1- Goal of this Article: The Common Denominator
God is love, a love that wants to give itself. God has loved us so much that He did not hesitate to give us His Son. At every moment He wishes to give himself to us, He wants to give us his Love and we cannot fathom how to receive it.
My wish in these notes is to show a method of praying named in different ways: “Prayer of the Heart”, “Mental Prayer”, “Meditation”, “Jesus prayer”, “Contemplative Prayer”, “Ejaculatory Prayer”, “Aspirations”, “Short Prayers”, “Being in the Presence of God”,…. The method explained here, is in a way the common denominator of all these prayers we mentioned above. We find it in all the Christian traditions and schools of prayer. It is the summary of the mystery of prayer and petition and actualises them; it is their synthesis. It is like the core, the common denominator of every kind of prayer. This presentation hopefully will help us rediscover it. It is necessary to grasp it truly so as to be able to enter into the mystery of all real and efficacious prayer. It can truly be said that this is prayer, the very heart of prayer.
2- Some Definitions of Prayer
This prayer is, in fact, a movement of the heart. A movement of all our being toward God, an immersion in Him. This movement could be seeing as a “lifting up” or a sinking in, or entering and recollecting. But in all these movements we are getting closer to God expressing our love to Him. Because to love is to give oneself.
Some definitions of prayer will enable us to grasp this movement:
– “Dwell in me” (John 15,4) “entering” or “seeing” the “kingdom of God” in various passages in the Gospels, “the kingdom of God is in us” (Luke 17,22), “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Co 3,16) “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14,23) “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud” (Luke 9,34)
– “Pray without ceasing” (Luke 18,1; 1 Th 5,17)
– “Prayer, St. Dionysius Areopagite assures us, inspired by the essence of prayer, is the gift that the soul makes of itself to God and its union with Him”
– John Damascene said prayer is “the elevation (lifting up) of the mind (mens, noûs) to God”
– In the Mass: “- Let lift up our hearts; – we lift them up to the Lord”
– Tauler also defines it: “The unitive introversion of the spirit created by man in the uncreated spirit of God”
A unitive entering, a permeation, a gathering together of the soul in God, of the spirit in God, an enlivening immersion in God.
3- What is the Prayer of the Heart?
This prayer consists in the fact of offering oneself to God. To offer one’s life and one’s soul freely to God. This offering is an act which is almost “physical” where we offer our heart and give it to God. In the disposal of our heart in this way, it becomes immersed in His heart which is full of Love. It is like putting the dough of our heart in the oven of the Heart of God, full of His Fire of Love, so it can cook (i.e. be transformed in Jesus). Its immersion in HIM, its nourishment by His Love, renews and transforms it. We can practise this movement of immersion in God in two ways that complement each other. One way is practising it during the day, throughout the day, from time to time, in order to spend the time, not only in the Presence of God, but “in God”. Any time is suitable for this movement, and God is everywhere. The second way of practising it is also widely recommended: we can freely and out of love, decide to dedicate, daily, a specific time for this type of prayer, this contact with God: i.e. 20 minutes, a half-an-hour, an hour. During this time of practice of the Prayer of the Heart, we are invited to repeat, from time to time, this act of offering in order to remain immersed in God under the transformative influence of His Holy Spirit.
In order to facilitate this movement or act of offering of oneself to God and make it more certain, we need the help of Our Lady. Therefore, counting on her all-powerful intercession we may offer ourselves to her; she comes and takes our heart and put it our Lord’s Heart.
The offering is done in silence, without necessarily sound or words. In fact, as we shall see, words – either spoken or in the mind – and also the work of the imagination are not a condition for this act to be made. They can be – and we will see – a sort of a catalyst, expressing our feelings and love to God.
4- The Purpose of this Prayer
The purpose of all prayer is to enter into direct contact with God, spirit to spirit, in order to be united with Him. The distance that separates us from Him is infinite. On top of that, as we have our own space in which to act freely, so too has God, and we need to respect it: we cannot interfere in His freedom, or force Him to love us. He does it spontaneously, love being His very nature. We are created beings and He is uncreated. What is there in common between Him and us? This total distance that separates us from Him is in a way divided into two stretches of road. The first part of the journey depends on us, we can and we have to do it. He gives us always his the general help of his grace in order to do it. The second part of the journey, moving within God’s Kingdom, depends on Him. God here is the one who moves us in Him. He comes and takes us, and immerses us in His very Being.
