The Lord says that we have to pray and indicates that without prayer we will give way to temptation. Thus prayer is essential for us to escape sin and keep our lives on the right path. While God offers many graces to overcome sin and live holy lives, those graces are often delivered through the doorway of prayer. Prayer is God’s way of knocking at the door of our heart; prayer is our way of answering. Prayer is God’s offer and prayer is our response. Jesus says,
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20).
The shared meal referred to here, beyond its reference to the Eucharist, is also a sign of intimacy. While our culture is casual about eating (and just about everything else), in those days sharing a meal was not done with just anyone. Meals were shared with close family and friends. That is one reason that people of Jesus’ time were often surprised to see the people with whom Jesus shared meals. St. Peter also shocked the people of his time when he entered the household of a Gentile (Cornelius) and ate with him (Acts 10 & 11).
So, Jesus knocking at the door of our heart, seeking entrance, and sharing a meal, is a sign of reverence and intimacy. And we surely also need the food He offers: His Word and His Word made flesh.
Yes, prayer is both beautiful and essential.
Yet many Christians find prayer difficult. To some degree, our difficulties today are greater than in previous eras due to the constant noise and abundant distractions of our time. So noisy and frantic are our lives that sitting still and being silent is downright unnerving for many.
This is all the more reason that we must pray and pray well!
Learning to pray is not just a “fake it till you make it” proposition. As with any other area of life, we need to be taught; we can benefit from the experience of those who have gone before us. While it is true that prayer must be more than a “technique,” it is also true that prayer is more than a vague and purely subjective experience. Thus teaching can help us to find what is best and to avoid pitfalls that can discourage us.
Of all the books on prayer I recommend, The Fulfillment of All Desire by Dr. Ralph Martin is at the very top of my list. Anyone for whom I have been a spiritual director will attest that my first request of him or her is to obtain a copy of Dr. Martin’s book and begin reading it.
The book is valuable not only due to Ralph’s own wonderful insights, but also because he organizes and summarizes the teachings of the great Doctors of prayer (from the Catholic and Western traditions) so well. He draws heavily from St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis De Sales, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Thomas Aquinas.
He organizes the material along the fundamental stages of prayer: the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way. In the purgative stage we seek, by God’s grace, to identify our sins and attachments and to become increasingly free of them. We undergo basic conversion and begin to develop the habit of prayer. In the illuminative stage we see our love for and intimacy with God and neighbor increase, the virtues grow stronger within us, and our prayer become quieter and deeper. In the unitive stage, having made progress by grace, we receive a habitual, deep, and ever-deepening union with God, marked by joy, humility, and stability.
In his presentation of each stage, Dr. Martin samples richly from the writings of the saints and the teaching of the Church. He also gives much practical advice that helps to root the teaching within the setting of the modern world. He goes to the sources and brings them to us, applying their wisdom to our situation.
Simply put, the book is essential to anyone who seeks a guide to prayer.
And, dear readers, I hope you do seek a guide to prayer, for prayer is essential. Jesus said that temptation is looming, and if we don’t pray our lives can go off track pretty quickly without that remedy. But the Lord did not leave us alone to respond to so great a summons! He has sent us saints and biblical wisdom to teach us. And in our times, He anointed Dr. Ralph Martin to compile and present this wisdom to us freshly and comprehensively.
If you don’t have a copy of The Fulfillment of All Desire, go sell all that you have and buy one! 🙂