“The tree is known by its fruit,” says our Lord in the Gospel (Mt 12:33).
If our prayer is genuine, it will bear fruit: it will make us humbler, gentler, more patient, more trusting, etc. It will bring all the “fruits of the Spirit” little by little to flower in our lives.
St. Paul gives a list in the Letter to the Galatians: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle ness, self-control …” (Gal 5:22–23).
Above all, genuine prayer will make us love God and our neighbor more. Charity is the fruit and the ultimate criterion of every prayer life. “If I have not love, I am nothing,” asserts St. Paul forcefully (1 Cor 13:1–3).
Without wishing to deny the absolute priority of this criterion (though I would ask: is it possible to measure the degree of our love?), I believe that for practical purposes we won’t go wrong if we take peace as the criterion.
People’s prayer lives can be said to be basically “on track” if they experience them as a place of quiet, a place where they find peace. They can say:
My prayer isn’t wonderful, I’m far from being one of the great mystics, I often have distractions and times of dryness; most of the time I don’t feel very much, and I certainly don’t claim to have reached the pinnacle of the spiritual life.
Despite that, I recognize that for me, the fact of keeping these regular appointments with our Lord is producing an effect of inner pacification. This peace is not something I always feel with the same intensity, but it is often the result of my times of prayer.
These times of prayer enable me to be more tranquil, more confident, to stand back from my problems and worries, and not be so traumatized by the difficulties that weigh me down …
And I feel that this peacefulness, this objectivity about my worries, is not the fruit of my reflections or any psychological efforts I may make, but comes as a gift, a grace.
Sometimes it comes quite unexpectedly: I might have every reason to be stressed, and suddenly my heart receives a sense of tranquility that I know very well is not produced by myself. It comes from Someone else… .
If we think carefully about this, we see that it could not be otherwise: God is an ocean, an abyss of peace. If our prayer is sincere and really brings us into communion with Him, part of that divine peace cannot fail to be transmitted to us.
In God there is an intensity of life whose power we cannot begin to measure: “The Lord your God is a devouring fire” (Dt 4:24). And at the same time, there is in God a gentleness and peace of infinite depth, which is at least in part bestowed upon our hearts when we hold ourselves in humble openness to Jis presence.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28); “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).
This gift of inner peace is a precious one, because in this aura of peace love can grow. This peace makes us ready for the work of grace and facilitates our discernment of situations and decisions that need to be taken.
Obviously it is not always experienced in the same way; it is normal for us to have ups and downs in this area, to go through times of trial in which we find ourselves filled with worry and cannot easily rid ourselves of it.
But my statement remains true: if, taken altogether, in the long term, we experience our prayer life as a habitual source of inner peace, it is a very good sign.
On the other hand, in the absence of that experience we should ask ourselves some questions. This is a sign that we are not praying enough or that our inner dispositions are not what they should be.
In such cases it seems to me necessary that we open our hearts to a spiritual companion or guide. I would add in conclusion that one of the most valuable fruits of prayer is purity of heart. Prayer contains a great power of inner purification.
In prayer, the heart is calmed, simplified, and redirected toward God. What is a pure heart, if not a heart entirely turned toward God, in the trusting desire to love him truly and do his whole will?
“You cannot teach what you do not know yourselves. Teach them to love God, to love Christ, to love our Mother the Church and the pastors of the Church who are your guides. Love the catechism and teach your children to love it; it is the great handbook of the love and fear of God, of Christian wisdom and of eternal life.” -Pope Pius XII
As summer wanes, the gardens are ripe with flowers, the Mary Garden is peaceful and lovely. Come, take a short walk with me….
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