Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prolonging one's prayer

As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,

Israel had the better of the fight,
but when he let his hands rest,
Amalek had the better of the fight.
Exodus 17

Prayer ought to be short and pure, unless it be prolonged by the inspiration of Divine grace. -Saint Benedict

Monsignor Pope Has another insightful post on the wiles of Satan which can ensnare the pious.

I always appreciate Monsignor's insights and spiritual counsels.  His latest post is very good, as are the comments - especially as regards devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.

Nevertheless Monsignor's first precaution caught me off guard - I think I know what he meant when he wrote:
[Satan] can discourage you with prayer by saying, “If only you would pray a little longer, God will give you what you seek.” But the deception is that if we can pray a little longer, then we can never have prayed enough. Thus though we pray, we only feel guilty and inadequate. And since we can never have prayed “enough,” prayer increasingly turns into a burdensome task; God becomes a cruel taskmaster demanding longer and more precise prayers. Or prayer becomes a superstitious endeavor whose outcome we somehow control by the length and type of our prayers. Jesus counsels us that the Father knows what we need and that we should not think that merely multiple words and pious actions are necessary. We may need to persevere in prayer over time, but God is not a cruel tyrant demanding endless incantations. - Monsignor Pope

Like I said, I think I know what he meant, but it seems to me that sometimes it is very good to prolong one's prayer.  Our Lord gave examples of this in the Gospel teaching on perseverance in prayer, the story of the neighbor asking his friend in the night for something, the widow pestering the dishonest judge, the blind man calling out repeatedly, and more dramatically, Our Lord himself in his agony in the garden before his arrest.

The saints have done likewise - keeping vigils, going on pilgrimage, and so on.  Teresa of Avila remained in prayer at the foot of the statue of the Scourged Christ, telling him she would not move until he granted her the grace of conversion she needed.
Sometimes as soon as you start to pray, you pray well; at other times, in spite of great exertion, you do not reach your goal. This is to make you exert yourself still more, so that, having gained the gift of prayer, you keep it safe. - Evagrius Ponticus
I've experienced prolonging my prayer as a good, especially in my thanksgiving after Communion.  It seemed to me a necessary means to properly thank Our Lord for the grace that he should come to dwell in me - since in Holy Communion we actually receive the entire Christ within our soul.  It is also  an excellent way to learn, to acquire and practice, the prayer of recollection.  Likewise, after the rosary, or lectio it seems to me that to remain quietly in the presence of God is a way to enter more deeply into this prayer of recollection.  Many times the effect of prolonging one's prayer is to return to one's daily activities in a more recollected manner - that is, we can go about our duties more conscious of the presence of God.
Do not be distressed if you do not at once receive from God what you ask. He wishes to give you something better - to make you persevere in your prayer. For what is better than to enjoy the love of God and to be in communion with Him? - Evagrius Ponticus
Scripture tells us to pray unceasingly, and this prayer of recollection seems to me to be the ordinary means to accomplish that without self-love, self-interest or spiritual pride.  In the Eastern Church they use the Jesus Prayer, in our tradition we can use the same means to practice the prayer of recollection - although it is not necessary.  It is very simple to accustom ourselves to the prayer of recollection - a habit which prepares us for the habitual prayer of recollection.

“For this is not a supernatural state, but depends upon our own action and by God’s favor, we can enter it of our own accord” -Way of Perfection

I'm not contradicting Monsignor and I'm not at all pretending to instruct anyone on how to pray, but it has been my experience that prolonging one's prayer is good to do from time to time.  Especially since contemporary life militates against prayer and recollection - even in churches, before, during and after Mass.  Yet I have found, even in the noisiest churches that one can recollect oneself and remain quietly in the presence of God.

Do not rouse, do not disturb love until it is ready ...
- Song of songs


  1. Yes isn't the Ignatius way to prolong ones prayer - I rather thought the devil might tempt one to give up sooner. But I expect Mgr Pope reminds us not to get over-scrupulous - balance might be the key..not that i'd know being an unbalanced sort - what?

    1. ' being an unbalanced sort' - me too.


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