One of Our Lady's most constant and sometimes tearful pleas is: pray with your heart, or pray from the heart! Numberless people of willing heart have approached me with, "but how do you do it? We would like to pray with our hearts, but we don't know how. Would you teach us?" It was to fill this need on the part of so many that I went ahead and put on tape, video as well as audio, what I personally had the opportunity of doing, spending many years at a Franciscan hermitage, praying with the heart.
Nonetheless, I do know that there are people who learn best, not be seeing or hearing, but by reading and rereading. It is for these that this series of columns is being written. It will be like a slow motion learning experience, short doses in every issue.
You know and I do, too, that in our days we want things done right away. We are part of the "instant" generation. Unfortunately, this cannot be done with prayer, at least not in our day. To be able to pray with one's heart it needs preparation. I say, "in our day" because whether we like to admit it or not, we are a damaged people, damaged in such a way that we need some healing from what has been done to us by our culture. We are also a generation of sights and sounds. We tend to fill our day with things to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Added to this, we have become a "thinky" people. So much is thrown at us each moment of our waking day to stimulate our mind, to keep the mind working, to center our life's experience around thought rather than around the many other fine and varied experiences that the Heavenly Father offers to us.
Even in the day of the Apostles, though they had nothing in the way of obstacles to prayer that you and I have, they nevertheless said to Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray." Prayer does not come to us instinctively, like eating and sleeping. It has to be learned. We have to enter into it by way of a process. In somewhat a parallel, we could not converse with Uncle Willie who may live only a few blocks away unless we had a telephone hook-up with all that means, and it means more than we would ordinarily think. Prayer, as a conversation with God, that is, with the Father, or with Jesus, or with the Holy Spirit, is just that, a conversation. It means that there is a time when we speak and God listens, and a time when God speaks, and we listen. This is not as simple as it may seem. God is always ready and prepared to hold up His part in the conservation. It is the frail human person, one whose mind has been darkened and his will weakened through Original Sin. It is one who may be, at times, crippled by forces without and within, making it almost impossible for him first even to establish a relationship with God and then, in that relationship, to be mature enough to carry on a conversation with One Who is on a plain of infinite stature, with One Whom he cannot see, with One Whose Words he can not always "hear", much less clearly understand.
To say prayers is not the same as praying. It is true that we can say prayers with our heart. We can sincerely mean what words we say to God. We can say them with the simplicity of a child. When the prayers we say are more than just a repetition of words, when we put "heart" into them, God DOES listen and He IS touched. To say prayers heartily is already an accomplishment.
There are those who have not yet reached this level. There is, nonetheless, a vast difference between saying prayers with the heart, and praying with the heart. Note that Our Blessed Mother does not say, "say prayers with your heart." She says, "PRAY with your heart." In one place she says, "Be a LIVING prayer." Scripture says "Pray ALWAYS. It should be clear then that Heaven is speaking of character and disposition rather than of words, thoughts, and feelings. It seems that when we say, pray with the heart, that it could be understood as 'let your heart do the praying, let your heart speak to Hearts, let Hearts speak to hearts.' It is the human heart and the Divine Heart which engage in the conversation, which are engaged in prayer.
For everyone of us to grow to that state of intimacy with our God wherein his/her heart is pure enough, free enough, believing enough, loving enough to "touch" the Heart of Jesus and also to be "touched" by it is, for most of us, a long way off and for some of us it is doubtful whether we would ever be able to pray with the heart. But take courage. There's hope. In the next column I'll begin to blueprint how.