Summary of Thirsting for Prayer by Fr. Jacques Philippe

Introduction

“What the world most needs today is prayer. It is prayer that will give birth to all the renewals, healings, deep and fruitful transformations we all want for society today. This world of ours is very sick, and only contact with heaven will be able to cure it. The most useful thing for the Church to do today is to give people a thirst for prayer and teach them to pray” (v).

Part 1: What Is at Stake in Prayer

“The first thing that should motivate us and encourage us to enter into a life of prayer is that God himself is inviting us to do it” (7).230041779947.jpg

“God invites us, so to speak, to “waste time” on him, and that is enough. It will be a ‘fruitful waste,’ in the words of St. Therese of Lisieux. There is an aspect of gratuitousness which is absolutely essential in any prayer life. Paradoxically, the more our prayer is gratuitous – done freely, not to get something out of it – the more it will bear fruit” (9).

Always keeping in mind this principle of gratuitousness, here are 7 other reasons that justify the time we dedicate to prayer.

1. God comes 1st in our lives.

“Faithfulness to prayer is what effectively ensures that we can give this central place to God in specific ways” (9).

“Faithfulness to prayer is extremely valuable because it helps us to preserve the element of gratuitousness in our lives” (11).

2. Loving freely, not for what we get out of it.

Wasting our time for God in prayer is an attitude of loving freely, and not for our own benefit:

“To pray is to spend time freely with God just for the joy of being together” (12).

3. A foretaste of the Kingdom.

“In prayer, we learn here on earth what our activity and delight will be for all eternity: to rejoice totally in the beauty of God and for the glory of the Kingdom” (14).

“If we persevere in prayer, we taste from time to time an inexpressible happiness: a degree of peace and fulfillment that are a real foretaste of paradise” (13).

4. Knowing God and knowing ourselves.

Prayer is essential to know the living and true God who has a personal and unique love for each one of His children:

“Each one of us has the right to say: “God loves me as he loves nobody else in the world!” (23).

This knowledge of God as Father gives us access to know ourselves: “We have access to our deepest identity only in the light of God, as we appear in the eyes of our heavenly Father… Over and above our sins and failings, we discover that we are God’s children” (19).

“Our true identity is not so much a reality to be constructed as a gift to be received” (19).

5. Compassion for our neighbour is born of prayer.

“One of the most beautiful fruits of prayer (and a way of discerning whether prayer is genuine) is that it makes our love for our neighbour grow… Prayer makes us see and share in the infinite love God has for everyone He has created” (26).

“It is an evident truth that the more people’s souls are united to God by love, the greater grows their compassion for their neighbour” (26).

6. Prayer, a path of freedom.

“Faithfulness to prayer, even if it passes through difficult stages, times of dryness and trial, leads us progressively to find in God the deep peace, security, and happiness, that makes us free in relation to other people” (29).

7. Prayer unifies our lives.

“With time and fidelity, prayer is revealed as a wonderful “unifier” of our lives… everything ultimately becomes positive… everything is “summed up” in Christ and becomes grace. Everything makes sense and become part of a path of growth in love” (31).

“Love is so powerful in works that it is able to bring profit out of everything, out of the good and the evil it finds in me.” (St. Therese of Lisieux)

Part 2: Conditions for Prayer to be Fruitful

“What will enable our prayer life to bring about a real encounter with God and produce abundant, lasting fruit as a result?” (33).

“To evaluate our life of prayer, we can take two different starting points: its fruits and the way we set about praying” (34).

733331d24028fdc4f4bcf278497e52cc.jpg1. Charity is the ultimate measure.

“If our prayer is genuine, it will bear fruit: it will make us humbler, gentler, more patient, more trusting… all the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Above all, genuine prayer will make us love God and our neighbour more” (35).

“Charity is the fruit and the ultimate criterion of every prayer life (1 Cor 13:1-3)” (35).

2. Prayer as a place to find inner peace.

For practical purposes, Fr. Philippe takes peace as the criterion (since it is difficult to measure the degree of our love): “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” (35).

“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” (37).

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3. The dispositions that make prayer fruitful.

1. Fidelity: In regards to the way we set about praying, “fidelity should be a principle quality of prayer” (37).

“Jesus did not ask us to pray well; he asks us to pray without ceasing! Faithfulness (if, of course, it is not just routine, but is motivated by a sincere desire to find God, please him, and love him) will produce all the rest. The main battle in the prayer life is perseverance” (37).

