Ways to Pray


          Intercession and Petition

          Praying in the Spirit of St Clare

          Adoration with St Clare

          Praying with Scripture

          Serenity and Surrender

          Forgiveness

          Contemplation

          Commitment

          Hearts Delight

 

 

Intercession and Petition

 

We are usually fairly good at the ‘asking’ type of prayer – it comes naturally to us when things go wrong or we are out of our depth. God is our loving Father who is anxious to provide for us and loves when we turn to Him in prayer. Intercession is possibly our most instinctive way of praying, and Scripture invites us to pray this way when Jesus says, ‘Ask and you shall receive’ (Matthew 7:7). However, God also wants us to come to know Him and the fullness of His love for us. We are told many things about this type of prayer. For example, ‘If you find your delight in the Lord, He will grant you your heart’s desire’ (Psalm 36/37:4).

 

This is very similar to what Jesus tells us: ‘Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well’ (Matthew 6:33). This means that when we come to intercede, we should look to the Lord and His righteousness first, to delight in His company and then to ask for what we need. It means that we do not take God for granted – and this makes sense, when we remember that the Lord wants us to enter into relationship with Him. The way that Jesus interceded is an example for us. We often find that before He performed a miracle, He blessed God first. For example, before He raised Lazarus from the dead, He turned in thanksgiving to the Father (John 11:41–42).

 

We also find Him blessing the bread before the multiplication of the loaves (Luke 9:15–16). The ‘Our Father’ is a perfect example of this type of prayer. Here, the first three petitions are devoted to praise of the Father and praying for His will – only then do we move on to intercession as such. Scripture also tells us, ‘If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 18:19). There is incredible power in unity of hearts at prayer, because God is the source of all unity.

 

One of the incidents from the life of St Clare that illustrates her style of intercession profoundly was 
when the sisters’ monastery (which lay just outside the city of Assisi) was threatened by Saracen troops. Not only were they in mortal danger but so, too, was the city as the soldiers were on the way to attack it. St Clare was bed-ridden, but the sisters came to her in crisis. She asked them to bring her to the door of the monastery and then asked for the pyx, containing the Blessed Sacrament, to be brought out too.

 

Though she was sick, St Clare prostrated herself before the Lord in prayer, an act of profound worship. Then, holding the Blessed Sacrament aloft, she begged Him to defend her sisters, whom she could not defend. A voice, like that of a little child, was heard and it said, ‘I will always defend you.’ Clare continued to pray, saying, ‘My Lord, please protect this city which for Your love sustains us.’  The troops turned back and the city and the monastery were saved. This incident, perhaps more than any other, shows St Clare’s great devotion to, and trust in, the Eucharist. It is why she is usually depicted with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance.

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Praying in the Spirit of St Clare


St Clare fell passionately in love with Christ. She had a distinct relationship with each person of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – however, she focused her eyes and her affections on Christ, whom she said had become for us ‘the Way’. With this love, she was able to face the trials that came her way. She was courageous and determined. She grew in understanding and became a very balanced person, which can be seen clearly in her writing. For both St Clare and St Francis, everyone was a brother or sister: all were treated the same. Everyone and everything was a gift, and their lives and spirituality were characterised by gratitude.

St Clare wrote no treatises on prayer. However, her letters to St Agnes of Prague form the central part of her writings and give us a marvellous insight into what animated her heart. St Agnes was a princess from Bohemia who had been much sought after in marriage, even by Emperor Frederick II. However, Christ had captured her heart and she resolved to give herself completely to Him. When she heard of the way of life that St Clare and her sisters were following, she was attracted to what they were doing. She established a Poor Clare convent in Prague and began a correspondence with St Clare. Four of the letters survive and they are very important for helping us to appreciate St Clare’s vision of life.

The letters provide a window into the soul of St Clare. They are less formal than the rule and in them we can see the progression in both St Clare’s spirituality, as her prayer life matured and developed, and her deepening friendship with St Agnes. The letters show her as a very affectionate woman, capable of deep friendship and not afraid to express her affection openly. They also reveal her clarity of vision and her ability to home in on the essentials of life and living. These she articulated in a way that inspired St Agnes and those who have followed her down through the centuries. Their value is incalculable.

