Part Two: Aspects of the Interior Activity of Prayer, pp. 117-119

Greetings in Christ Jesus our Savior.

If you are at all like me, you may be finding it a challenge to sustain the interest and commitment to working through this treasure of a book – not because its content is not worthy, but because its riches take much time and effort to mine.

But that is the work of the spiritual life. So let us pray for each other as we embark on Part Two, that we may be strengthened to persist in this holy work.

Fr. Matta tells us that, in Part Two, we are going to “look at the attributes of the person who prays…the factors that contribute to success in prayer and those that impede it.” In this brief introduction, he tells us that we began the process of dying to the world at baptism and that practicing a life of asceticism and austerity is but an extension of this process. He indicates that, while essential, this “mortification” must be handled with some care.

  1. What does it mean to you to “die to the world”?
  2. If, like me, you were baptized as an infant, does it make sense to you that you began dying to the world only days or weeks after you were born into it? If you were baptized later in life, was “dying to the world” a meaningful aspect of your choice/call to the sacrament?
  3. Up until now, what associations have you had to these words: asceticism, austerity, mortification? Where might these associations have come from and how do they impact your reactions to considering them as part of your prayer life?

I will not restate all of Fr. Matta’s guidelines here. The themes of his comments on ascetic practice are basically as follows: (1) its purpose and the problems that occur if that purpose gets misdirected; (2) the need of having appropriate limits on the severity and nature of one’s practices, plus prudent counsel from a spiritual father/director to help us moderate this; (3) how essential it is that asceticism be practiced in love and joy, and as an expression of our love for God.

  1. As a point of reflection, perhaps I might take each of these three themes and consider them – what are the purposes of asceticism? etc. Then I might want to reflect a bit further on what I may have experienced (or anticipate experiencing) as my areas of vulnerability. For example, I might see myself as vulnerable to taking pride in my “progress”. Or I might see myself as being prone to becoming depressed and joyless. And so on.
  2. As I thus reflect, I may form prayers to ask for help in these areas. If I have a confessor and/or spiritual father/director, I might seek extra counsel in these areas.

Blessings, dear friends who read and pray with me. I welcome your comments if you are so inclined.

4 thoughts on “Part Two: Aspects of the Interior Activity of Prayer, pp. 117-119

  1. it IS DEFINITELY essential (I believe) that “asceticism be practiced in love and joy, and as an expression of our love for God”–but i’m not sure how that works. In my case, many years ago I landed in the hospital, and then had to drop out of work because I lost my balance and fell into an unhealthy form of rigorous self-denial which focused chiefly on food. Even now I cannot figure out how to practice fasting without feeling either self-satisfied at my achievements (very few) or guilty at my failures. So when I reflect on the love and joy that followers of Christ can (and should, i think) experience–along with the peace that Jesus promised– I cannot connect those states with my notion of traditional asceticism . .

    although I have also experienced the chaos that what Orthodox writers call “the passions” cause, and the great sadness of separation from God. So I know that self-monitoring is as essential as making all choices in the light of our faith. I’m still learning how to function that way in love and joy. Reading your commentaries, Mary, helps provide perspective (by making me realize that my issues may well be
    more emotional than spiritual). And prayer (asking fot help) helps most of all.

  2. I am not sure that we can really separate the emotional and spiritual – at least, we who are believers. One of my patients taught me that – the two are so intertwined.

    I wholeheartedly agree about asking God for help. I am often surprised (and dismayed) that I do not ask for help more – or that it takes so long for it to occur to me to do so. I am discovering that I get much more specific answers than I anticipate – so now I have to be obedient! Not my strong suit – but I am learning in little bits and pieces.

    I have great empathy for your struggles with asceticism – and will also share with you an experience from this past Lent. Now I only did this a couple of days – I could not have endured doing it every day!. I fasted from art. Yup – no camera, photo editing, painting, drawing; didn’t even allow myself to look at art supplies online. It was HARD.

    But that’s why I did it. Not to make myself suffer but because I could tell that I had allowed art to become too powerful of a force in my life, gift though it is. I was neglecting things I should do because of the lure of art. The love-for-God part comes in because I realized that the point of the fast was that I didn’t want to allow anything to become more important to me than God. Nothing.

    Now, if you had asked me, “Which is more important to you, God or art?”, of course I would have said God. But the fast made me FEEL my answer as a reality and it was much more difficult than I wanted to admit to myself. But feeling the reality of it, that God is my first, my only true love, was a joyous experience. (My relationship with art is a bit healthier too, I think – though I am always a work in progress.)

    For me, fasting from art was a lot harder than carrying out the food fast outlined by the Church – because that is where my over-attachment lies. I find the latter to be more often a rule-following exercise that can lead me to neurotic behavior if I let it. I certainly don’t mean to minimize the importance the Church’s fasting rules. Rather, I am just suggesting that each of us may be hindered in different ways when it comes to loving God with our whole hearts.

    Thanks, as always, for your frank and thought-provoking comments.

  3. Someday maybe you will write more on the emotional-spiritual connection? i..e., that we can’t and probably shouldn’t think of them as separate.

    I’ve always been suspicious of emotions, as I may have mentioned on an earlier post. Some days at church I feel elevated and inspired; many days I feel almost nothing (nothing good, that is). Same with private prayer. Faith seems to be both a gift and a matter of blind determination.

    Strangely enough, the one activity that never disappoints, or seldom does, is reading –not theology so much as history, biography, poetry, and personal commentaries (like your blog, gr instance, or Fr. Stephen Freeman’s). I usually feel encouraged reading these, and energized. I know I shouldn’t conclude that this type of reading is the same as prayer, but I do feel somewhat closer to God that way.

    I am glad that you told your srt-fasting story. It makes a lot of sense. In my case, food doesn’t keep me from God, I’m pretty sure. But I can think of other activities–like reading fiction and writing poems–and some non.activities (e.g., not reading scripture, worrying too much about my family, my health, my financial security,etc.) that do push God to the side, so to speak. Fasting might be applied in such cases. Thanks for the idea. It’s not new of course (I had read or heard it said in different contexts), but sometimes hearing it from the right person, or at the right time, makes a difference.

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