2. Faith, hope, and love: Rather than focusing on particular techniques, “our prayer will be good and fruitful if it is based on faith, hope, and love” (39).

“The firmer our faith, the more confident our hope, the stronger our desire to love, the more our prayer will unite us to God and bear fruit” (69).

“Even if we do not feel anything special, even if our imagination and intelligence are empty or a little distracted, as long as we are holding ourselves in God’s presence with those dispositions of the heart, sometimes reduced to a single attitude of loving trust, our prayer will be fruitful” (69-70).

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1. Faith.

Prayer is essentially an act of faith because “the more faith a soul has, the more he or she is united to God” (St. John of the Cross).

Faith, “a secret disposition of the heart and will, a simple adherence to God’s word and promises, in an attitude of submission and trust” (50), “is expressed, renewed, purified, and strengthened when exercised in prayer” (40).

“It does not matter what you feel or don’t feel, what you understand or can’t understand. If your feelings and your intelligence do not give God to you, faith will. It is enough to make a humble, sincere act of faith for you to be in contact with God from that moment, with absolute certainty. Faith, and faith alone, establishes real contact with the living presence of God. When everything else is lacking, faith is sufficient” (47-8).

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2. Hope.

“Prayer is an act of hope: it means recognizing that we need God, can’t manage by ourselves when faced with all life’s challenges, rely on God more than our own resources and talents, and trust him to give us what we need. In prayer, our hope is expressed and, in consequence, deepened and strengthened” (52).

Hope transforms the painful and inevitable experience of our radical poverty into a confident reliance on God alone to receive everything we need: “One obtains from God as much as one hopes for” (St. John of the Cross).

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3. Love.

“Prayer is a precious place for love to be exercised, and hence deepened and purified. It is a marvelously effective school of love. It is a school of patience, faithfulness, humility, and trust, and these attitudes are the most genuine expressions of true love” (53).

“Prayer is a school of: love of God (letting ourselves be loved by Him and responding to that love), love for our neighbours (intercession, makes us more loving towards them, brings them closer to God when we go closer), love for ourselves (prayer brings us the greatest possible benefits)” (53-55).

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Part 3: The Presence of God

Since praying is welcoming God’s presence, it is helpful to meditate about the different ways in which God, although hidden, makes himself present to us when we search for him with loving faith.

“The only way to bring him out of his hiding place is by searching for him with love. Faith and love “break his cover,” whereas all other means are useless. God cannot be found and possessed except by faith and love, because he does not want to be united to us in any other way except a loving encounter” (72).

“God reveals himself to us not through manifestations or compelling proofs, but through signs that are often unobtrusive, clues, calls, arousing a free adherence of faith on our part” (72).

1. God’s presence in naturesunrise.jpg

“God first speaks to us in his creation. He expresses his goodness, power, and wisdom through the world around us” (73). Although completely distinct from creation, “in nature we can recognize an imprint of God’s love” (74).

“Nature contemplated with the eyes of faith has great power to console and strengthen us… so let’s learn to make use of it. Contact with nature can easily become a way of accepting the wise, loving presence of God in our lives and nurturing our love and trust” (76).

2. God gives himself in the humanity of Christ

Jesus-2“In the plan of salvation at the heart of Christianity, the essential means by which God makes himself present to mankind is the humanity of Christ (see Colossians 2:9)” (77).

Everything that in one way or another places us in contact with the humanity of Christ brings us into the presence of God: invoking the name of Jesus, meditating on his actions and his words, gazing at an icon or crucifix, speaking heart-to-heart with Jesus, Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary, etc.

3. God’s presence in our hearts0b18848180565e46af6cf101369bfa63.jpg

“One of the aspects of God’s presence most decisive with regard to our prayer life is God’s presence in our hearts. By baptism, the whole Blessed Trinity comes to live in us and God’s presence is revealed and intensified as our faith and love grow” (79).

“The simple but absolutely fundamental consequence of this truth is that recollection – entering into ourselves – is an essential dimension of prayer. We withdraw into ourselves in order to meet God who lives there” (79).

