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제목 St Martin, and the Degrees of Prayer(2017-11-11)
작성자 관리자 작성일 2017-11-11

St Martin, and the Degrees of Prayer (2017-11-11)

My dear brethren,
Today is the feast of St Martin , who was bishop of Tours in France in the fourth century. He was first as a young man a Roman soldier. When being still a catechumen, at the age of about 18, he met a poor man in Amiens (a city north west of Paris ) with no clothes; he cut in two his large soldier’s coat and gave half to the poor man. The next night, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him clad with the part he gave, and saying: “Martin, though yet a catechumen, covered me with his coat.” He understood right away that our Lord was sad that he was yet only a catechumen, and he was baptised without any more delay.

Then he had great desires for holiness and went to Poitiers  to learn more from St Hilary, the famous Doctor of the Church and became an acolyte, and started a monastery not far from Poitiers, where he reached great degree of holiness. Later he became the bishop of Tours, a little north of Poitiers, and built nearby another monastery and evangelised the countryside where there were still much left-over of paganism. He had thus a great influence in rooting out paganism from the countryside and edifying many.

What made him a Saint? A very deep life of prayer! All saints were men of prayer; all saints loved to spend hours in prayer. They thirsted for God and expressed that thirst in their prayer, and were filled! I am sure that we would all like to be able to pray as they did, but we find ourselves very dry very quickly. “O Lord, teach us to pray!” (Lk. 11:1).

As we see in the life of St Martin, prayer requires that we know the doctrine of the Church, that we know our catechism. He went to Poitiers in order to learn from St Hilary. Similarly, St Benedict, the great master of so many holy monks in centuries after him, sets the first degree of prayer as “lectio divina – divine reading”, holy reading. This is meditative reading, when we read a holy book, which can either be the Gospels, the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Saints, the lives of the Saints or other approved devout authors. But we do not read such book quickly as one would read a novel, nor skimming through it as one would do for a newspaper, nor even studying it as one would do a scientific book. We read it meditatively in order to feed our mind with divine truth, taught by the Catholic Church either in the Scriptures or through those Saints or holy writers. “Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).

When you read the writings of the Saints, you should not pick a morsel here and another morsel over there; you should rather read their work from cover to cover, in order to get into their spirit, to become so acquainted with their way of thinking that it becomes natural for you to think as they thought, to love as they loved. This is what makes friendship: to share the same thinking, not only to adhere to the same truth, but even to have the same approach to it, to love it the same way. The goal of such reading is to make you friends with the Saints to such a point that their spirit lives in you, ultimately that the Spirit of Jesus lives in you as He lived in them. “For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).

You find sometimes some protestant ministers giving you a quote of St Augustine or of another Father of the Church as if it were opposed to the Catholic Church. But such opposition to the Catholic Church was so far from the mind of these Fathers that they would be appalled to see the way such author abuses of their quotes. These Saints were always willing to correct their own thinking, submitting it to the Faith of the Catholic Church. But if one really enters into their way of thinking by the method I explained above, one recognises right away if a quote is well used or taken out of its context. 

 Thus, meditated reading is but the first step of prayer. It leads to meditation proper, when one takes one or two truths, and meditates in a certain systematic manner on them. St Ignatius explains several methods of meditation: using one’s memory, intelligence and will on the object of meditation. Or using the five senses to meditate on a scene of the Gospel. Or using the three virtues of Faith, hope and charity, etc. There are many such methods, with additional points such as the preparation at the beginning and the colloquies at the end: all this is good for good meditations.

Meditation can be compared to the chewing cows do of their food. At first, they cut the grass and it goes to their first stomach (rumen); then they lay on the ground and bring it back into their mouth and chew it again before sending it to their second stomach. The result is that they take full advantage of the food they eat. Other animals that do not ruminate, such as horses, only use a portion of the nutritional value of what they eat. In a similar way, meditation makes us benefit from the full value of the truths we have learnt in our catechism. It is recommended to set aside a certain fix time – preferably in the early morning – for meditation daily.

The fruit of meditation will be a great increase in the love of God and of spiritual things. Indeed, St Gregory points out that material things usually tend to be attractive to those who do not have them, but possession of them oftentimes leads to boredom and disgust: that is why avaricious people always want more money: they are never satisfied with what they have. On the contrary, spiritual things tend to be easily neglected and unattractive to those who do not possess them, but to those who have tasted them, they bring such great delight with no boredom, but rather thirst for more and more, with great love.

So, when one develops meditation, it becomes more and more an exercise of love for God, for our Lord Jesus Christ, for our Lady and the Saints; these loving colloquies become the greater part of meditation. This is good, and ought to lead to real improvement in the practice of virtue: life must become conformable to the mind. One cannot say in prayer to our Lord in the morning that he loves Him above all things with his whole heart, and then ignore him completely throughout the day and even offend Him! If that would happen, it would bring lie into the very morning time of prayer, and such lie would destroy the whole.

At that level, one ought to long to go higher, since God is purely spiritual and simple, the materiality of the images and sensitive aspects of meditation, the multiplicity and complexity of meditation is still far below, infinitely far below God. Therefore, one ought to renounce these lower means, and open one’s mind to the action of our Lord Jesus Christ by the truths of Faith. There is indeed a simplicity in the act of Faith that really elevates the mind to higher degrees of prayer: God spoke, we believe what He said: this is simple and establishes the soul on the rock of Faith.

At that level prayer becomes contemplation: a simple loving look at the truths of Faith, with a great thirst for God and a complete surrender of the mind to the action of God. Then our Lord Jesus Christ takes over, as St Paul says: “We all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Thus, prayer is the exercise of the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, the three theological virtues that unite us with the Holy Trinity. Since God is the Supreme Truth, it is most essential that our prayer be rooted in the true Faith, the Catholic Faith. Therefore, even in meditation and contemplation, it is important to continue spiritual reading, which feeds our soul with these truths of Faith, and gives us the example of the Saints.

The greatest and best of all prayers is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself offers to His Father His own prayer on the Cross. Indeed, the Sacrifice of Calvary is the summit of the whole of human history: in the Old Testament all prepares for it and look forward up to it; it was signified in many ways in the Old Testament worship. The Saints of old were longing forward to the coming of the Messiah, the Lamb of God: “Send forth, O Lord, the lamb, the ruler of the earth, from Petra of the desert, to the mount of the daughter of Sion” (Isa. 16:1), that is, to Mount Calvary!

Our Lord Jesus Christ offered on the Cross the supreme prayer of adoration, of thanksgiving, of expiation for sins and of impetration. It was the supreme act of worship for the Holy Trinity, redeeming mankind from sin, saving us from hell and granting us the most beautiful gifts of God, to become children of God. Thus, St Peter writes: “by whom he hath given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world” (2 Pet. 1:4).

“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself (Now this he said, signifying what death he should die.)” (Jn. 12:32-33). In the Mass, He attracts us at Himself on the Cross, so that by becoming one with Him crucified, we may reach oneness with Him glorified. St Paul indeed says: “For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17).

This is the supreme prayer of transforming union, ultimate prepara-tion for Heaven: “We know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is. And every one that hath this hope in him, sanctifieth himself, as he also is holy” (1 Jn. 3:2-3). May the Blessed Virgin who stood at the foot of the Cross teach us how to pray, especially in Mass, so as to go to Heaven. Amen!

Fr. F. Laisney