A Life of Prayer | A Homily by St. Josemaria Escriva
Whenever we feel in our hearts a desire to improve, a desire to respond more generously to Our Lord, and we look for something to guide us, a north star to guide our lives as Christians, the Holy Spirit will remind us of the words of the Gospel that we ‘ought to pray continually and never be discouraged’. Prayer is the foundation of any supernatural endeavour. With prayer we are all powerful; without it, if we were to neglect it, we would accomplish nothing.
I would like us, in our meditation today, to make up our minds once and for all that we need to aspire to become contemplative souls, in the street, in the midst of our work, by maintaining a constant conversation with our God and not breaking it off at any time of the day. If we really want to be loyal followers of our Master, this is the only way.
Let us turn our gaze to Jesus Christ, who is our model, the mirror in which we should see ourselves. How does he act, even in his outward behaviour, in the great moments of his life? What does the holy Gospel tell us about him? I am moved by Our Lord’s habitual attitude of prayer, the way he turns to the Father before beginning his public life, retiring to the desert for forty days and forty nights, to pray.
Forgive me if I insist, but it is very important to note carefully what the Messiah did, because he came to show us the path that leads to the Father. With Our Lord we will discover how to give a supernatural dimension to all our actions, even those that seem least important. We will learn to live every moment of our lives with a lively awareness of eternity, and we will understand more deeply man’s need for periods of intimate conversation with his God, so as to get to know him, to invoke him, to praise him, to break out into acts of thanksgiving, to listen to him or, quite simply, to be with him.
Many years ago, as I reflected upon Our Lord’s way of doing things, I came to the conclusion that the apostolate, of whatever kind it be, must be an overflow of the interior life. This is why the passage which relates how Christ decided to choose the first twelve seems to me to be so natural and at the same time so supernatural. St Luke tells us that before choosing them ‘he spent the whole night in prayer’. Think also of the events at Bethany. Before he raises Lazarus from the dead, after having wept over his friend, he lifts his eyes to heaven and says, ‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.’ This is his message for us: if we wish to help others, if we really wish to encourage them to discover the true meaning of their life on earth, we must base everything on prayer.
There are so many Gospel scenes where Jesus talks to his Father that we cannot stop to consider them all. But I do feel we must pause to consider the intense hours preceding his Passion and Death, when Christ prepares himself to carry out the Sacrifice that will bring us back once more to God’s Love. In the intimacy of the Upper Room the Heart of Jesus overflows with love; he turns to the Father in prayer, announces the coming of the Holy Spirit, and encourages his disciples to maintain the fervour of their charity and their faith.
Our Redeemer’s mood of fervent recollection continues in the Garden of Gethsemani, as he perceives that his Passion is about to begin, with all its humiliation and suffering close at hand, the harsh Cross on which criminals are hanged and which he has longed for so ardently. ‘Father, if it pleases thee, take away this chalice from before me.’ And immediately he adds, ‘Yet not my will but thine be done.’ Later, nailed to the Cross, alone, with his arms opened wide in a gesture of an eternal priest, he continues his dialogue with his Father, ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit.’
Let us also contemplate his blessed Mother, who is our Mother too. We find her on Calvary, at the foot of the Cross, praying. This is nothing new for Mary. She has always acted like this, as she fulfilled her duties and looked after her home. As she went about the things of this earth she kept her attention on God. Christ, who is perfectus Deus, perfectus homo, wanted us also to have the example of his Mother, the most perfect of creatures, she who is full of grace, to strengthen our desire to lift our eyes up to the love of God at every moment. Remember the scene at the Annunciation? The Archangel comes down bearing a divine message — the announcement that Mary is to be the Mother of God — and he finds her withdrawn in prayer. When Gabriel greets her, she is totally absorbed in God. ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.’ A few days later she breaks out into the joy of the Magnificat, a Marian hymn which the Holy Spirit has transmitted to us through the loving faithfulness of St Luke. It reveals Mary’s constant and intimate conversation with God.
Our Mother had meditated deep and long on the words of the holy men and women of the Old Testament who awaited the Saviour, and on the events that they had taken part in. She must have marvelled at all the great things that God, in his boundless mercy, had done for his people, who were so often ungrateful. As she considers the tenderness shown time after time by God towards his people, Mary’s immaculate Heart breaks out in loving words, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour, for he has looked graciously upon the lowliness of his handmaid.’ The early Christians, children of this good Mother, learned from her; we can, and we ought to do likewise.
The Acts of the Apostles describe a scene I love to contemplate because it gives us a clear, abiding example of prayer: ‘They persevered all of them in the apostles’ teaching, in their fellowship in the breaking of bread, and in prayer.’ We are told this time and again in the passage narrating the lives of the first followers of Christ. ‘All these, with one mind, gave themselves up to prayer.’ Again when Peter was imprisoned because he had boldly preached the truth, they decide to pray. ‘There was a continual stream of prayer going up to God from the Church on his behalf.’
Prayer was then, as it is today, the only weapon, the most powerful means, for winning the battles of our interior struggle. ‘Is one of you sad?’ asks St James. ‘Let him pray.’ St Paul sums it up by saying, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ Never get tired of praying.
“A Life of Prayer” is an excerpt from the homily given by St. Josemaria Escriva on April 4th, 1955. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “Friends of God”.
Reproduced by the St. Josemaria Institute courtesy of the Studium Foundation. The content is intended for the free use of readers, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from ©The Studium Foundation (www.escrivaworks.org).