Acquire the habit of doing this in a sustained way during our times of mental prayer, but also briefly and frequently in the course of our ordinary working day. Little by little, this will transform our lives by our true treasure within.

St. Teresa of Avila says that her prayer life was revolutionized when she discovered the presence of God within her.

“You yourself are the place in which he dwells, you are his hiding-place… What more can you desire, dear soul? What do you seek outside, given that you possess in yourself your riches, your pleasures, your joy, your fulfillment and your kingdom, that is, the Beloved to whom you aspire and who is the object of all your searching? Rejoice, exult in your inner recollection, in the company of him who is so close to you. Adore him within yourself and never try to find him outside” (St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle B, I, 6-8).

4. Praying the Word

“God communicates himself through the words of the Bible. God lives in his word; receiving it and meditating on it in our hearts means that we are welcoming the gift of his presence and his love” (84-5).

1280x1280.jpg“One of the lovely things about the Bible is that God not only addresses us, speaking to our hearts, but also gives us words in which to respond. The Psalms, for instance, contain inexhaustible riches for expressing our prayer and helping us find the right attitude toward God. Holy Scripture is thus the basis for all genuine dialogue with God. The more our prayer life is nourished on Scripture, the more truthful and profound it will be, and the more it will entail a genuine encounter with God” (85).

“Meditating on Scripture is much more than reflecting on a text and getting ideas from it; it is welcoming, in a process of prayer and faith, a Presence that gives itself to us. Simply ruminating on single verses of Scripture, if we do it with faith and love, can draw us into profound communion with God” (87).

5. Word and discernment

“Regular reading on the Word of God is vital because it alone can shed light on the truth of our lives” (89). the-word-is-a-mirror.jpg

Scripture is like a mirror that enables us to know ourselves truly, both the good and the bad.

“The Bible alone can bring about a deep work of discernment and truthfulness in our lives. It is not we who work on the Bible but the Bible that works on us… This enlightenment can only come little by little, but it is a real experience” (90).

“What makes possible this inner illumination that gives us access to the riches of the Word? I think the essential thing is a genuine desire for conversion. If we read Scripture while praying, confident that God is awaiting us there, and in a sincere desire for his Word to touch our hearts, show us our sins, lead us to a true conversion, and if we are resolved to put into practice what he tells us, then Scripture will be illuminated for us. That is the main secret of exegesis” (90-91).

“Let us never forget that the treasures of Scripture do not open themselves up to the wise and prudent as much as to those who are seeking just one thing: to love God more and be converted to the Gospel” (91).

6. The Word as a weapon for the fight

bible-with-sword.jpgHoly Scripture is an indispensable help for getting through the combats and trials of this life. Only by relying on the authority and power of the Word of God can we disarm the devil. Only by faithfully clinging to the Word of God can we find strength and support in times of doubt and confusion.

“Do not allow a single day to go by, then, without taking at least a few minutes to meditate on a passage of Scripture. It may sometimes appear to be dry or obscure, but if we read it faithfully, in simplicity and prayer, it will sink deep into our memory without our even realizing it. And on the day when we need it, in a time of adversity, that verse of some other will return to our minds and will be precisely what we need to recover our hope and peace” (96).

Part IV: Practical Advice for Personal Prayer

1. Outside the time of prayer

“The quality of personal prayer is obviously conditioned by how we live our lives outside our times of prayer… there is a two-way connection between prayer and the rest of life” (97-8). Two points can be stressed.

First, practicing the presence of God: “let’s make the effort to make the whole of our lives little by little into a dialogue with God. Do this simply, being adaptable about it, with no tension, but in a quest for constant communion with him. Not necessarily feeling anything in particular, but bringing into play the attitudes of faith, hope, and love” (98). The-Practice-of-the-Presence-of-God.jpg

This “practice of the presence of God” is the “holiest, most usual and most necessary in the spiritual life… to ensure that all our activities whatsoever are a way of holding little conversations with God… to stop for an instant as often as we can… to make an oratory of our heart, wherein to retire from time to time, to converse with him” (Brother Lawrence).

teresaDM2408_468x377 (1).jpgSecond, the specific exercise of charity is an indispensable condition for growth in our prayer life. “How could we expect to find God and be united to him in prayer, if we are indifferent to the needs of our neighbour?” (100)

“If we are able to discern Jesus’ presence in our brothers and sisters, we will find it easier to discover him also in our prayer. And the opposite is also true” (102).