In the letters, you can detect the concern of a mother for her spiritual daughter, that she learn to know the Lord in an intimate manner. St Clare shares with St Agnes in a very natural way, giving her guidance from the depths of her own relationship with God. Using inspiring words and images, she hints at ways through which St Agnes could open her heart to enter into contemplation. 
As a way to open up to a dialogue with the Lord, she has this to say:


Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! 
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! 
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance 
and through contemplation  transform your entire being
into the image of the Godhead Itself.
3rd Letter to Agnes 12–13

 

‘Place your mind before the mirror of eternity ’: 
The mind is the source of all our anxieties and fears. St Clare tells us elsewhere that Christ is the mirror, so to place our mind in the mirror of eternity is to bring all that we carry within us – our burdens and our joys – to the Lord. We come before the Lord as we are and bring them to Him. Reflecting on these things in the light of eternity has the advantage of helping us gain perspective on them. Often, our worries can diminish when we think of them in terms of eternity. 
In her fourth letter to St Agnes, St Clare said, ‘Gaze upon that mirror each day … and continually study your face in it.’ This is another starting point for our prayer – to come before the mirror, who is Christ, and ask Him, ‘What are You saying to me today? What do You ask of me?’ Spend some time trying to listen for His response. 

‘Place your soul in the brilliance of glory ’: 
The soul is our innermost being, the meeting place with God. In each of us, there is a special hidden place where God waits for us. It is in the deepest caverns of our being, where God’s Word can resonate within and be amplified, if we attune ourselves to His Presence. Although not a physical place, it is where God’s Spirit resides within us. In this stage, we try to imagine entering into this sacred place. We ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate it with His light. We come here in reverence, knowing it is a sacred space. We try to come in stillness and silence, so that we can be attuned to the presence of God. We may not feel anything – that is all right. The important thing is to seek to encounter Jesus. 

‘Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance’: 
Let transformation take place through contemplation. Christ is the figure of the divine substance. At this stage, we seek to involve our heart. We endeavour to rest in Him, trusting in His deep love for us. We can do this by expressing sentiments of love, if we feel comfortable with that. Scripture can help us greatly here and we can use a simple phrase, such as ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my affection for you’ (Jeremiah 31) or ‘Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you … you are mine’ (Isaiah 43). The essential point here is to do this gently. We allow ourselves to be docile in His hands, so that He can imprint Himself upon our souls. Our aim in all of this is that, as St Clare said, we may ‘feel what His friends feel’ and may ‘taste the hidden sweetness’ of God. In this is true freedom of heart and where our souls may find ultimate peace.

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Adoration with St Clare


Apart from Mass, the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is one of the highest forms of prayer, centred as it is on Christ in the gift of Himself to us. Because He is God, He is worthy of all praise and adoration. Adoration is, above all else, an act of worship because we believe that Jesus is truly present. We look at Him with eyes of love, are moved with gratitude and we want to give Him the highest honour. 
This practice of adoration is a beautiful way to prolong our encounter with Him in the celebration of Mass. When we come to adoration, we meet Jesus. It is He who has drawn us to this encounter and He longs for us to know how much He loves us. We place ourselves close to His heart, like the Beloved Disciple (John 13:25). We come to Him as we are. 
There are many ways to pray at adoration – and many of the ways given in this chapter are suitable. It is good to use the time to deepen your relationship with Him – allow Him to get to know you and let Him reveal Himself to you.
St Clare is often portrayed with the Blessed Sacrament and is known for her devotion to it. Her advice was:


Gaze, 
Consider, 
Contemplate, 
Desiring to imitate your spouse. 

2nd Letter to St Agnes 20

Breaking this down, we can see a beautiful way to pray. 

Gaze upon Him: 
St John Mary Vianney, known as The Curé of Ars, who lived in the nineteenth century, spoke of a man who, when asked how he prayed, said, ‘I look at Him and He looks at me.’ It is not so much a physical looking at Jesus, as putting ourselves in the presence of the One who loves us totally. We make ourselves present to Him and allow Him to look at our innermost being with His loving, healing gaze, letting the reality of His love change and heal us. 