In the Gospel it is said that the Lord obliged the crowd, the disciples, to go to the other bank of Lake Genesareth. This other bank is God. To decide to take the boat, to go there and to live there depends on us. But what happens on the road escapes us. Because that belongs to God.
5- Where does this Encounter Happen?
Where does this encounter happen? Through which faculty or part of ourselves do we enter into God? Here are the fundamental questions we must ask ourselves to reach the central question of the essence of prayer.
We can take our heart, symbol of our whole being, of our entire life, into our hands and lift it up to God, and ask the Virgin Mary to come to take it and place it in the burning love of the Heart of the Lord. As a first step we do what we can; that of lifting up and offering our heart. We are unable, in this gesture of offering, to lift our heart beyond a certain limit (the barrier between general and particular help). We are unable to pass this limit by ourselves. We believe, however, in the action of the Virgin Mary who comes to take our heart and place it in that of the Lord. We believe in this supernatural action.
The encounter happens in our heart where God himself dwells.
6- The Virgin Mary Always Comes
Mary always comes. She is the “vehicle” who comes to carry us with Her.
She summarises our “yes” to God. Her “yes” is the “boat” of ours.
Mary summarises and embodies all the elements of our “yes” to God, of our gift of ourselves to Him: She is its form and vehicle. “The Virgin Mary “cooperated through free faith and obedience in human salvation” (LG 56). She uttered her yes “in the name of all human nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 30, 1). By her obedience she became the new Eve, mother of the living.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 511)
We can take our heart in our hands and elevate it toward God, asking Mary to come and take it and put it into the burning Heart of the Lord.
The first step is on our part: we do all that is in our power to do, i.e. to elevate and offer our heart to God. In this movement of offering we can lift our heart only to the meeting point, the limit between the general help of the Grace of God and the particular help of his grace. We can’t penetrate the “area” of His freedom (the Kingdom of God). We can’t cross that border with our own will and own power. We believe instead in the action of Mary, who is totally full of God, and who comes and takes our heart and puts it into the Heart of the Lord. We believe in this supernatural action of God.
The Virgin Mary always comes. This is a certainty in which we must live. She is the key to the world of grace; it is She who lifted the embargo to access to the Tree of Life (Jesus) imposed after the Fall. She it is who said “yes” to God and who repeated it for us, on condition that we have recourse to Her, that we recognise that God has given Her to us, like a door, or a key, as a way of gaining access, as a loving and effective presence, one which acts in a maternal way. She comes.
7- The Requirements for a Fruitful Movement
The requirements for a fruitful movement as we present them here in this article are the following:
- we should make ourselves like little children, putting all our worries and concerns in the Hands of God.
- To be in the presence of Mary, and count on her action. We offer ourselves (like little children) in her hands, abandoning ourselves to her action, with total trust.
- To give ourselves totally (and not in part), and by doing that, we are, interiorly “moving”, coming out of ourselves, as if we are dispossessing ourselves, giving God total access to our heart.
If one of these conditions is lacking, the movement cannot normally occur, because God never allows Himself to act in us, until we give Him, clearly, freely and truly access to us. Our heart (that we give Him) is the deepest and dearest part of ourselves, the most intimate part of our being. God has the utmost respect for it, therefore, He doesn’t touch it.
There are several recommendations for achieving this movement of the gift of oneself to God and to accomplish them all at once may seem complicated. Here are the recommendations:
– The movement should be done freely. “Lord I give you my heart in total freedom”
– We need to offer all our being. “Here Lord is my heart, entirely”
– We shouldn’t put any restrictions or conditions on this offering.
– We should be doing it with real humility. “Lord, I await in humility”
– We should have total trust in God. “I have complete confidence in your action and I leave myself in your hands”
– We should abandon ourselves totally into His hands, to let Him act and work in us.
Yes, it is complicated to fulfil all these conditions at the same time. But this is how it is practised. If we read the works of St. Teresa of Jesus we will find there the same thoughts but expressed in the language of the 16th century. In her Autobiography, at the beginning of Chapter 8 where she praises the prayer of the heart, then at the beginning of Chapter 9 she proceeds to explain how God gives himself to us and at once she goes on to talk about water and how it irrigates the garden. The garden is us and it is God who waters us (the action of God). The first way of watering the garden is by meditation. In the second, we see the advice she gives, on how it is that God waters the garden. She goes on to explain the movement of prayer but without naming it. She speaks about humility, the gift of oneself, how we need to wait for His supernatural Action, trust in God and she stops there, but we would like to see how it works, because it is not clear enough.