2. Establishing a rhythm

“If we want to be faithful to prayer, it must find its place in our life’s rhythms. Praying at a particular time of day, reserving a set point in the week for God, etc., should become habitual… without being rigid about it, and always giving priority to urgent demands of charity” (103-4).

“If prayer is a now and then activity, if we put off praying until we have time, we will only pray very little and superficially. To say we don’t have time to pray simply means prayer is not one of our priorities… We shouldn’t let ourselves fall into the trap of the devil, who will always do all he can – and offer a thousand good arguments – to keep us from praying” (103-4).

3. Beginning and end of prayer

In regards to the start of prayer, what counts most is to put ourselves truly in God’s presence. Often, developing our own little “rites” can help achieve this: lighting a candle in front of an icon; invoking the Holy Spirit; reciting a well-loved psalm; etc.

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When putting ourselves in God’s presence is difficult to achieve, Fr. Philippe recommends a sort of “airlock moment” to clear our heads, which can help us rid ourselves of any agitation and enter into prayer: a five-minute walk, some moments of relaxation or deep breathing, a calm cup of tea.

In regards to the end of prayer, Fr. Philippe’s first piece of advice “is, as a general rule, to give as much time to praying as you had decided to give” (106).

  • First, we need to be faithful.
  • Second, remember that the best time of prayer can often happen in the final minutes.
  • Third, we should make some specific resolutions and ask for God’s help in living it out (but never be discouraged if we fail to keep it).
  • Fourth, never be discontented with your prayer but always end with an act of thanksgiving: “We did nothing on our side, but he certainly did something in us, and we can thank him for it with an act of humility and faith” (107).
4. The time of prayer itself

“First of all, the essential thing is to get started and keep going. If we do that with good will and fidelity, God will be able to lead us; we can trust him totally… little by little we will find our own way of praying” (109). Fr. Philippe gives the following suggestions:

On the human and psychological level, use what will favour recollection – a peaceful attentiveness and receptivity towards God. Keep in mind that this is more of an act of the will, of a loving heart, rather than an act of the mind.

On the spiritual level, what’s essential is not the method but the disposition of our heart: faith, hope, love (and the many “unpackings” of it: trust, humility, etc).

In regards to bodily attitudes, since prayer is not a form of corporal penance, avoid uncomfortable positions and favour instead whatever helps recollection. With this in mind, always be open to exteriorizing inner attitudes through “body language”: opening hands, lifting them up, kissing our Bible, etc.

5. When the question “What should I do?” does not arise

Keep asking God for more love in prayer until it becomes your sole occupation. Also, times of great fervour, or distress in our life provides ample material for prayer. In addition, the grace of contemplative prayer gives us no reason to think about what we should do in prayer.

“The more our love for God grows, the less we need to ask what to do during the time of prayer” (114).

6. When we need to be active in our prayer

Other times, the question “What should I do?” arises. When this happens, we need to be active and work at it unless we fall into spiritual laziness and waste our prayer time. Fr. Philippe recommends two methods: Meditating on Scripture & Repetitive Prayer.

7. Meditating on Scripture

Traditionally called lectio divina, this consists of reading Scripture with the aim of finding God and opening ourselves to what he wants to tell us through it here and now (117-8).

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Morning time is usually best – one’s spirit is fresher, better disposed, and this testifies that the most urgent thing in our lives is disposing ourselves to listen to God – an inner attitude of listening. A good place to start is with the passages that the Church gives us for the Readings of the Mass each day.

“Realize that “meditating” in the biblical tradition means not so much reflecting as murmuring, repeating, ruminating. To begin with, it is more of a physical activity than an intellectual one. When a verse attracts our attention, we should not fear to repeat it over and over again, because it is often through such rumination that it will release its deep meaning, what God wants to say to us today through that verse” (122).

The fruitfulness of lectio divina depends far more on our inner attitudes than on the effectiveness of some particular method. Therefore, recollect yourself physically and spiritually and ask God for help. Next, read slowly, applying our mind and heart on what is being read.