Consider Him: 
Having become aware of Jesus, we reflect on the reality of who He really is, as revealed to us in Scripture. Jesus came into the world to enter into our humanity fully. No matter what way we feel, there is something in Jesus’ life that each of us can relate to. For instance, if we feel fearful, we recall Jesus’ fear in Gethsemane, when He prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by’ (Matthew 26:39). If we are burdened, we hear His invitation, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28–29). If we are worried about the future, we can bear in mind Jesus’ words, ‘I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Look at the birds in the sky. Are you not worth much more than they are?’ (Matthew 6:25–26) Seeing afresh how Jesus works in people’s lives, we can talk with Him about our life situation, and so form a relationship with Him.


Contemplate Him: 
Having spoken to the Lord about what is bothering us, we hand our cares over to Him, remembering the words of St Peter, ‘Unload all your worries on to Him, since he is looking after you’ (1 Peter 5:7). 
Then we rest gratefully in His loving presence, confident that He will take care of us. 

As you desire to imitate Him: 
A fitting conclusion to a time spent in adoration with the Lord is to try to become more like Him. It is good for us to make some resolution at the end of our prayer time, even something small, like to smile more, so that we enter into solidarity with Jesus.

Prayer

Jesus, 
send Your Spirit into my heart as I come to You in prayer. 
Give me the inner vision that St Clare had, in order to see You as You really are. 
Help me to become aware of Your Presence with me, 
especially in this time of prayer, 
so that I may totally love You  who gave Yourself totally for love of me. 
Amen.

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Praying with Scripture


Praying with Scripture is an enriching way to pray, to calm the soul. This is because using Scripture is like having a dialogue between yourself and Jesus (who is the Word of God). It contains so many comforting words from the Lord and these are like a balm to the soul. 
Taking time with Scripture works on our souls in a deep way, even if we are not aware of it. Jesus compares the Word to a seed that is planted (Mark 4:26–39, Luke 8:11). We cannot see the growth and development under the soil – it is hidden, but it is happening nevertheless. 
At the beginning, it can be difficult to know where to start with Scripture. It is a good idea to start off with the gospels (where we encounter Jesus) or the Psalms (which cover the entire gamut of human emotions and which can help us to process all that is going on within us). Take a phrase from the Bible and simply ponder over it. It is good to do this each day, so that the Word becomes part of our lives. Repeating the words embeds them in our minds and hearts. 
Both St Francis and St Clare had such reverence for the Word of God that they said the way of life of their brothers and sisters was to live the Holy Gospel. As we come to a deeper appreciation of the Word of God, we may be drawn to give more time to this practice and want to approach Scripture in a more structured way. Lectio divina, a method of praying with Scripture from the monastic tradition, helps us to do this.

Lectio Divina

This consists of four stages – lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio – and is much more than a reading or study of Scripture. It is an encounter in faith and love with the Word of God. If you can devote twenty minutes or so a day to this, you will find it very helpful. And, as you reflect on these texts, do not feel that you have to exhaust one text in one day. You can come back to the texts again and again. 

Lectio (reading): 
Choose a passage of scripture and read the text a few times. If possible, read it aloud, as there is an additional dynamic in reading it aloud. This is because the texts were meant to be proclaimed, so while you might feel self-conscious doing this, it is helpful. Several of the senses are involved (sight, speech and hearing) and it will resonate within you. This is very important in lectio – to allow the Word to echo and re-echo and reverberate within you. Read lingeringly, with attention and love. This is not about getting through as much text as possible, it is about allowing the Spirit who inspired the text to work on your soul, so that you may know what He wants to say to you. Savour the words, and particularly stay with words which ‘speak’ to you. 

Meditatio (meditation): 
At this stage, mull over the text and try to see where it is being fulfilled in your life today. Your memory and imagination will enter into action as you remember past events where you have seen the Lord working or, with your imagination, enter fully into the text and become part of what is happening. Meditation takes time, but it need not stop when you finish your prayer time as you can reflect on where this is being mirrored in your life at other times – as you wait for a train, are standing in line at the shops or as you mow the lawn. Try to come to an interior understanding of what is written. Take as your example Our Lady, who ‘pondered’ in her heart the things that had been revealed to her (Luke 2:19, 2:51). 

Oratio (prayer): 
This is where we respond to the Lord’s promptings to us in the previous stages. Taking our cue from the words of the text (usually), we base our prayer response on what has happened to us as we pondered His Word. Pray from the heart, and the Holy Spirit will put into words what we may not be able to (Romans 8:26). Even if we feel that nothing has happened, in faith make some prayer response, because the Lord is constantly working within us and His Word is dynamic. 