Here is what St. Teresa of Avila says:
“I hope you do not think I have written too much about this already; for I have only been placing the board, as they say. You have asked me to tell you about the first steps in prayer; although God did not lead me by them, my daughters I know no others, and even now I can hardly have acquired these elementary virtues. But you may be sure that anyone who cannot set out the pieces in a game of chess will never be able to play well, and, if he does not know how to give check, he will not be able to bring about a checkmate. Now you will reprove me for talking about games, as we do not play them in this house and are forbidden to do so. That will show you what kind of a mother God has given you — she even knows about vanities like this! However, they say that the game is sometimes legitimate. How legitimate it will be for us to play it in this way, and, if we play it frequently, how quickly we shall give checkmate to this Divine King! He will not be able to move out of our check nor will He desire to do so.
It is the queen which gives the king most trouble in this game and all the other pieces support her. There is no queen who can beat this King as well as humility can; for humility brought Him down from Heaven into the Virgin’s womb and with humility we can draw Him into our souls by a single hair. Be sure that He will give most humility to him who has most already and least to him who has least. I cannot understand how humility exists, or can exist, without love, or love without humility, and it is impossible for these two virtues to exist save where there is great detachment from all created things.
You will ask, my daughters, why I am talking to you about virtues when you have more than enough books to teach you about them and when you want me to tell you only about contemplation. My reply is that, if you had asked me about meditation, I could have talked to you about it, and advised you all to practise it, even if you do not possess the virtues. For this is the first step to be taken towards the acquisition of the virtues and the very life of all Christians depends upon their beginning it. No one, however lost a soul he may be, should neglect so great a blessing if God inspires him to make use of it. All this I have already written elsewhere, and so have many others who know what they are writing about, which I certainly do not: God knows that.
But contemplation, daughters, is another matter. This is an error which we all make: if a person gets so far as to spend a short time each day in thinking about his sins, as he is bound to do if he is a Christian in anything more than name, people at once call him a great contemplative; and then they expect him to have the rare virtues which a great contemplative is bound to possess; he may even think he has them himself, but he will be quite wrong. In his early stages he did not even know how to set out the chess-board, and thought that, in order to give checkmate, it would be enough to be able to recognise the pieces. But that is impossible, for this King does not allow Himself to be taken except by one who surrenders wholly to Him.” (Way of Perfection ch. 16 (in fact it is a copy from ch. 25 of the Manuscript of Escorial))
It is good to note that at a given moment when she speaks of “Lady humility”, we are given the impression that she is speaking of Mary. Such a little clarification is needed, but she doesn’t do it! But, happily, there is this little secret which, as it were, “cooks” it all, making it much easier and accessible to our poverty. And what is this secret? Very simply, it is the Virgin Mary.
We have a spacious vessel which is called Mary and which is ready to come to take our heart and place it in the heart of the Lord. An enormous distance which the Virgin crosses.
But, first of all, why the Virgin Mary? Because this is the logic of God. When He wanted to give Himself to us humans He took the way of the Virgin Mary. Therefore when any human being would like to meet God and give himself to Him, it is logical to follow the same way and logic He took: Mary. “A servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (John 13,16). Why would we then dare take another route than His? If the Lord established that in order to come to us He needed Mary’s “Yes”, why would he change this logic for us to come to Him? We still need Mary’s “Yes” to go to Him. Her “YES” and her action are necessary; it is the logic of the Incarnation.
If this movement of offering is, in fact to throw ourselves into the arms of Mary, trusting that She will take our heart and place it in the heart of the Lord, it is done, because all the necessary ingredients for a successful immersion in God are present. Why? Because to give oneself to the Virgin Mary is easy and simple. When one gives oneself to the Virgin Mary this implies some degree of humility, because we put ourselves as a little child in her arms. We cannot have frequent dealings with the Virgin Mary and remain proud. She Herself has said: “he has regarded the humility of His servant” (Luke 1,48) – “humility” not “beauty” nor “virtue”.
