by Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J., Progress in Divine Union
Fidelity during the hours of prayer engenders an almost natural facility in prayer at other times. While this is not its only advantage, it is one that is valuable and easy to understand. The very act of forcing ourselves to spend generously at the feet of God the moments that our life, if intelligently planned, allots to prayer, brings us during that time to a degree of intimate divine union.
Were this the only result, our gain would be immense. If, in conversation with a sincere friend, we find enrichment, how much more we can expect from converse with our Friend above all friends. Prayer brings into view new horizons of thought.
When we have been absorbed in a divine atmosphere for some time – and let us hope that this time is never grudgingly given – our whole being becomes penetrated with the divine: our intellect dwells on the supernatural, our feelings are caught up by the supernatural, and our imagination fixes itself on the supernatural.
Little by little, the supernatural becomes the normal atmosphere of our soul. God, Christ, and the Blessed Virgin are no longer mere names but living personalities. The presence of the Holy Trinity in the depths of our soul, the life of the Savior in the Host, the marvel of the immense and fruitful communion of souls in the state of grace, are no longer nebulous theories but vital realities.
The kingdom of God, which our Lord told us is within, is no longer an accessory in our life, but it is our very life. “First things first, and all other things in their place,” becomes our principle, with the result that all the human affairs of everyday existence assume their proper place, which is by far not the first.
Our soul accustoms itself to live in truth, that is, in the divine. Our feet rest solidly on the earth but our conversation, that is, the whole tenor of our life, is in Heaven. The supernatural takes precedence over the natural. Our efforts to approach divine realities constrain divine realities to respond, and by the normal workings of habit, they begin to control us, to dominate us.
If one tries often and for long periods to adapt himself to a certain climate, he will eventually feel as if the climate has adapted itself to him, becoming a part of his existence.
We are all familiar with the expression “master an idea”; it would be much better to say, “Be mastered by an idea.” Prayer achieves this for us. It establishes union with God not only while we pray, but makes this union relatively easy for us, in keeping with our character and occupations, even when we are not explicitly occupied with prayer.
Consider again a conversation with a friend. Once the conversation has ended, the contact is not broken; it is less lively, perhaps, less real, more diffuse, but effective still. Multiple memories arise: the words spoken, the dear face, the continued sense of the happiness of being together.
Our friend has gone and yet remains. No one else sees him, but we never cease seeing him, and all that we do, we do in the light of his invisible presence, just as a young wife finds her whole house brightened by her husband band even when he is away at work.
When we deal with our divine Friend, the supernatural action of grace cooperates with the normal and human workings of habit. God never allows Himself to be outdone in generosity. He seeks those who seek Him. He pursues with His attentions the soul that places its happiness in loving Him or at least puts forth effort to give Him, whenever it can, a proof of love.
When we exert ourselves in prayer to think only of Him, He comes to us in the midst of our occupations. That is characteristic of the Holy Spirit. He is magnificently grateful, reciprocating a hundredfold every little attention we pay Him.
Of course, it is true, as was suggested before, that our occupations, some of which are so absorbing, our disposition and temperament frequently so unstable, our imagination and feelings constantly active, are sometimes helps and very often hindrances to these divine contacts, these occasional and fleeting communications.
But the law holds: to pray sometimes helps to pray often; nothing more readily develops the spirit of prayer than prayer; nothing so impels God to unite Himself to us at every moment as our resolute effort to meet Him at fixed times for prayerful repose close to His Heart. We must not expect God to make all the advances; we, too, must expend some effort.
Before we try to arrive at an intelligent understanding of what this effort means, we will give some thought to the meaning of prayer. Our “elevation toward God,” which is prayer, can take place in three ways.
In its weakest form, it consists simply in being in the state of grace. According to many authors, all acts placed when this fundamental state of union exists and the soul possesses divine life can justifiably be called prayer.
Others claim that to have prayer, in the strict sense of the word, there must be in addition to the fundamental state of grace an intention of elevation toward God. This intention can be actual or virtual. It is actual if formulated at the moment one starts to act: “My God, I offer You this work,” whether the words be said explicitly or implied by an equivalent act.
It is virtual if it has been formulated at a time considerably antecedent to the beginning of the act it elevates to God. For example, in the morning on arising we can direct to the Most High through the Morning Offering, or any other formula, all the activity of the day. Then, as the hours and minutes roll by, the various actions rise in homage to God. We may, too, from time to time throughout the day, think of raising our mind and heart to God.
At the time we make these intentions, the Morning Offering, and the other periodic offerings, they are clearly actual; their effect of “elevation” governs virtually the length of time that follows until the next actual intention. In this way, strong states and weak states follow upon one another to constitute a continuous and almost constant elevation of the soul.
What we would like to stress here is the manner of making the good intention as constantly actual as possible. We know that “to pray always” does not command us to a state of constant actual elevation exclusively, and that the majority of souls united to God live rather in a state of virtual elevation.
Our Lord does not require continuous acts of union that, we might say, are for the most part impossible, but a continuous state of offering. In other words, God asks not so much for constant attention to Him as for the constant intention to do nothing that is not wholly for Him.
We will not rest satisfied with a virtual intention only, but seek to attain a union with God that is morally constant and actual. We say morally constant, because, clearly, aside from special graces, our capacity for attention, even when wisely and consistently disciplined, is too weak and our occupations in many instances are too distracting to permit the twin effort necessary to think at one and the same time of what we are doing and of God, for whom we work.
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As Sr. Lucia of Fatima said this is a time of diabolical disorientation. We find an amazing type or image of this in the life of St. John of the Cross. To conquer this inversion, as St. John did, we must remain firm and steadfast in our faith and employ the power of the Most Holy Trinity in casting the devil out of our lives. This is always done through the making of the Sign of the Cross…
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Very thoughtful reading. The saints were constantly elevated… Even when I don’t mean to, the items of the day just come crowding in at prayer time :(… Ehhhh much to work on. 😉 thank you!