Contemplatio (contemplation): 
Contemplation is the beginning and end of lectio divina. This is about entering a deeper phase in prayer. It goes beyond what our senses can experience. It is a prolonged gaze of love. From this, we are called to go forth in active love of God and our neighbour.


When you begin to pray with Scripture, it is helpful to invest in a good version of the Bible, preferably with a commentary. It is helpful to read the Bible in context, and consulting a commentary can help us to do that.

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Serenity and Surrender


Being fearful and anxious can cripple us, often leaving us paralysed. Fear begins with a thought, which often latches on to other fears within us, and takes hold of us, taking us captive. The more it gets a grip, the more we can be paralysed by it. To have courage is to feel fear, but to go beyond it. One of the things that is said in Scripture most often is, ‘Do not be afraid.’ When Saint John Paul II addressed the United Nations in New York in 1979, he said:
men and women must learn to conquer fear. We must learn not to be afraid, we must rediscover a spirit of hope and a spirit of trust. Hope is not empty optimism springing from a naïve confidence that the future will necessarily be better than the past. Hope and trust are the premise of responsible activity and are nurtured in that inner sanctuary of conscience where ‘one is alone with God’ and thus perceives that he or she is not alone amid the enigmas of existence, for they are surrounded by the love of the Creator.

One of the most popular prayers of our time is the ‘Serenity Prayer’, capturing, as it does so well, that we often struggle to deal with things that are beyond us in our daily lives.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
The courage to change the things I can; 
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

If we can change things that need to be dealt with, we must seek to do this with God’s help. However, the pathway to serenity is to realise that we need to turn to a Higher Power when things are beyond us. We need to learn to surrender to God and let His power work in the situation. 

Fr Walter Ciszek, an American Jesuit, recounted his experiences of being captured by the Russian secret police during the Second World War. He spent the duration of the war in Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, mostly in solitary confinement. After this, he was sent to a labour camp in Siberia for fifteen years. He was eventually exchanged for two Russian spies and returned to America, only to discover that he had been officially listed as dead for sixteen years. 

During his time in Lubyanka, he underwent many interrogations because the Soviets were convinced that he was a Vatican spy. One of his greatest trials was that, having endured daily interrogations for one full year, he signed a confession that his captors had prepared. He had reached the end of his strength. Then, he was left in solitary confinement, where he was haunted by what he had done, brought down with guilt and shame. Slowly, painfully, as he struggled with the darkness that enveloped him, he realised  that he had been trying all along to do everything under his own steam. He was a physically fit man, having lived a disciplined life, and possessed a sharp intellect. Each day, he had gone into the interrogations determined to outwit the men and not to give in. In fact, having struggled for so long, he reached the point of despair. 

In that moment, he threw himself before the Lord and accepted his helplessness. He cried out to the Lord when he recognised, as he says himself, that his own abilities were bankrupt and God was his only hope. He was consoled in that moment by recalling the Lord in the agony in the garden, where Jesus cried out three times, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass me by’ (Matthew 26:39). He appreciated that Jesus knew the feeling of fear and weakness in His human nature and yet He abandoned himself to the will of the Father each time. 

At that moment, Fr Ciszek knew exactly what he had to do. He realised that he had to surrender himself completely to the Father and trust in Him to act in the situation, instead of trying to control it himself. He grasped that it was too big for him and that he needed power from on high. It was only when he reached the stage of being totally overwhelmed by everything that he surrendered. In doing so, he crossed a boundary that he had feared and yet, by doing this, he experienced total liberation and a release from all his fears of the future. He knew that he did not know what the future held, but he was able to trust in God to sustain him. He said:

I can only tell you frankly that my life was changed from that moment on. If my moment of despair had been a moment of total blackness, then this was an experience of blinding light. I knew immediately what I must do, what I would do, and somehow I knew that I could do it.


And this resolution carried him for what remained of his ordeal. He served another four years in Lubyanka, followed by fifteen years in Siberia. This spirituality of surrender sustained him through it all, being able to live ‘one day at a time’ in the same way as those who struggle with addictions. 

