“The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace.”
–Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity
When I was invited to review a book on “Catholic Spiritual Practices” for the Patheos Book Club, how could I say no? It was an opportunity, I realized, to grow in intimacy with God during this Advent season: to deepen my faith and to rest in silence near the heart of the Father.
The exercises in Catholic Spiritual Practices: A Treasury of Old and New are, in fact, diverse; and every serious seeker of Christ will find something to take away.
The Catholic Tradition offers something for everyone: the rich blessings to be attained through attendance at Mass and reception of the Sacraments; the calming presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic adoration; the contemplative prayer of medieval mystics such as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila; the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours; devotional prayers such as the Rosary and litanies; contemplative experiences such as Centering Prayer; and more.
There are prayers prayed in the solitude of the heart, and prayers which are meant to be shared in community.
Some prayers, such as the Angelus, are brief and call the spirit back to God for just a moment in a busy day. Others, such as retreats, refocus one’s attention on spiritual things for several days at a time.
The editors of Catholic Spiritual Practices, Colleen Griffith and Thomas Groome, have pulled together a collection of brief essays by noted contemporary theologians and spiritual writers. The reader is introduced to rote prayers: the Lord’s Prayer, the Angelus, the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours; and to the spiritual disciplines such as Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina. We enter more deeply into the life of the spirit through Fasting and the Ignatian Examen. Thomas Groome leads us to walk with the suffering Christ in the Stations of the Cross.
And then, we are invited to recognize moments in our own lives as a kind of prayer: to see how the practice of Forgiveness or of Hospitality or our Care for the Environment, even the everyday struggles of Family Life, can be a form of prayer, leading us to greater holiness.
For someone who wants a better understanding of prayer in Catholic life, this book—with its 26 short, well-crafted chapters on 26 different kinds of prayer—is a great starting point. Catholic Spiritual Practices is a tool kit, loaded with different ways to touch the ineffable, to encounter the Divine Mystery.
It is, though, only a starting point. The student (or the pilgrim) who is serious about understanding Catholic spirituality should go on to read the writings of the great Catholic mystics: John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Pick up St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul. Draw on the rich traditions of Eucharistic devotion, the great hymns of worship composed by St. Thomas Aquinas.
And in recent years, the world has enjoyed wide access to the writings and teachings on prayer by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, at the Vatican website, www.vatican.va.
Pope Benedict, in the fall of 2012, has spoken frequently about prayer in his Wednesday General Audiences. On September 12, the pope—speaking to over 8,000 pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall, said:
“We can be sure that there is no such thing as a superfluous or useless prayer. No prayer is lost. When faced with evil we often have the sensation that we can do nothing, but our prayers are in fact the first and most effective response we can give, they strengthen our daily commitment to goodness. The power of God makes our weakness strong.”
Let us pray.