When we give ourselves to the Virgin Mary, we give ourselves in the same way that a little child gives himself to his mother, endorsing the Lord’s words: “unless you become like little children you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven”. Unless I trust in her action, the spacious vessel that is Mary will not be able to be effective.
The recourse to the Virgin Mary is fundamental and, more than this, “SHE ALWAYS COMES”. St. Teresa of Jesus said: If you are there, spending your whole life in waiting, do you not think it is already a grace to be in the presence of the Lord? Very well, today this is unacceptable because our knowledge of the Virgin through Grignon de Montfort and through Therese of the Child Jesus, is more fully developed and more profound. The Virgin Mary is present, She acts, She wants to act but it is necessary to have recourse to her. When we do so, She comes and acts every time. Her presence acts as a catalyst to ensure that all the right conditions are there. And so when we practise the Prayer of the Heart this way, we are combining all the ingredients without the necessity of fulfilling them individually one after the other: She brings them all together. Only from time to time, if we feel that something is not working, we may check that all the ingredients are present: if the gift of ourselves to the Virgin Mary is truly total, if we have total trust in her action and abandon ourselves into her hands like a little child. The presence of the Virgin Mary is of the utmost importance.
The gesture of offering oneself to the Virgin Mary ought to be honest and direct. It is a productive movement. Oftentimes we keep our heart in our hands and will not give it up. We say to the Lord: “here I am before you, here is my heart”. But often our heart is held firmly in our hands and is not given up! A movement is missing: it depends purely on we ourselves to give our heart to Him.
Often, also, we offer our heart but in giving it we think that we are truly giving it while, in fact, we are holding on to it, guarding for ourselves a part of our heart which we do not want the Lord to touch or to take. No, it is necessary to give all. The Lord will not take our heart by His power, He will not violate our freedom. As much as we do not give our heart to Him totally, He will not take it. We can say what we like, but as long as we are not doing it, in a determined manner (this movement of the heart) He will not take it! Only the total gift of ourselves attracts God and allows Him to act in our heart. This point will be addressed later.
8- The Concerns of Our Heart Are an Obstacle
In order to be able to raise up our heart it must be light and free. A concern or a worry will occupy our heart and nail it to the earth. In order to free ourselves from this boundary we are invited to offer these concerns or worries to God entrusting them to Him. “To entrust” means to give them to God, freeing oneself from them and from keeping them in our hands, and from reflecting upon them in front of God or under His light. God asks us to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else”, and “for the rest”, i.e. what causes our concerns, the problems which preoccupy us ought to be entrusted to the Lord. In this way, being free, we can raise our heart to God.
Attachment to created things or beings is also a real obstacle in this offering. If we are wilfully attached to a person, an object or a situation and if we have not received them from the hands of God, this attachment blocks the interior movement of our heart and prevents it from being free to go forward towards God. The attachment to a created being shapes us in the likeness of this “object” of our affection, instead of being free and shaped in the likeness of Jesus. In this case, Mary cannot handle our heart, because it is held by this deviant “affection”. She doesn’t have power over it to act upon it!
Freedom of heart is, then, a condition for the realisation of this movement. It is important to verify that all the conditions are fulfilled: “freedom of heart” (which contrasts with anxiety) is realised by confiding to God these things. God is God and He will take care of them: when it is time for prayer no created obstacle has the right to stop us from meeting Him. It is important to believe in a Divine Action which is beyond us, and belongs to Mary, key to the world of Grace.
9- The Areas of the Heart and of the Mind are Independent
We need to make it clear that the area of the mind (thoughts, imagination) is different from the area of the heart that is offered to God. Therefore, even if thoughts do cross our mind during this moment of immersion in God, we don’t have to worry, they can’t obstruct the process of lifting our heart to Him, or even being immersed in Him. On the contrary, if we do worry, or we give too much attention to them this will obstruct the elevation of our heart to God or will not be centred in God.
In order to understand the difference between thoughts or imagination that occur in our mind and the core of our being immersed in God, we can take the example of the cinema: what happens on the screen is foreign to us, and is not real life, it is just a movie! If an actor kills another in the movie, we are not guilty of that, and we are not the authors of what we see! It is the same thing during the immersion in God! What happens in the “screen” of our mind and imagination is not us! They are just passing thoughts or images, not generated by us. This is a passive distraction, not moved by our will; just there! It has no power to take us out of that sacred encounter with God! We don’t need to give it more attention than to a bee entering our car while we are driving! We can still drive, and we remain immersed in the sacred meeting with God. He is still communicating with us! Our mind and imagination are exterior to this meeting as we will see in the existential diagram in the second part of this text.