Fr Ciszek’s life is a clear witness for our times of the reality that serenity of heart comes through surrender to God. To pray in this way, to surrender, means to realise that we are helpless without God’s help. We need to invite Him into the situation and hand it over to Him. In this spirit, we offer a prayer of surrender adapted from the spiritual teachings of Fr Walter J. Ciszek SJ:


Lord, Jesus Christ, I ask the grace to accept the sadness in my heart, as Your will for me, in this moment. I offer it up, in union with Your sufferings, for those who are in deepest need of Your redeeming grace. I surrender myself to Your Father’s will and I ask You to help me to move on to the next task that You have set for me. Spirit of Christ, help me to enter into a deeper union with You. Lead me away from dwelling on the hurt I feel: to thoughts of charity for those who need my love, to thoughts of compassion for those who need my care, and to thoughts of giving to those who need my help. As I give myself to You, help me to provide for the salvation of those who come to me in need. May I find my healing in this giving. May I always accept God’s will. May I find my true self by living for others in a spirit of sacrifice and suffering. May I die more fully to myself, and live more fully in You. As I seek to surrender to the Father’s will, may I come to trust that He will do everything for me. 

 

To surrender to God is to let ourselves be open to His action in our lives. Reaching out to others can help broaden our perspective which, in turn, can help diminish our own pain. It is important to remember that this giving can be as simple as the gift of a smile.

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Forgiveness


And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too. But if you do not forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive your failings either.                                                

Mark 11:26 

No book on prayer would be complete without looking at forgiveness as prayer and a way to pray. It is an absolute prerequisite. The above quotation, beginning with, ‘When you stand in prayer …’ , reveals that real prayer can only flow from a heart willing to forgive. Forgiveness must be at the beginning of prayer. 

The reason for this is that an absence of forgiveness is like an acid that burns away at us, eating into our very being. We feel hurt by someone, and part of us wants the person who caused the hurt to feel pain for what we perceive they have ‘done’ to us. However, when we dwell on it, we find ourselves replaying the situation over and over again in our heads, rehearsing what we wish we had said or done, or what we will say or do at the next opportunity! Unfortunately, we can get sucked into this; sometimes it almost takes on a life of its own and it draws us deeper and deeper into itself. In the end, we cause ourselves more suffering. This is why Jesus stresses the need for forgiveness over and over again. If we don’t forgive, we actually end up hurting ourselves. Each time we replay what has happened, we feel the pain again and it gets worse – it’s like picking the scab off a wound; it bleeds again and can fester. 

So, what is the solution? 

We can’t do it on our own. We require the grace of God to forgive, but we also need to co-operate with Him in this. God asks us to bless our enemies, and when we try, His grace comes to help us. Paradoxically, when we try to see the good in others, especially those who have hurt us, when we try to understand them, it diminishes the toxic quality of our anger and we start to feel calmer. As we continue to do this, we can begin to feel peace returning to our souls. It does not change the past, but it can change how we see the past and how the future will be. 

It is important to realise that forgiveness is not a matter of feelings, but of the will. If we focus on our wounds, we are staying with ourselves and not focusing on God. We may not feel like forgiving someone and we may not feel as if we like them. We are not called to ‘like’ people, but to love them. And so we make a decision to forgive and to let go of the injury. If necessary, we surrender it to God, so that He may take over. In its essence, forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. Forgiveness has another effect too. The prayer we make on behalf of those who have hurt us also has an effect on them. We may not perceive this straight away, but it is true nonetheless. Slowly, and sometimes imperceptibly, their hearts receive healing too. 

The following suggestion from Fr Silvester O’Flynn is helpful: 

If you are finding it impossible to forgive somebody, it shows that you have not yet discovered the Holy Spirit within you, the Spirit given to you in Baptism. Your natural love is focusing towards that person whom you can’t love. Supernatural love thinks less of towards and more of from, the source of divine love within us. Hand over this problem of forgiving to God-within-you. Confess to God that your natural ability has reached its limits. Invite God-within-you to think in your mind and to love through your heart.

All of the above will help with the day-to-day hurts that we all experience. However, sometimes an acute hurt may need deeper healing to reach the root of the pain. We may need to seek further help. The Lord often uses other people to minister to us. We may need counselling or to ask someone to pray for or with us. The suggestions given above are not a substitute for counselling when this is needed, they are given to help deal constructively with the issues that come our way each day. The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession is the great source of healing and peace in difficult situations. It is a sacrament instituted by Jesus and He underscores its importance in the gospels. While it may seem very daunting to have to confess your sins to someone else, especially if you have not been to Confession in a long time, it is truly liberating, because our faith teaches us that, through the priest, it is the Lord Jesus Himself who absolves us from our sins. There is no greater freedom and joy than that experienced when you hear the words, ‘I absolve you from your sins … The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.’ And this is the reality – the burden of those past sins has been taken from us and we can come to know inner peace. 

