or components of a well-made prayer, relying on one of the Church’s greatest spiritual writers, Father Jean Nicolas Grou (1731-1803). Evelyn Underhill, one of the great writers on Christian mysticism, once remarked that Father Grou’s work, How to Pray, is “one of the best short expositions of the essence of prayer which has ever been written.”

According to Father Grou the five essential components of a well-made prayer are that it be made: attentively, reverently, lovingly, confidently and perseveringly. Here are condensed and edited comments from Father Grou pertaining to these five qualities of a well-made prayer.

PRAY ATTENTIVELY: “A prayer addressed to God, whether to pay him homage or to plead with him for our highest interests, must be attentive to the point of keeping all our powers concentrated on [God]. But let me ask you this: when you pray do you seriously wish to be attentive? Is it your first care to recollect yourself and think [about] what you are going to do? If you do not begin by this [recollection], you do not prepare yourself for so holy an action, and you are responsible for your distractions.”

PRAY REVERENTLY: “The very idea of prayer involves that of reverence and humility. He who prays is a creature; it is God to whom he prays. What is God compared with the creature? What is the creature compared with God? This thought alone ought to fill us with the deepest humility; how much greater will this humility be when we remember that we are sinners and that God is infinitely holy. If you do not feel this, if you do not approach God with a profound sense of your own nothingness, you should mistrust your prayer.”

PRAY LOVINGLY: “The third characteristic of prayer is that it is loving. God desires to be loved as much as he is respected, and the Holy Spirit, who is the eternal love of the Father and the Son, inspires no prayer that is not a prayer for love and a prayer which leads to love. It is love which must inspire the Christian to pray: love must be the final aim [of his prayer], and the increase of love must be its fruit.” This takes us back to what I have said before: it is the heart that prays and therefore loves or aspires to love.”

PRAY CONFIDENTLY: “Confidence is the fourth characteristic of the prayer that is taught to us of the Holy Spirit. When the [Holy Spirit] makes us pray, it is plain that he influences us to ask only such things as he has resolved to give us, and that the first thing he grants us is a firm confidence that we shall obtain our requests. This is the confidence the [Holy Spirit] answers and inspires. It is our part to respond to it and not let our confidence be weakened  by any fear or any kind of reasoning. We see in the Gospels that Jesus Christ’s miracles were all performed in response to faith. That faith [Jesus] sought was not just the faith in divine power, but rather the hope he would grant what was asked. If the Spirit of God were the only wind that blew on you, he would incline and urge your heart in the direction of confidence.”

PRAY PERSEVERINGLY: “Lastly, the prayer produced by the Spirit is persevering. Let us be humble and patient and never let us doubt that, if our requests tend to the glory of God and our own salvation, they will be granted in the end. If our requests are not granted, it is because they will attend neither to his glory nor our own benefit; and so we should not wish to obtain them. God has promised to open the door to him who knocks, but he has not said that he would not keep him waiting. He has fixed the right time to give us the boon, and likewise the right time for us to be inspired with the first thought of seeking it. Whenever we have reason to believe that this thought is from him, we must persevere in our prayer, being certain that he will reward our perseverance.”

Concluding Prayer of Father Grou: “Oh my Savior, teach me to pray then no more in my own way and according to human wisdom, but according to the method of the Holy Spirit. May the [Holy Spirit] quicken me and pray in me with those ‘groanings which cannot be uttered’ of which thine Apostle [Paul] speaks. Amen.”

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: My edition of How to Pray by Father Grou is published by The Upper Room. My edited quotes are from pages 32-41, Chapter Three. The book itself elaborates in much more detail on these five essential points and is highly recommended. Note as well that How to Pray is taken from a much larger work of Father Grou called The School of Jesus Christ, a very difficult book to find in English. The quote from Evelyn Underhill is in the forward of How to Pray. Spiritual writers balance “our nothingness,” our indigence, our great need for God against the complementary truth of our dignity as children of God.

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FIVE QUICK KEYS TO MAINTAINING THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

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Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matt. 7: 13-14)

 

1. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE REQUIRES AN INTENSE SPIRITUAL COMMITMENT

Comment: Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, “[Although] the journey is totally sustained by grace, it nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment” (NMI 32). In other words, our effort is “indispensable.” Succinctly stated, the spiritual journey is going to require great effort on our part – really all that we have. “Strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). This is not a commitment to self-sufficiency – rather it is a commitment to serving God in the power of His grace. As St. Paul exhorts, “Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor. 9:24).

2. TO SUSTAIN THE JOURNEY, KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE GOAL: ETERNAL LIFE

Comment: The forms of this world are passing away. The great good is Heaven. How quickly our lives will come to an end. Do not try to make an absolute out of some fleeting pleasure or good of this world. The goal is eternal happiness and joy with God and the saints. Keep in mind that eternity will last quite a long time. Conversely, it would be quite a tragedy to “waste away the ages in hell” (F.W. Faber). Here, then, is a powerful verse to meditate on from time to time: “For this light momentary affliction [here on planet earth] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

3. IF YOU FALL INTO SIN, GET BACK UP IMMEDIATELY AND SEEK GOD’S MERCY

Comment: A key spiritual point made by the saints is to rise promptly after every fall. We often hear the proverb that the good man falls seven times a day, but the rest of that verse says, “BUT HE GETS BACK UP” (Proverbs 27:16). Judas betrayed Jesus and fell into despair. Peter betrayed Jesus and sought His forgiveness. God is not unsympathetic to the fact that we are weak. He wants us to keep trying and to never give up. In short, we should learn from our mistakes and use them as a foundation for growth, not diminishment, with joyful recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

4. GROWTH IN HOLINESS IS ESSENTIAL

Comment: The spiritual journey in general is a turning away from sin and a turning towards God. The goal is to grow closer and closer to God through a life of prayer, virtuous living, and good works. If we are not growing in the faith, we run the risk of backsliding. George MacDonald, the famous writer, puts it this way: “Do not be content not to grow. If you are not growing bigger you are growing less. If the light is not increasing the darkness is encroaching. If we are not growing upward we are growing downward.” The Christian model of faith is one of growth in relationship with God. “The Fathers of the Church tell us that he who does not go forward on the way to God goes back” (Father Garrigou-LaGrange).

5. TRUSTING GOD DURING TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS IS ESSENTIAL

Comment:  The essence of faith is trust in the Father’s care for our lives. This can be a source of great joy during times of spiritual sweetness and consolation, but far more difficult during times of tribulation and darkness. The great spiritual writers remind us that God will lead us through times of dryness, darkness and suffering, and that these trials will lead us to deeper union with God. The key is to patiently trust in God even when it appears He has abandoned us. It is in this sense that the victory comes by FAITH. The saints coach us to practice certitude of faith during times of darkness, and boundless confidence in God during trials and tribulations.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Primary Reference: I am relying for this post primarily on The Fulfillment of All Desire by Dr. Ralph Martin (an excellent, highly recommended book which maps out the spiritual journey).

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