During this immersion in God, it is not a necessity to have fine thoughts, even inspired, but to give one’s heart to Him. St. Teresa of Jesus says: here it is more about loving than thinking (Way of Perfection 26,3…). And “to love” is to give our heart. It is good then to notice where our attention is taking us: into the area of the mind or into the area of the heart. We need to direct our attention from the mental activity to that of the heart. Attention is, simply, the place where we are or want to be. We can navigate and go here or there as we wish. One thing should be clear to us: the area of the mind and imagination is not the place where God is, not the place where our attention is drawn by our love of God. On the contrary, we are invited not to dwell in it but “in Jesus” who is in the centre of our being: not in the skull but in the chest area – our heart – so to speak. It is by offering ourselves to Mary like a little child that we spontaneously and effortlessly find ourselves in the area of the heart, immersed in God. Offering ourselves is the shortest way for recollection and immediately leads to immersion in God.
10- How to Calm the Thoughts?
How can we calm our thoughts so as to be able to offer ourselves? How can we escape a train of thought?
To avoid thoughts becoming a snare to prevent the lifting up of the heart, one can repeat slowly the “Hail Mary” or any other short prayer that bears the name of Jesus and/or the name of Mary. The slow repetition of the angelic salutation recalls the thoughts because it will enable us to enter into the womb of Mary. It is important to acknowledge that we can repeat the “Hail Mary” a) without meditating on the mystery and b) without thinking of the words of the greeting. This prayer is encapsulated in the words: “pray for us…”. We are seeking her all-powerful capacity to lift us to God. She is the Hands of Jesus that lift us to His Heart. All our desire is expressed in these short words: “Mother of God, pray of us”… lift us, and put us in God. He can’t say “no” to you, and you can’t say “no” to us. He gave you to us on the Cross, as a personal spiritual mother. So this loving repetition of these powerful words, almost in a “routine/mechanical” way, or in a “lullaby” fashion, is enough to allow the Action of Mary, introducing us into God, or keeping us immersed in Him. The reason why we say “without meditating any mystery of the Rosary” is because in fact, being immersed in God, we are in front of the Central Mystery: God, and we are doing the will of Jesus: “Dwell in me” (John 15). We are before the Mystery par excellence, that of our meeting with God Himself, present in the depths of our heart.
By this repetition, we invoke the Virgin Mary and ask for her swift help: “Pray for us poor sinners”. We recognise our fundamental inability to attract God. She is the Immaculate Conception, “full of Grace” (Luke 1,28), God is always with Her (Luke 1,28) and in Her actions, and so She draws us infallibly to God and to His action: “you have found favour with God” (Luke 1,30). And She makes herself present to us when we invoke Her. Her presence is active. It is as if She were putting our heart into Her hands to protect this sacred meeting, this direct contact and communication with God. She protects it. But also She facilitates the meeting. Her help is a real divine catalyst, that makes it easier, as when we want to remove a ring from our finger using soap. Similarly the Virgin Mary frees us from the mental influence which imprisons us in the mind, allowing us to descend into our hearts so as to unite us to God. The repetition of the angelic salutation facilitates the encounter and protects it. It prevents mental activity from having a hold over our heart and to draw our heart back into the encounter.
But it often happens that we focus on things outside of the encounter, things of the mind. As a consequence we lose contact and communication with God. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be led by a thought, an image, by a memory or a feeling. As soon as we become aware of rambling, we must not become disturbed, or get carried away by the awareness that yet again we have failed to persevere in our communication with God. No, we are not engaged in sporting exploits to determine for how long we can remain immersed in God. He is not looking for length of contact with Him; and doesn’t value the human being according to the length of contact with Him, or the vigilance exercised to maintain this contact. This would only serve to distort matters or at least cause us to be stressed. God sees our goodwill. So, as soon as we recognise that we have relinquished our contact with God, that we have strayed in our imagination, or our thoughts, be reassured, just peacefully resume the movement of offering ourselves and as often as is necessary. Sometimes, the thoughts or imagination occur more powerfully than usual, but this is only an exception. We must stay calm and remain in Him. Distractions are a normal part of the Prayer of the Heart.
