Building the Future Priest: Man of Prayer

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Prayer: The Necessary Pipe-Line for Grace

Christ stated that prayer is necessary for salvation.

In no uncertain terms did he give a clear command: “And he spoke also a parable to them that we ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1); “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation”(Mt.6:9; 7:7; Lk.11:9; Jn.16:26; Col.4:2; Rom.12:12; 1 Peter 4:7). 

The truly Christian spirit of a man is christified by the life of Christ become mysteriously but really present through the sacraments and the spirit of the liturgy.

This spirit marks his existence with a Christ-centred sense of time and eternity; he acquires the rhythm of Christian existence that seals his living as that of a man heading forward towards Eternity; his mind is anchored to the ultimate truths that make him steadfast amid the storms; his heart is fired to love by the heroic Savior with whose thoughts, sentiments, and ideals he bonds intimately through the liturgical words, symbols and rituals;

The Ignatian begins to form himself as a man of prayer by looking long and intently at Christ Crucified. For the crucifix has always been the rousing battle-cry for all those who would be comrades-in-arms of the Hero.

One of those true comrades was the spiritual son of St. Ignatius Loyola, a seminarian who died heroically on the battlefield, Aloysius Gonzaga. This talented and tough-as-steel Renaissance son of a powerful Italian dynasty, grew up surrounded by intrigue and decadence in an environment that would later see the murder of his own brother Ridolfo and the stabbing of his own mother).He could easily have become a decadent murderous Italian prince.  But he didn’t because he encountered the Crucified Hero.

Paintings rarely do justice to this tough young man but there is one that lets us in on the secret of his heart. In a corner of the Gregorian University I often had the opportunity to look at a painting of Aloysius as a seminarian gazing at the crucifix and holding in his hand the symbol of purity, a lily.  Admiration for the Wounded Hero had led to closeness, closeness had led to love, love had burned within him to a white heat – and exploded in sacred chastity. “For love loves unto purity”(George MacDonald). Aloysius had found in the relationship with Jesus Christ the satisfaction of all the archetypal masculine desires.

The starting point for union with the Lord Jesus Christ and for the strength to live out sacred chastity is a gaze, a long steady gaze frequently repeated, at the Crucified Hero: here lies the fountain of this love, indeed the exclusive fountain. And the gaze has a name: “mental prayer”.

Then will our hearts burn like that of Aloysius and so many others. Then will we cry out in prayer: “And the fire that breaks from thee, then, a billion times more lovelier, more dangerous, o my Chevalier!” (G.M.Hopkins). Then we will also exclaim like St. Augustine:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you!  For behold you were within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that you have made.  You were with me and I was not with you.  I was kept from you by those things, yet had they not been in you, they would not have been at all.  You did call and cry to me and break open my deafness: and you did send forth your beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness: You did breath fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you: I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you: You did touch me, and I have burned for your peace”. –St.Augustine

The Oxygen of  the  creative spirit: Mental Prayer

Just as the brain needs oxygen to function, knowledge of the truths of the Faith need prayer. How is it that very knowledgable and intelligent priests can preach well-crafted sermons and yet leave us unmoved while a not so gifted priest who has struggled to put together his words inflames our hearts and minds for years afterwards? Prayer! The man transforms the waters of the truths of Faith in the power station of prayer –  daily mental prayer!

Throughout history, such priests  stun the world with their initiatives.

How could it be otherwise? Did He not say “Without me you can do nothing”. Prayer is the law of supernatural construction: If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor” (Psalm 126?) because “Car c’est l’action de Dieu qui produit en vous la volonté et l’action…” Ph. 2,13. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit creates that  holy restlessness that was in Jeremiah: “It was like a fire burning within me”  as well as conferring the gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge and the the virtues of wise judgment, courage, self-conquest and justice that change little men into giants.(cf virtues in Tanq)

Impassioned Lover: “The Love of Christ impels me!” (2 Corinthians 5:14)

If you keep gazing for long enough at Jesus Crucified , like St. John Bosco you also will “make a deal” with God:“Da mihi animas et coetera tolle” (“Give me souls and take away all else!”).

Like St. Paul you will become restless: “The love of Christ drives me onwards”.

Whether they were contemplatives or actives, passionates or phlegmatics, high IQs or average, the logic of Christ  led them to the conclusion that life was about love of Christ and love meant action.

“There is no joy in Heaven over empty churches” (St.Augustine) – so  the saints spend their lives filling them!  That is why one could merit  the title “Snatcher of souls” (St. Andrew Bobola) and another could say: “If I were on the doorstep of Heaven and even one sinner were just then to ask me to hear his confession, I would not enter.”( St. Philip Neri). 

At 23 years of age Fr.Giuseppe Sarto, later Pope Pius X, was ordained priest. He was assigned to the town of Tombolo. Rosa, his sister, commented that he was “in perpetual motion” – and that included the night time when she complained that he used up too mnay candles studying and reading. Frequently, the pastor, Don Costantini, on awakening amid early morning darkness, would notice that his young assistant’s room was bright with candlelight. “When do you sleep?” asked the pastor’s niece one day. “Oh, all I need is a little sleep”, replied the young priest. “I read a lot.” His niece decided to pry a little further: “Tell me, what is your idea of sleeping as long as you want to, Don Beppo?” After a pregnant pause, she got her answer: “Four hours” he said.” (Katherine Burton, The Great Mantle)