Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ…we now enter the final section of Chapter One. There is much here for us in which we may find both hope and challenge. Let us pray…
Beginning with the verse from the Gospel of Luke: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke: 11: 13)
- As many times as I have heard this verse, I have never really understood before that the Lord Jesus was telling us what a great gift we receive in the Holy Spirit – and that we must ask the Father for this gift. Do I ask for the Spirit and trust the Gift is given?
- Let us ponder this as it relates to our discussion of prayer. The only prayer the Father accepts is prayer in Spirit and Truth (see p. 31). Thus, we are told that we need the Spirit to pray fully, deeply.
Fr. Matta begins this section with discussion of the transcendent gifts of the Christian life, both general and personal. Beautiful gifts we are told of, but then he adds, “The strength and efficacy of all these gifts, however, can never be manifested except by prayer.” He goes on to tell us how, through prayer, “Christ’s nature” and “the power of his death and life” appear in us and our works. But “Without a life of prayer, all attempts to declare these divine actions in man’s nature become false, theoretical, and a product of the ego or self-will.”
- Is there a difference between “prayer” and a “life of prayer”? What does it mean to live a life of prayer? (I have a feeling Fr. Matta is going to tell us, but let us reflect ourselves on this question first…)
- Why is prayer is so essential for God’s gifts and the power of the life and death of Christ to be manifest? Surely God is more powerful than our weakness – can He not make Himself manifest without our help?
- Upon reading Fr. Matta’s assessment of what happens without a life of prayer, I found it easy to think, “Yes, this is what is wrong with the Church/society today! This is why so many have stopped believing!” But, of course, I must look at myself and my role in Church/society. (See below.)
Fr. Matta tells us that with sacrifice and effort we will surely attain to all the transcendent mysteries of Christ. He describes this necessary prayer life as follows: “This can be realized only when prayer becomes our supreme concern, our main preoccupation, which outweighs all other cares; our duty, which challenges all other duties; our pleasure, which surpasses every other pleasure. We would then pray at all times, in all circumstances, in all places, in all conditions. We would pray in an insatiable hunger for constant contact with Christ.”
- I found this passage very compelling – “yes, let it be so in my life!” But stepping back, I see that my “life of prayer” does not match this description at all. What gets in the way? What external factors in my life make it difficult, (competing responsibilities, demands, distractions, etc.)? What internal factors (moods, temperament, fears, etc.)?
- How might I address the gap between this ideal and the reality of where I am in my life of prayer? Consider again the passage from Luke with which we began…
In the paragraphs the follow, Fr. Matta elaborates on what we are to experience as a result of a life of prayer, “Christ then should fill our lives and minds…Thus, he may be truly the one who is alive within us and not our own selves.” (He is virtually quoting Galatians 2: 20 here.) He further writes of us being “like a new creation to conform to his image” and that “He never denies us any desire or petition at all, whatever we may wish or ask in prayer.” Again, these references are Scriptural, but there is a clear sense that Fr. Matta is writing of his experience, not simply a promise he has read about. Fr. Matta also acknowledges the “tears and sorrow…sweat and grief” that precede the sudden awareness of having found “the priceless gem in the field” next to which “everything becomes like a handful of dust…even a man’s own self”.
- How do you find yourself reacting to Fr. Matta’s description of what we do or will experience as people of prayer? Is it inspiring or discouraging, both or neither?
- Fr. Matta quotes Christ in the Gospel of Luke, bidding us to pray “and not lose heart”. Why do you think the Lord says this – and why might Fr. Matta include this particular instruction, after telling us of the glorious things we are to experience in a life of prayer?
Fr. Matta issues a haunting statement: “Nothing can thwart Christ’s will for us except our failure to pray.” We cannot know Christ’s will for us without prayer, he tells us, so we should expect nothing if we do not pray. We can never be changed or renewed. He also writes, “We do not pull Christ toward us from heaven by prayer. Rather, we discover him within ourselves.” And therefore, “He who does not use the power of prayer never makes contact with the Christ who is within him” and is thus deprived of all of his gifts and graces. At the same time, the prayer life that Fr. Matta writes of is very intimate and inviting, “We should first make him at rest in our hearts so he may live with us. He should share everything with us and manage all our affairs.” And, “Since the soul has been created for immortality, it will thus find in Christ, when it unites with him, its ultimate joy.”
- Do I think of Christ being within me – or do I conceive of Him as separate from me in such a way that I have to find Him? Could it be that He is closer to me than I know?
- The description of this intimate indwelling of Christ in the heart sounds much like a marriage bond. Yet He is also King, when we allow Him to be in charge of all and the center of our beings. Can my prayer become a talking to Him as to one so close? Or even just a being-together that doesn’t need words?
I have written a lot and still feel I have not done justice to this rich segment of the book. Please feel free to add your comments, not only about my questions but about anything that moves you in this section of the book. I will try to post a little something later in the week from the Sayings of the Fathers. Blessings to all.