What we need to do is to return to Him to whom we belong and who is our daily nourishment, because each time we decide and choose to return to Him, we renew our love. We let Him see what we do with our liberty. Then it is good to repeat a short prayer slowly and peacefully to the rhythm of our breathing such as “Sweet heart of Mary, / be our refuge” to the rhythm of breathing in / and breathing out. To repeat it in a mechanical way without thinking about it in order to occupy the mental, to coax, to entice and to ask the help of Mary so that from her hands She will protect and brood over this sacred meeting with God. It is important that the prayer, the repeated phrase, contains the name of Mary or, at least, that of Jesus.
Mary’s intervention lessens the disturbing action and influence of mental activity. In fact mental activity exercises an enormous hold over us. We become accustomed to it to the point where nothing else exists! We fail to know what it means to stop mental activity. We have left, a long time ago, the paradise of being “heart to heart with God” and we remain outside, lost in mental activity, suffering from thirst. And so Mary’s intervention modifies but cannot give a hundred per cent assurance of a complete defence against all temptation arising from mental activity. Mental arrows, thought, images, memories can always limit our attention and deter it from achieving the encounter with the sacred. As soon as we are hooked into mental activity, let us return slowly and peacefully to renew our direction. We need to do this every time the necessity presents itself, as often as it is necessary.
11- The Role of a Third Person
An important addition to this movement is the guidance of the “spiritual director” who prays and intercedes for the transmission and implementation of the Prayer of the Heart. As we know, he can be a priest or a lay person, male or female.
The role of spiritual director here is of the greatest importance. It is he who has the experience of the Fire of the Love of God. While praying with the directee, they become united so to speak. While the person is starting to pray and make the act of offering of him or herself, the Spiritual Director awaits the birth of the fire of the love of God in the person, i.e. the connection with God. Whilst awaiting the fire, if he notices any difficulty he may ask a question in order to help the person to understand better and improve if needed the movement of the Prayer of the Heart (i.e. the act of offering). It is his task to verify the steps and the quality of this movement. While praying together, the Lord allows the director to be united to the directee to the point that he feels/experiences what the latter is feeling and is going through. Therefore, by feeling what is not working properly he can more effectively help the directee adjust and perfect the quality of his act of offering. Here are some of the obstacles that can prevent the act from being made properly and fruitfully. The directee can be:
– undecided for a specific reason or because of his makeup
– going through a difficult time, or having an issue disturbing him, that he hasn’t offered to God yet
– blocked by sins, or not trusting in the infinite Mercy of God, or feeling rejected by God
– failing to give himself totally to God, retaining/keeping something for himself and not offering it to God
– making a superhuman effort, where his will is overriding God’s freedom, as if he is forcing God to give himself to him – lack of humility or having a childlike spirit
– not allowing God or Mary to act
– unable to open himself to this new experience of the action of God.
The list is long.
12- Frequency and Duration of the Offering
If we find that we have come out of the immersion, it is important not to get angry with ourselves but to resume the process peacefully. To be angry with ourselves is not good. Stress breeds stress and peace breeds peace. So the more our attitude and our reaction in the face of our weakness is peaceful and serene, the more we will be drawn to God who is Peace. He knows our weakness and is not concerned about our waywardness. He wishes to see our love renewed through the act of offering and it is this that is necessary much of the time.
Sometimes He will intervene strongly but this will be an exception. He intervenes and attracts us to Him in an irresistible and sometimes prolonged way. But this is his affair. On the other hand if we come out of the deep encounter with God, returning towards Him depends on us and this is part of our daily dealings, because every time that we decide and choose to return to Him, we but renew out love for Him. We show Him that this is how we use our freedom.
It is necessary, then to gently repeat the act of offering. The effect of the act of offering usually doesn’t last longer than two minutes or so. If there is a desire to pray for a longer period of time (15 minutes, 30 or 60), and since we aren’t sure if we are connected or not in our depths, we do gently repeat the act of offering, from time to time, these being repeated acts of Love of God. This way we make sure we are really connected to God in our depths. Let us remind ourselves that we can’t feel or sense the connection because it is occurring in our spirit, i.e. beyond the reach of our consciousness.