As Jesus said the evening before He died, this peace is ‘a peace the world cannot give’ (John 14:27). 

Nevertheless, sometimes life may put us in situations that are completely unjust. We can experience hurt and we cannot understand why – there is no way to make sense of the situation, because it does not make sense. At these times, a heroic level of forgiveness may be asked of us. We need to keep our eyes and hearts firmly on Jesus and realise that this is exactly what He went through. Never was such a grave injustice done to anyone as happened to Him, and yet His prayer was: ‘Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). 

While this is a difficult prayer to say when a grave injustice is being done, it goes to the depths of what our faith is about. Even if people are intentionally hurting us, they may not fully know what they are doing. To pray ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’ is to enter into the mystery of redemption with Jesus and to trust that, in the end, His love and sacrifice will win out.

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Contemplation

Contemplation is difficult to write about. As it is a wordless form of prayer, how do we find words to describe it? It is a concept-less form of prayer, so how do we find the concepts to explain it? 

We are in the realm of mystery – God’s mysterious way of communicating with the soul. It is because of its very intimacy that it goes beyond words. As with an embrace, words are not necessary, but very deep communication is happening nevertheless. As we are on holy ground, we have to remove the sandals from our feet (Exodus 3:5) leaving behind our finite ideas which seek to contain God within our own understanding. 

And yet, we should bear in mind that while contemplation is beyond concepts, it is not something that happens in a vacuum, nor are we trying to empty our minds. For St Clare and St Francis, their prayer, as with their whole lives, was centred on the person of Christ. St Clare put it beautifully when she wrote, ‘totally love Him who gave Himself totally for your love’

Contemplation is beyond concepts because Jesus Christ is not a concept, but a person, a divine person. We seek an encounter with the One who loves us. It is a relationship that we are cultivating here, not mindlessness. Therefore, in this type of prayer, we try to put ourselves in His Presence and rest there. The prophet Hosea expressed it well when he said, ‘I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart’ (Hosea 2:16). Blessed John Henry Newman put it more succinctly: ‘ Heart speaks to heart .’ 

At the very heart of contemplation, we allow God to work out a transformation within us. As St Clare wrote to St Agnes of Prague:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! 
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! 
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance 
and through contemplation transform your entire being 
into the image of the Godhead Itself.

St Clare captures very well what this type of prayer is about. She speaks about contemplation as bringing about the transformation of our entire being into God Himself. The words she uses make it seem as if we do this work of transformation. In fact, she is well aware that only God can accomplish this within us. That is why she says ‘through contemplation’ because contemplation is God’s work within us. Earlier in the quotation, she asked St Agnes to ‘place’ herself three times before the Lord – place her mind, place her soul and place her heart. It is only in our surrendering of these faculties to God that He can carry out this work. When this happens, we can co-operate with God so that this transformation can take place. 

The goal of contemplation for St Clare is to allow ourselves to be open to the work of God, so that we may ‘feel what His friends feel’ and ‘taste the hidden sweetness’ of God. 

When we start to practise this type of prayer, we find that we have all sorts of distractions. We are so used to being busy, that our minds are constantly processing things. When we try to quieten down, suddenly all the things we have to do come to mind. The really important thing is not to worry too much about this – just let those thoughts go and, as St Clare says, ‘place your mind’ again before the Lord. He knows the way we operate and He just wants us to keep gently handing over everything to Him. If we imagine our prayer as a river, then these ‘thoughts’ are merely bits of things floating along – that’s just the way it is. We don’t want to grab on to them, we just see them and let them go. 

