Happy Feast! Excuse my mania today on this Trinity Sunday.
Let me simply say today to you, as a person of faith with a deep sense of gravity in my soul: I can see clearer now than I ever have that the single most important action of every day, the single most important commitment to sustain that is equivalent to the necessity of breathing to life is the commitment to consecrate a period of time every day to personal prayer.
Without it, all that is good is lost, our compass is disabled, our rudder cracked, our sail limp, our balance set off, and we are guaranteed to lose our way and wander off into dark valleys where there is much to fear — for we are not with Him.
The Catechism paragraph 2725 says it all: “Prayer is a battle against ourselves and against the wiles of the Tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer.” Read that again. The Evil One cares not for our good deeds, as they are ours alone. But he hates and fears prayer, because it introduces into our works and world the whole of God, whose kingdom breaks in to deliver us from evil. Fr. Tom Hopko captures this with his usual verve:
When we do try to personally pray as Christ teaches us,
every demon in Hell tries to mess it up and destroy it
and screw it up and make us crazy.
You know, anyone who starts praying, you’ve got to know,
boy, you’re opening yourself to a huge battle.
One of the Desert Fathers was asked,
“What’s the hardest thing of the Christian way?”
He said, “Everything can be accomplished easily,
by the grace of God, if he so wills.
But for us creatures, fallen, sick, sinful, to remain
steadfast and constant in prayer,” he said,
“is blood to the end.” Blood to the end.
There are going to be times when we don’t feel like praying,
when we have to force ourself.
There’s times when we feel we hit a brick wall;
we have to know that’s the grace of God:
he wants us to accept something,
he wants us to let go of something,
he wants us to repent of something.
It’s always a signal from God
when things go tough and things get dark and things get dry:
we can’t do it by ourselves.
So, from my own many failures and few successes, from the testimony of so many I have known, and from the wisdom of the ages, please hear me when I say to you: never ever abandon your commitment to set aside time only for being with God in prayer. Every day. I beg you. To hell with productivity, distractions, things to do, imperfect methods, a lack of ‘feeling it.’ Utterly irrelevant to this point. If you feel you have nothing, spend your consecrated time, whatever it is, saying in endless repetition: “Help me, O God! Help me, O God! Help me, O God!” Whatever allows you to be before his Face alone and undivided. Just do something. Commit today, now, till you die. Never ever stop. All hinges on it.
In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Lewis vividly describes a conversation between the Devil and one of his subordinate demons. After a lengthy exchange about the best way to draw someone away from God, one of the demons says: “I thought I would just go and persuade them that they have plenty of time in which to make their minds up.” After he says this, there is silence for a moment. The devil raises his head slowly with the most delightfully evil grin on his face and says: “Yes. Excellent. The prize is yours. Go now to it.”
Plenty of time? There isn’t. Today is all we have.