What is the time to give to this prayer, this offering?
It is important to know that the act of offering can be made in two different types of prayer:
a- we dedicate exclusively a specific time to it (“Prayer of the Heart” or “Adoration” or “Ejaculations”, “Jesus’ Prayer”) and it can last as we said 15 minutes, 30 or 60.
b- it permeates all types of prayer, making them fruitful because it immerses us in God, as it constitutes the core and inner aspect of any vocal prayer. We need to be connected with God when we pray, any prayer: Mass, Divine Office, Rosary,… When St. Teresa of Avila explains the Prayer of the Heart (i.e. Mental Prayer), see: “Way of Perfection” ch. 28-31, she stresses the fact that “interior prayer” should be united to our “vocal prayers”, this way our vocal prayer is complete. This is why during the Mass the Priest invites us to “lift up our heart” in order to enter really into the Eucharistic Prayer. Otherwise we worship with our lips and our mind but not with the core of our being which needs to be united with the Triune God.
13- Remarks on this Prayer
a- Relationship with the Prayer of the Heart
The explanation of the act of offering of oneself is an excellent introduction to the Prayer of the Heart and a true synthesis of it, that enabling it to be authentic and fruitful. Otherwise it is possible to go on for years practicing the Prayer of the Heart (or any prayer) in a way that is not fruitful because we are not necessarily connected with God as St. Teresa of Avila states it. Understanding the act of offering will bring about a radical change to our prayer life. It will trigger divine life in a very real and actual way.
It also enables us to see that the “Prayer of Recollection” as explained by St. Teresa of Avila (i.e. the effort to recollect oneself, using the “General Help of the Grace of God”) and the Prayer of Quiet (the supernatural action of God, i.e. the “General Help of the Grace of God”) are, in fact, two parts of one and same movement (diagram below: we have one journey divided in two parts, 1 and 2)!
b- Relationship With the Mass
1. To ask for forgiveness (confident that we are focused on God in order to be liberated) (Penitential rite)
2. The offering of our life (offertory)
3. Mary comes to take our heart and place it in the heart of the Lord (“through Him, with Him and in Him”)
c- Relationship with the Act of Oblation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
This prayer is like a summary of the Act of Oblation of St. Therese of the Child Jesus (9th June, 1895) but made in a dynamic and fruitful manner.
“In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!
May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.
I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!” (St. Thérèse, Act of Oblation)
“For simple soule must be no complicated ways; as I am of their number, one morning during my thanksgiving, Jesus gave me a simple means of accomplishing my mission. He made me [34 r] understand these words of the Canticle of Canticles: “DRAW ME, WE SHALL RUN after you in the odor of your ointments [Sg 1.3].”‘ O Jesus, it is not even necessary to say: When drawing me, draw the souls whom I love! This simple statement: Draw me suffices; I understand, Lord, that when a soul allows herself to he captivated ‘by the odor of your ointments, she cannot run alone. all the souls whom she loves follow in her train; this is done without constraint, without effort, it is a natural consequence of her attraction for You. Just as a torrent, throwing itself with impetuosity into the ocean, drags after it everything it encounters in its passage, in the same way, O Jesus, the soul who plunges into the shoreless ocean of Your Love, draws with her all the treasures she possesses. Lord, You know it, I have no other treasures than the souls it has pleased You to unite to mine; it is You who entrusted these treasures to me, and so I dare to borrow the words You addressed to the heavenly Father, the last night which saw You on our earth as a traveller and a mortal.” (St. Thérèse, Story of a Soul, Ms C 34r°)
“All the saints have understood this, and more especially those who filled the world with the light of the Gospel teachings. Was it not in prayer that St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis, St. Dominic, and so many other famous Friends of God have drawn out this divine science which delights the greatest geniuses? A scholar has said: “Give me a lever and a, fulcrum and 1 will lift the world.”. What Archimedes was not able to obtain, for his request was not directed by God and was only made from a material viewpoint, the saints have obtained [36 v] in all its fullness. The Almighty has given them as fulcrum: HIMSELF ALONE; as lever: PRAYER which bums with a fire of love. And it is in this way that they have lifted the world; it is in this way that the saints still militant lift it, and that, until the end of time, the saints to come will lift it.” (St. Thérèse, Story of a Soul, Ms C 35 r°-v°)