Make your prayer simple, as simple as you can; reason little, love much, and you will pray well.
Passion of Christ, comfort me! Comfort me, for the day is long and weary. Comfort me as I fight my way up the path of life safe to the Heaven of thy Sacred Heart. Comfort me in sorrow, in pain, in sickness. Comfort me when temptation rages around me and every hope seems lost. And when that last dreaded hour has sounded and my eyes are closing on this world of sin, O Passion of Christ! comfort me then, and lead me gently to thy wounded Sacred Feet above. Amen.
The merit of living under religious rule may be gathered from the difficulty of always and faithfully keeping that rule. Holiness and deliberate violation of our rules are a contradiction.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle was known for his close adherence to the Jesuit rule, and the faithful fulfilment of its precepts is a recurring theme in his resolutions and notes. Adhering to a religious rule is tough, and because of this it is a sign of sanctity. St Teresa of Avila said that her nuns would not need miracles to prove their sanctity – if they faithfully followed the rule she established it would be enough for them to reach holiness.
Normally it is only members of a religious order to have rules that they have to formally live by. However, it would be a mistake for the rest of us, especially for lay people, to attempt to live without some rule of life. Many people establish rules or guidelines in order to help them get through their work each day. When people join a gym they are given set exercises to follow. If we are to take our spiritual life seriously we will also establish some rules or guidelines which we should aim to follow. Otherwise we run the risk of following particular spiritual exercises only when we feel like it, and as anybody who has ever achieved anything will testify, this is a sure way to fail! It is not necessary for the rule to be very detailed or to minutely programme every moment of our day – indeed, such an approach is almost impossible for lay people living in the world. But it is essential to have some basic rules about when and how we will pray, as well as small sacrifices that we will try to offer up each day. There is no better time to develop such a rule of life than Lent.
Fr Wilfrid Upson, who was Abbot of Prinknash Abbey in England in the 1940’s, laid out the importance of having our own rule of life in the middle of the world in the following words:
Human nature is the same whether we respond to the monastic cell or whether we live out our lives in a normal worldly environment. Few are so spiritually minded that they can afford to neglect the help of some sort of rule of life and standard of spirituality to which they can endeavour to conform themselves when faced with the many problems of a world where even moral standards have ceased to exist.
A habit of ejaculatory prayer is a sign of nearness to God, for our own holiness will be in proportion to our love and thought of Him all day long.
COMMENT: St Paul tells us to pray always. The great saints and mystics lived constantly in God’s presence, almost unconsciously making everything they did a prayer. Yet, unless they have received many graces, it is unlikely that they started out with this constant presence of God. For many, it required much effort and discipline to overcome their natural human tendency towards dissipation.
One technique for living more completely in God’s presence is the use of aspirations – short prayers interspersed throughout the day to help remind us that we are in the presence of God.
If we love someone with a human passion, it is normal that we think about them throughout the day. Can we really say that we love God as we ought if we only think of Him during our times of formal prayer, or when we want His help with something?
How often have we murmured against the good God because He has refused our petitions or frustrated our plans. Can we look into the future as God can do? Can we see now and realize to the full the effect our request would have had if granted? God loves us, He loves us too dearly to leave us to the guidance of our poor judgements; and when He turns a deaf ear to our entreaties, it is as a tender Father would treat the longings of a child for what would work him harm.
The effect of fervour may be likened to that of fire on water. When cold, water is motionless and chills all that comes in contact with it, but as soon as heat is applied to it, it becomes transformed, grows active, gives off warmth and steam, is capable of doing immense work.
COMMENT: Are our souls cold and motionless? Do we fail to provide warmth to those around us? If so, we need to move closer to the source of heat. We need to know Christ in prayer, by spending time with Him, to enkindle in our souls the fire of His love.
If, in some countries or parishes, the Church seems insipid, lifeless, and in decline, is it merely because of “social trends”? Or is it because we have allowed our souls to grow cold and motionless?
Christ tells us that:
I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
St Catherine of Siena develops that theme:
Be who God meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.
This is what the saints did, every single one of them. Some of them achieved extraordinary things through this flame of God’s love burning in their hearts. Catherine herself is a great example: despite being a young, uneducated woman she had a remarkable impact on the world of her day, all because her soul was a blazing furnace of love for God. Priests had to accompany her on her travels to hear the confessions of those who converted merely through having contact with her. Her letters – whether to popes or princes or ordinary men – are full of ardent love and faith and fortitude. She tended to that flame of love and grace that drove her through her prayer and mortification, the only fuel that can kindle the fire of God’s love in our heart.
If we are not what we are meant to be, if we are cold and motionless, it is because we have allowed the flame of God’s love to grow dim in our souls.
You seem to be a little troubled at finding yourself cold at prayer and as if our Lord had abandoned you. Were it otherwise I should feel uneasy; for this is one of the best signs that you are really pleasing to God, since He puts your fidelity to the test by sending desolation. There is no happiness to be compared to the sweets one tastes at times in prayer; but this, the greatest of all sacrifices, He will ask from you at times.
Hence in darkness and dryness, when weariness and disgust come on you, when the thousand petty worries of every day crowd upon you, raise your eyes with a glad smile to the face of Jesus, for all is well and He is sanctifying you.
COMMENT: Context is important, and Fr Doyle’s words for today take on entirely different meanings depending on their context. Fr Doyle was presumably writing to somebody who was faithfully living their spiritual life and who was undergoing a period of spiritual darkness. Sometimes God does indeed test us in these situations. We have to show that we love the God of consolations, not the consolations of God.
But there are times when we go through coldness and repugnance for spiritual things, and it is entirely our own fault. Our negligence and laziness and sinfulness bring about this coldness. It is not God who has abandoned us, but we who have abandoned Him. But the remedy is always near – contrition, the sacraments and a more ardent renewal and fidelity are the medicine we need to rekindle the love of God in our hearts.