The. glorious Apostle and Evangelist. St. John, in the fifth and eighth chapters of the Apocalypse, expresses admirably well the excellency and merit of prayer. ‘There came an angel and stood before the altar, having in his hand a thurible of gold, to whom was given much incense, to the end he should offer up. of the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne of God. And the. smoke of the incense of these prayers went up from the hand of the angel to the presence of God’ (Apoc. viii. 3, 4). St. Chrysostom says that one proof of the merit of prayer is· that in the Holy Scripture, it alone is compared to thymiama, which was a composition of incense and of many other admirable perfumes; for as the smell of well composed thymiama is very delicious, so prayer also, when well made, is very acceptable to God,. and gives great joy to the angels and all the citizens of heaven. Thus St. John, speaking in such human language as we can speak, says that those heavenly beings hold in their hands pouncet-boxes full of admirable perfumes, which are the prayers of the Saints, and these they apply again and again to their most pure nostrils to enjoy that sweet odor (Apoc. v. 8).
St. Augustine speaking of prayer says, ” What more excellent than prayer? What more useful and profitable? What sweeter and more delicious? What higher and more. exalted in the whole scheme of our Christian religion?
–St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘On Christian Perfection’
Without a prayer life we are left abandoned to our own devices, imperfect creatures able to access only self-will, functioning and interacting with the world based upon our terms. Without prayer, genuine humility is impossible, spiritual progress only induces pride, leading us to believe we are spiritual superiors, tyrants onto the world. No matter the amount or extensiveness of our efforts to know God, without a prayer life, the true means of communication is blocked. Our spiritual life is stifled and we become a danger to those advancing toward God. Centered upon self-will, plagued by self-consciousness, competition, the need to impress, selfish intent; whether positive or negative, we are constantly an affront, never able to offer others Our Lord, the ultimate master of prayer, His invitation to ‘take upon My yoke, and learn, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your soul’. Without prayer, we weary ourselves, forced to rationalize, forced to justify, forced to reason, forced to manipulate, forced to be a burden onto ourselves and all those willing to love us. With the purest of intent, functioning through self-will we fall short. We bring immense and intense tears onto ourselves, and others. In the ancient world, they used the term crocodile tears, huge tears shed through profound sorrow. I attribute the term to Homer. It always moved me. Another Homer term I borrow is ‘winged words’, words possessing immense inspiration, hope, and insight–I adapt the term to embrace words inspired by the Holy Spirit.
To reiterate, a lacking prayer life renders one unable to surrender to faith, hope, and charity, unable to prosper within infused virtues.
The Blindness post touched on remaining hidden as a contemplative, as well as, identifying those of suspect religious intent as possessing a hidden agenda. They are two distinct matters. As a contemplative, my interior life is protected, hidden, ‘cast not thy pearls before swine’. My natural self an employee, friend, man in recovery, father, brother, son, remains open, comfortable and easy for others to understand. My hidden contemplative efforts do not make me a mystery to others. I make myself vulnerable to others, placing myself at their disposal, while protecting my interior life. I am not overly clever, nor diabolical. I go to the extreme not to inflict self-will upon others. In regards to bringing others into intimate spiritual communication I exercise extreme caution. The telltale sign of affirmation is the witnessing of a fortitude in prayer. A strong prayer life, a presence developed, indicates a healthy spiritual person of advanced effort. Without words, manipulation, or awesomeness, such individuals present themselves in humility and peace. I am especially leery of church devotees overly ambitious to throw themselves at me, coming on hard to impress, making great claims of being a daily communal recipient for a vast number of years, knowing the Bishop or esteemed individuals of respected religious reputation, telling tales of great pilgrimages, or dominating congregational responses and song with brilliance and expertise. Once serious progress is made in prayer such individuals will force themselves upon contemplatives. In politeness, and if necessary sternness, I must safeguard my interior life. I am reminded of a lesson from my therapist, a Catholic psychologist, Dr. Lawrence Nitcha. I utilize all forms of healing in order to cleanse the vessel for proper filling.
Dr Nitcha on co-dependent behavior: …difficulty establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries, difficulty saying “No”, acting ‘nice’ when a tougher love is called for, and feeling overly responsible for the feelings or behavior of others.
Sadly, many Christians fall into the trap of justifying such behaviors as being examples of the call to ‘love one’s neighbor’. A variety of Gospel passages, each emphasizing the Christian call to service, is used to legitimize such behaviors. However, their use more often represents a distortion of the Gospel message.
One of the Gospel parables to which I frequently refer in helping individuals realize their rights is Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the 10 Virgins. In that parable the behavior of the five Wise Virgins is highlighted as exemplary. And what is the behavior they displayed? It is the antithesis of codependent behavior. When asked to share some of their lamp oil with the Foolish Virgins, the Wise Virgins in effect responded: “No. We are keeping what we have for ourselves. We are not sharing what we have with you.”
On the surface their response can seem downright cold to some. Uncaring. Certainly seems ‘un-Christian’. But it is not! The Wise Virgins were simply remaining committed to their fundamental call to be ready for the bridegroom. Despite the pain, suffering, and panic experienced by the Foolish Virgins, the Wise Virgins remained resolute. They had been prepared with enough oil for their own lamps and to have shared their oil would have put the Wise Virgins at risk of failing to live up to the primary call they had received. They were not being selfish; they were exemplifying enlightened self-interest.
Undoubtedly the Wise Virgins experienced some anguish over the Foolish Virgins’ situation. Yet, they were not disinterested and cold in their refusal to share. No hostility here! Quite the contrary, they came up with an idea: “Quick, go to the market and buy some oil.” In other words, take responsibility for your selves; follow the call you were given. Well, too little, too late for the Foolish Virgins. The parable does not discuss how the Wise Virgins felt seeing the Foolish Virgins miss the wedding procession, but I imagine that they felt sad. Not guilty (that would be codependent) – they did nothing wrong. But sad! A sadness with the accompanying experience of powerlessness in the realization that they had been helpless to prevent the results of the Foolish Virgins’ poor planning.