“The ultimate goal of the lectio is not to read miles and miles of texts, but to lead us as far as possible into the attitude of contemplative wonder, which nourishes our faith, hope, and love. That is not always given, but when it is, we should be able to interrupt our reading and content ourselves with a simple loving presence before the mystery revealed to us in the text” (123).

“Another piece of advice: in the course of meditation, it is good to make a note of some of the words that have made a particular impression on us in a notebook kept for this purpose. Writing them down helps the Word to penetrate more deeply into our heart and memory” (124).

Once the time of lectio is over, thank our Lord for the time spent with him, ask him for the grace to be able to keep his Word in our heart, and resolve to put into practice the particular lights we have received in this time of meditation (124).

8. Toward continual prayer / Repetitive Prayer

In an effort to respond to our Lord’s call to “pray without ceasing!” (1 Thess 5:17), repetitive prayer, like the “Jesus Prayer” and the Rosary, can be a simple and effective way to pray during set prayer and also outside it, so that prayer can little by little fill the whole of our lives.

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“We should seek to pray constantly, to be always in a state of union with God, of love and adoration, because here is where we find our true life” (126).

Although repetition can become merely mechanical and routine, “it can also mean that love is being inscribed on the soul for as long as it continues” (129).

“The rhythm of repetitive prayer enables a desire, an intention, to be expressed externally through the body and at the same time to take root in the heart” (130).

“Our prayer is called to become not just one activity among others but the fundamental activity of our lives, the very rhythm of our deepest existence, the breathing of our heart, so to speak. Repetitive prayer helps us achieve this, since they are our human effort, our persevering quest, in the hope that God’s grace will grant that for which we ask through our humble, untiring repetition of the same words” (130).

Repetitive prayer is poorer, simpler, rooted in the essentials, a work of the heart rather than the head. Repetitive prayer should be done gently, peacefully, always aware of God’s indwelling presence. Hopefully, these repetitive prayers will become a habit that permeates the day.

The repetition of the Rosary is meant to gently fix our mind’s attention, so that the heart is free to hear God’s Word and keep it and the mind is made more receptive. It is clear from this that the priority must always be accorded to listening over speaking, receiving over doing, openness to the gift over the production of a task.

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“Through Mary’s gentle, motherly hands, the Rosary introduces us into those fundamental attitudes that make our prayer life fruitful: faith, humble hope, and simple, faithful love” (136).

Part V: Prayer of Intercession

“Prayer of petition and intercession has a completely legitimate place in Christian life, as Scripture plainly shows (1 Tim 2:1)” (137).

“Prayer of this kind is one of the most beautiful expressions of trust in God and love for neighbour” (138).

Fr. Philippe speaks about a beautiful mystery in how “God asks us to do his will so that he can also do ours, so that he can have the joy of granting our prayers” (142).

“Our good God will have to fulfill all my wishes in Heaven, because I have never done my own will on earth” (St. Therese of Lisieux)

1. God refuses nothing to people who refuse him nothing.

Intercession for the salvation of the whole world is a fundamental part of the Church’s ministry… we should beg God unceasingly to have mercy on the world.

2. Intercession, a place for struggle and growth

Although it is good to pray for those we are close to, our hearts need to be enlarged to the measure of God’s. We need to enter into the intercession of Jesus himself, who does not cease to present all the needs of mankind to his Father.

3. When God does not seem to hear us

In the mystery of God’s wisdom, all our prayers are eventually answered, perhaps not at the time or in the way we imagine, but when and as God wants, in his plans that surpass our understanding (148). God invites us to be patient while He purifies and educates our hearts

“What is important about intercession is not always its material object, but rather the connection with God established and developed by means of it. That connection will always bear fruit, both for ourselves and for the people for whom we pray” (149).

Although we should be confident in our intercessions, we should also respect the absolute sovereignty of God and maintain a lively awareness of the absolute gratuity of God’s gifts at all times.

“Our prayer should be persevering, trusting, even daring, but always infused with humble submission to God’s will” (151).

“One of the most effective ways to undertake this work of purification, as well as to grow in humility and trust, is to make our prayer of intercession, no matter what its “results,” in the mode of thanksgiving (see Col 4:2-3, Phil 4:6, 1 Tim 2:1). Intercession should always be done “with thanksgiving.” That is necessary for our prayer to have its full depth, truth, and fruitfulness, for it to be a source of blessings for us and for others” (151-2).

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