It may seem strange to propose this to people with busy lives. It is true that it can take time to cultivate this type of prayer, because it is based on developing a relationship with Christ. Obviously, it is more effective if we give quality time to this. However, once you have started, it is possible to ‘check in’ at any time. It is like making a quick call or sending a text – it says I am still here and want to connect. The first friars had no fixed houses and so couldn’t talk about ‘houses of prayer’, so St Francis, who was often on the move, drew on the tradition of the early monasteries and talked about entering the ‘cell’ of his heart. For St Francis, every friar was in himself a ‘house of prayer’. He said, ‘The body is our cell; and the soul is the hermit that lives in the cell in order to pray to God and to meditate’ (Mirror of Perfection , 65). When he was travelling, he used to wrap his cloak about him in order to pray. For us, there are often moments when we can simply close our eyes and lift our hearts up to the Lord.

It is important to stress that this type of prayer is not about feelings. The action of God operates at a level that is deeper than the senses. We may have pleasant feelings or we may not – it doesn’t matter, because this prayer is about love, real love. It requires us to be faithful. Love is a decision. We make a commitment and then take what comes. We need to be careful not to try to measure our ‘success’ and we should certainly never evaluate our prayer by our feelings. When you are down, don’t give up. 

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Commitment

So far, we have reflected on the significance of prayer for our lives. It is vitally important for serenity in our souls that the way we pray is mirrored in the reality of what is happening in our lives. If these things are out of sync, then we begin to lack authenticity and may find it leads to disharmony within. Our lives should be a sign of what we believe interiorly. St Clare urges us to praise God by our very lives (3rd Letter to St Agnes 41) and so genuine prayer, which requires commitment, spills over into our lives. 

Looking at how St Clare gently led her friend St Agnes, we see that the main way to have our prayer in harmony with our life is to be clearly focused on the Lord and to try to stay committed to whatever we begin. There is a general fear of commitment today, but it is very true that in being dedicated, we grow and mature. St Clare herself kept before her eyes the ‘one thing necessary’ (Luke 10:42), as Jesus said to Martha, and she can even say, ‘I bear witness to that one thing and encourage you, for love of Him to whom you have offered yourself as a holy and pleasing sacrifice, that you always be mindful of your commitment’ (2nd Letter to St Agnes 10). 

What follows is so beautiful, we let St Clare speak to us herself:

What you hold, may you hold. What you do, may you do and not stop. But with swift pace, light step, unswerving feet, so that even your steps stir up no dust, may you go forward securely, joyfully and swiftly, on the path of prudent happiness, believing nothing, agreeing with nothing that would dissuade you from this commitment or would put a stumbling block for you on the    way, so nothing prevents you from offering your vows to the Most High in the perfection to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you.
2nd Letter to St Agnes 1 1 –14 


Prayer

St Clare, we ask for the grace, through your intercession,
of being focused and single-minded.
Help us to remember how much God loves us.
May we be true to the commitments we have made and not be afraid.
May we have courage, when this is needed,
and go forward in hope as you said,
securely, joyfully and swiftly’,
on the path of prudent happiness,
so that we may glorify God by our lives.
Amen.

 

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Hearts Delight

"If you find your delight in the Lord, he will give you your hearts desire." (Psalm 36; 4)

How do I "find my delight in the Lord"?

This Psalm continues with practical advice as to how to do this: 

Commit your life to the Lord, 
Trust in Him and He will act 

This involves allowing Jesus into your life. He loves you passionately, and inviting Him in gives Him a chance to show this. You could use a prayer like this: 
Jesus, I find life confusing sometimes. I often find it hard to trust. I know that you love me. At least, I have heard that this is true. I give my life to you now. Please come in and show your love to me. Fill the empty places of my heart with your love and healing. I want to trust You, and so I entrust myself completely to you.

Be still before the Lord and wait in patience 

Having given yourself to Jesus, you need to spend time getting to know Him. Take time out each day, even 10 minutes, to spend with Him. Talk to Him as you would to any friend, because He is your best friend. Tell Him all that is on your mind. And, as with any friendship, don’t do all the talking, but spend time listening to Him.

Calm your anger and forget your rage; 
Do not fret, it only leads to evil.
 

Often when we start letting Jesus into our lives, we realize how broken we are inside. We need to let the Lord in to heal the broken areas of our hearts. We need to start letting Him guide us, so that we can stop worrying. It is a process and takes time, so, while praying about these things, why not see if you can talk to a priest or someone who can help and guide you.

It is good to get in contact with young people in your locality and Church, and if possible to attend a prayer meeting. The support and friendship of others is so important.

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Always be lovers of God, of your souls and the souls of your sisters.


From the Blessing of St. Clare