The Priestly Ministry
The First Ministerial Duty
First Meditation - The Nature of Prayer
What is prayer? "Elevatio mentis in Deum," says St. Augustine: a raising up of the mind to God. It is the lifting up of the deepest and most spirimal part of our being, the mind, until God and the soul are linked together in intimate communication. It is the mind's loftiest and most generous soaring.
According to St. Chrysostom prayer is the act whereby mortal and transitory beings are taken up to the immortal Life of God through dealings with Him the most intimate and familiar.
If we listen to St. Bernard, it is a private audience we are given with the Eternal King seated on His starry throne attended by an immense retinue of blessed spirits, the soul being like a dirty little toad - "ranuncula vilis" - emerged from its infested pool and allowed to scale the heights of the royal palace where God reigns in the splendours of sanctity amid the angels and the just.
Or as St. Teresa gracefully puts it: "Prayer is nothing but a simple friendly affair, it seems to me; a conversing frequently and alone with the One who we know loves us. And if you don't love Him - because for love to be real and for friendship to be lasting certain conditions must be fulfilled - then, it (prayer) means that, realising how much it concerns you to have His friendship and how much He loves you, you undergo the ordeal of being often with One who is so different from you." (Life of St. Teresa, chap. viii.)
What is prayer? It is the most powerful weapon the Creator has placed into the hands of man. Even between man and man there is no power more irresistible than the humble request.
Israel and Amalec were fighting: while Moses with hands raised to heaven prayed, Israel won, but as soon as Moses lowered his hands and ceased to pray, Israel suffered defeat.
Another time, when the holy prophet besought the angered Jehovah to forgive the people their crimes, the answer was: Leave me alone, that my wrath may be kindled against them, and that I may destroy them. (Exod. xxxii, 10.) "Leave me alone" - as though the agonising plea of the great leader were mightier than the Almighty Himself: And Josue, by prayer, holds back the restless chariot of the sun; and Elias for three years suspends the rain, "lays a ban on heaven itself". (Ecclus. xlviii, 3)
Should the Old Testament not suffice, let us hear Christ's promise:
Therefore I say unto you, all things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you. (Mark xi, 24)Happy our lot, once we win over our distrustful hearts to the truth of this divine promise!
The practice of prayer, so excellent and powerful, is the priest's first ministerial duty.
How often the Lord commanded in the Old Testament: let the priest pray!
In the New Dispensation it is our daily duty: to pray in the Mass, to pray in the Canonical Hours, to pray in the administration of the Sacraments, to pray in every liturgical function. The framework, the pith and substance, of the entire Catholic liturgy and of Catholic worship is prayer; and this is the spirit that has animated the Church from her origins.
The Apostles voice their conviction through the voice of Peter that they have a greater obligation to pray than to distribute alms among the poor: "It is too much that we should have to forgo preaching God's word, and bestow our care upon tables." (Acts vi, 2)
And is it not too much that I should forgo preaching God's word and praying, no, not for the sake of feeding the hungry, but rather for the sake of idling my time away, of running after my sports and pastimes, or, at least, after worldly interests?
On earth I am God's Apocalypse who
"came and took his stand at the altar, with a censer of gold; and incense was given him in plenty, so that he could make an offering on the golden altar before the throne of God, out of the prayers said by all the Saints." (Apoc. viii, 3)Will it be the right thing for me to have that censer, from which the pleadings of mankind rise up to God, extinguished and thrown into a corner?
I resolve to turn my heart into a censer of continually burning prayer which with its fragrance may appease the divine Justice and incline Him to love and mercy.
When could I so much as dream that my poor heart was to render such noble service?
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!