Tuesday, June 28, 2016

THE PRESENCE OF GOD-- prayer and virtue

The quest for virtue must begin with prayer. Prayer is the most necessary virtue to acquire.

Why should we pray?

If God knows our needs before even we know them, why do we need to pray?
 "Your Father knows that you have need of all these things." (Matthew 6:32)

Since God was rejected by Adam in the Garden. To a certain extent, Adam shut God out of relationship with humanity; he chose it. The devil thought he had now won.

But there are other avenues God could still use, so that  His relationship with Man would not die, chief among these is prayer.

"For we pray not that we may change the Divine disposition, but that we may impetrate that which God has disposed to be fulfilled by our prayers in other words

"that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has disposed to give," as [St. Gregory the Great ] says (Dial. i, 8) "

(Summa Theologica, II-ii: Question 83--art. 2)

Our personal life on earth, because of the FALL, can be thought of as a door that is constantly closing on certain graces, and all God "needs" is for us to constantly open it; we open the door for Him to act, and receive the graces He wished from all eternity to give us. This is a condition caused by the FALL. We live in a fallen world, with a fallen nature. God warned Adam of this condition.

"Behold, I stand at the door and am knocking; if any one hear my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)

Before the FALL God conversed with Man, as we speak to a friend. Genesis 2 indicates that God spoke to Adam about his needs.
"Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
And in Genesis 3:8-9, implies  that everyday God met Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, but on the day they FELL they hide.

What is prayer?

Prayer is the raising up of the mind and heart to God.

 There are 4 major forms of prayer:

Worship-- The highest is the Divine Liturgy --the Mass. We  must acknowledge God is greater than ourselves, or any created thing.

"Heaven is full, and the earth as well is full of your magnificent glory, O Lord of Hosts. Fill too this sacrifice with Your power and communion, for we offer You this living sacrifice and unbloody offering . . ."
(St. Serapion of Thmuis, "The Anaphora of Serapion" 4; A.D. 339)

Petition-- Inviting God into one's life and actions-- wisdom, protection, healing, needs...etc...

"Let us therefore, brethren beloved, pray as God our Teacher has taught us...And since we have Him as an Advocate with the Father for our sins, let us, when as sinners we petition on behalf of our sins, put forward the words of our Advocate.

For since He says, that:

 "whatsoever we shall ask of the Father in His name, He will give us," John 16:23 "
(St. Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 4: "On the Lord's Prayer," #3, --death 258 AD)

Forgiveness-- seek forgiveness of sins.

“Do not fall into despair because of stumbling. I do not mean that you should not feel contrition for them, but that you should not think them incurable. For it is more expedient to be bruised than dead. There is, indeed, a Healer for the man who has stumbled, even He Who on the Cross asked that mercy be shown to His crucifiers, He Who pardoned His murders while He hung on the Cross. ‘All manner of sin,’ He said, ‘and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men,’ that is, through repentance.”

(St. Isaac the Syrian, The Ascetical Homilies, Homily 64, “On Prayer, Prostrations, Tears, Reading, Silence, and Hymnody”)

Thanksgiving -- We should always say thank you. Not as the Pharisee, as if we deserved anything. But that God was so good to help a sinner such as us.

"Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefaction to us in deed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and this, when the acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him.

"In point of fact, thanksgiving adds nothing to Him, but it brings us closer to Him. For if, when we recall the benefactions of men, we are the more warmed by affection for them; much more, when we continually bring to mind the benefits of the Master towards us, shall we be more earnest with regard to His commandments.

For this cause Paul also said, Be ye thankful. For the best preservative of any benefaction is the remembrance of the benefaction, and a continual thanksgiving for it"
(St. John Chrysostomos, Homily 25 on St. Matthew)

As St. Chrysostom points out, all prayer develops our relationship with God. We have become sons and daughters by the Sacramental Seal of Baptism. While we will always be sons or daughters, we can lose our inheritance, heaven, if we break off our relationship with Him.

What is the purpose of prayer?

Prayer is not our propose; it is only a means, by which we help ourselves to make progress in our relationship with God,  virtue, and victory over our evil inclinations; thereby we may unite ourselves inseparably with Him.

Prayer falls under the Cardinal Virtue of Justice. Prayer directs man to God. It is just to pay due respect to God's majesty, and  it expresses our dependence on His grace-- to lead us into intimate relationship with Him.

"The principal petition which we ought to make to God is that of union of our wills with His, and the final cause of prayer lies in desiring only God. Accordingly, all perfection is contained therein"

(St. Francis de Sales' Oevres, vol. IX, Sermons: "goal of prayer")

Virtue is a habit. We acquire the virtue of prayer, by the habit of raising our minds and hearts, often.

Like breathing in and out is life, so too should prayer be our breath-- our natural state. The saints in the desert, ordinarily made use of ejaculatory prayer (short one line prayers of aspiration), endeavoring by a continual elevation of their hearts to God, to recall His presence always.

"Wherefore they [the monks of St. Mark in Egypt] think it best for the prayers to be short and offered up very frequently "
(John Cassian monk and ascetic : INSTITUTES OF THE COENOBIA. ch.10)

What has been said is shown by a few examples:

A mother told me, when she was cleaning, she would say ejaculatory prayers in her mind. No one knew but God:

"Lord I believe help my unbelief"
"Jesus have mercy on me a sinner"
"Jesus I trust in You"
This is the simple way of recalling the presence of God.

Making the sign of the cross, also elevates the heart, and drives away the devil. So not to be showy, we can make the sign of the cross on our forehead with our thumb.

A man I know when at work, would not feel like doing a certain task. He could have shirked this task and no one would have noticed or cared. But he would think "Jesus I will do it for you" and do that extra task. Thereby expressing his love of God, and acknowledging  His presence by simple tasks.

Let us often pray like this until it is like breathing. It is the source and power for all the virtues, likewise  friendship and union with God.

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