Monday, October 22, 2007

Prayer Of The Heart

The Prayer of the Heart
The simplest understanding of prayer known to Catholic Christendom is that characteristic of the Desert Fathers of the early centuries. It is the attitude of one who stands before God "with his mind in his heart": a resting in the presence of God in pure faith. At the same time (and this distinguishes it from the heretical quietism of later centuries in the West), there is no attempt to annihilate the will, but an active love for the Savior and an ardent longing to share more fully his divine life. Though the intelligence cannot be forced to cease its restlessness ("distractions"), its activity may be simplified and unified by the continual repeating of a short ("ejaculatory") formula of prayer. Generally, this takes the form of some kind of invocation of the name of Jesus. "When we have blocked all the outlets of the mind by means of the remem­brance of God, then it will require of us at all costs some task which will satisfy its need for activity. Let us give it, then, as its sole activity the Lord Jesus."
In the Byzantine tradition, the "Jesus prayer," so understood, helps to focus the dis-integrated personality of the fallen person upon a single point, assisted by the use of a prayer-rope (in Greek, komboschoinion, or in Slavonic, tchotki). Such an approach to prayer — where it is accepted that the flow of images and thoughts will persist but the persons praying are gradually enabled to detach themselves from that flow — is also found in the monastic West of the Middle Ages. In his treatise on the anchoritic life, Aelred advises his sister:
"She must apply herself very frequently to prayer, throw herself repeatedly at Jesus' feet, and by repeating his sweet name very often draw forth tears of compunction and banish all distraction from her heart."
Among the English Cistercians, Aelred prefers the prayer formula O dulcis Domine; Gilbert of Hoyland, O bone Jesu; John of Ford, Domine Jesu. Dominic's prayer was very much a prayer of "immediate acts," marked by hundreds of prostrations.
As Augustine had written in his On the Care for the Dead:
I do not know how it is, but though such bodily actions can only be due to mental acts that precede them, it is a fact nonetheless that by the repetition of such visible external actions the interior invisible movement that produced them is thereby increased, and those affections which had to precede if those actions were to be performed grow by the very fact that were so performed.
Link to original article (here)
Graces of Interior Prayer, by Auguste Poulain S.J. (here) and (here)

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