Posted May 2, 2012
Book: Prayer in Practice
Author: Romano Guardini
Pantheon Books. New York. 1957. pp. 228
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
Monsignor Guardini's book is first and foremost an introduction to prayer, but an introduction produced by a master. He anticipates the problems that will arise at every stage in the spiritual life, and encourages the beginner by showing him what promise is held out in the first steps of prayer, how to persevere and to develop in prayer life. Into this book, Monsignor Guardini has put his most mature thought and the reflections arising from a lifetime's study of the implications of faith. Yet it is all expressed in a manner intelligible to the uninitiated but attractive also to the more advanced thinkers.
The author brings out the role of Jesus Christ as the essential link in prayer, through whom alone we may know the Father, and he draws copiously on Scripture, throwing us back on what God Himself has said of our approach to Him. Prayer is seen, too, as a response to facts, meaning a grappling with the real world, which is a world created, sustained and ordered by God. There are chapters on mysticism on popular prayers, on the liturgy, all of which subjects are treated with new insight and a real understanding of the needs of all levels of spirituality.
An Excerpt from the Book:
The Yearning for Union
This is the first of those two motives of prayer which come into being before God's holiness. The other begins with the recognition that despite our resistance to God we cannot be without Him. The first expresses what Peter said to Christ when he felt His mysterious powers by the lake of Genesareth: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord". The other finds it expression once again in the words of Peter at Capharnaum, when our Lord promised the Eucharist: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that you are the Christ, the Son of God.
If the knowledge of our sinfulness leads us either to arrogance or dejection, the link between God and man breaks and we turn away from Him. But if it leads us to humility and truth, then we may say: "It is true that by my sins I have forfeited the right of being in the presence of God, but where else shall I be if I cannot be with Him?"
The same holiness which turns man away also recalls him, for holiness is love. It rejects man so that he may find true humility and the new way. When he has done this --- however insufficiently --- it calls him anew.
We know that God is the supreme good, the Supreme Being, the salvations --- the life. That is why we yearn for God. If we do not have this yearning --- life may have disheartened or disillusioned us or made us dull and indifferent --- we must endeavor to awaken it through faith. We must guard against that attitude of spiritual pride which makes us say: "What I do not feel I do not need." We must allow for the possibility that our feelings may be unreliable and therefore we must honestly strive to correct them. Yearning for God is inborn in human nature. If it is lacking, it does not follow that we have no need of God, but rather that we may be sick and in need of healing. It may be humiliating to have to admit to oneself that one is lacking something which is an intrinsic part of human nature. It may easily lead one to adopt an attitude of defiance, which, although giving the impression of superiority, is, in fact, rather pathetic.
We said previously that even if we do not directly apprehend God's reality we must accept it as a fundamental tenet of our faith. In the same way, we must have recourse to faith if our own feelings do not prompt us to seek God. This is the truth --- all else is error.
This yearning for God --- it is a yearning for participation, for union --- is also prayer.
The story is told of St. Thomas Aquinas that when he had finished an important section of his great work on divine truth, Christ appeared to him and said: "You have written well about me, Thomas. What shall I give you?" St. Thomas, the legend goes, answered: Yourself Lord." St. Teresa expressed this yearning even more forcefully when she wrote: "Only God is sufficient."
The deepest core, the highest aspirations, the whole essence and purpose of man's striving can be summed up in the proposition: man's soul longs for union with God. This is not merely the expression of a pious sentiment; it is the precise truth.
We want to possess that which we consider to be precious and real. But is there anything in the world which we are really able to possess? Something catches our fancy, we buy it, we take it, and carry it home, but do we really possess it? It is true we can make use of it; we can prevent anyone else having it, but is it ever truly ours? Not only may we lose it; not only can it be ruined; not only shall we have to give it up one day --- we never really have it; we only hold it externally. We are never able to form that innermost union between ourselves and things which alone can be called "having"; there always remains a gulf.
The same applies to human relations. We want to establish a close relationship --- a true union --- with another person. We want to be certain of the other person, but can we ever achieve this? We may gain a person's confidence or love; we may be linked to that person by the strongest bonds of loyalty and devotion, but ultimately that person remains distant and inaccessible. God alone, the All-true, the All-being, the Holy, the Remote, is able to give Himself fully to man. Neither things nor persons, nor even we ourselves can fully become our own: only God can create that nearness that fulfills our yearning.
Again and again the cry "My God" appears in the Scriptures. "I said to the Lord: You are my God. This is the heart's own cry, called forth by God Himself, who spoke thus: "I will walk among you, and will be your God."
St. Augustine describes the nature of the human soul by saying that it is "capable of comprehending God." Capable --- and this is even more important --- of comprehending nothing but God and therefore, we may add, capable of comprehending the world and people only through God.
This finds expression in the prayer in which we strive for God; strive to partake of His plenitude; strive to be at one with Him. In this striving, prayer becomes love, for love means seeking to be completely at one with another autonomously being.
We may acquire a jewel, a flower or a work of art, and, to the extent to which we are able to establish an inner relationship with one of these objects, we may claim them as our own unless the right has been granted to us that human being; unless he has permitted it of his own accord.
How, then, can God become our own? That He, who is Lord of Himself and of all creation, wishes to give Himself to us, and that it is compatible with His divinity to do so, only He Himself can reveal to us. Moreover, He must give us the faith so that we may believe it and consummate the union.
This is the mystery of divine love, that in it all love has its origin and finds its complete fulfillment. We must therefore beseech God for the grace of His love and for grace to respond to it.
These two elements --- the turning away from God, conscious that we are unworthy of Him, and the striving after Him in the longing for union --- are to some degree present in every prayer which deserves the name. By these two contradictory trends we testify to God's holiness, for it is God's holiness which makes us shrink back in the knowledge that we ourselves are unholy, but which at the same time makes us strive after Him in the knowledge that in Him lies our salvation.
Table of Contents
Preparation and Form
The Reality of God and the Basic Acts of Prayer
The Most Holy Trinity and Prayer
Inward or contemplative prayer
Prayer to the saints and to the Mother of God
Prayer in times of incapacity
The over-all pattern of Christian prayer life