John Cassian on Prayer

I’m about 2/3 of the way through the Paulist Press abridged edition of John Cassian’s Conferences — and what a wonderful book it is. Conference 10, which I began this morning, treats the subject of prayer, and reveals that Cassian was not only a true contemplative, but a gifted teacher as well. Conference 10 is often cited as a source for Centering Prayer. Fr. Anthony DeLisi at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit loves to point out that this is a bit of a misinterpretation of Cassian, for he does not advocate a sacred word or mantra (which is the heart of Centering prayer), but rather the repetition of a specific Bible verse, similar to what would later develop in the eastern church as the Jesus Prayer. The verse in question comes from the Psalms; in most modern translations it is verse 70:2, but in the Douay-Rheims Bible it is Psalm 69:2:

O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.

This is the verse that the monks begin their vigil with, every morning at 4 AM. So there’s a way in which Cassian is honored at the start of every monastic day.

Here’s a taste of Cassian’s wisdom for you:

Then there will be accomplished in us what our Savior prayed for when, speaking to His Father about His disciples, He said: ‘So that the love you have for me may be in them, and they in us’ (Jn 7:26). … The perfect love with which God ‘first loved us’ (1 Jn 4:10) will come into our hearts, for our faith tells us that this prayer of our Savior will not be in vain. And these will be the signs of God being all that we love and all that we want. He will be all that we are zealous for, all that we strive for. He will be all that we think about, all our living, all that we talk about, our very breath. … As God loves us with a love that is true and pure, a love that never breaks, we too will be joined to Him in a never-ending unshakable love, and it will be such a union that our breathing and thinking and our talking will be ‘God.’ And we will come at last to that objective … the goal which the Lord prayed to be fulfilled in us: ‘That they may all be one as we are one, as I am in them and you in me so that they are utterly one’ (Jn 17:22-23). ‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am’ (Jn 17:24).

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.