FR. JONATHAN ST. ANDRÉ, T.O.R.
FRANCISCAN FANFARE COLUMNIST
In the spiritual conversations which filter through the stratosphere up on the hill here at Franciscan University, one can often hear the declaration, “I need to work on my prayer life.” When I hear this from students, I am first and foremost glad that they desire to have a life of prayer. And that’s where I start: DESIRE.
Desire is a word that is sometimes negatively weighted, as we consider it in the same sentence with words like “disordered,” or we add the phrase “of the flesh” after it. And while there is certainly a negative sense of desire related to our tendency toward original sin, ultimately, at its essence, desire is good.
There is no spiritual life without desire. The will needs to be moved by grace for us to act in ways that lead us to conversion, for a change of mind that turns us toward who we were created to be in God. This conversion, this metanoia, leads us to desire a deeper relationship with God, and this desire for deeper relationship is the beginning, middle and end of the practice of prayer.
The word desire can even be a means to teaching us how to pray. The basic reality I have discovered while working with many people (including well intentioned people at Franciscan) is that many have never been taught to pray and are somewhat embarrassed to admit it. Let me share how we can pray with desire.
The D in DESIRE is for decompress and de–stress. The first thing we need to do to pray is to show up before God and to seek to be slowed down in a good way. We begin an intentional time of prayer by sitting still in that place that draws us toward a relationship with God (chapel before the Blessed Sacrament, prayer space in a bedroom or outside in creation).
The E in DESIRE is for express. After we have taken time to take a deep breath and to be aware of the Lord’s presence, we can express our own sentiments of praise, thanksgiving and repentance to God. Sometimes this can take the form of vocal prayer using written prayers we love (I like to use the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus).
The S in DESIRE is for Scripture. After we have come into the stillness of God, after we have expressed ourselves to the Lord, it is time to hear from God’s Word. Whether it is reading the Scriptures that will be proclaimed at Mass or reading through a particular book or section of Scripture, there is a power in immersing ourselves in the Word of God. The primary importance of the Word of God was tangibly evidenced in last Sunday (January 26th, the third Sunday in Ordinary Time) being established by papal decree of Pope Francis as “Sunday of the Word of God.” Time in the Word of God is time well spent in prayer.
The I in DESIRE is for intercession. Usually we start our prayer with “I”, but perhaps it is better that we offer our petitions for ourselves and others only after we have settled ourselves in recollection, expressed to God the praise and thanksgiving that is his due and read his Word to ourselves. Then we are ready to lift up our petitions to our Father who wants to give us immeasurably more then we can ask or imagine. Having read the Scriptures, we can also let our intercession flow from the promptings and inspirations of the Holy Spirit speaking to us through Scripture.
The R in DESIRE is for rest. This is perhaps the most challenging element of prayer – being able to be at rest with the Lord, to be comfortable with silence. This is a time to just look at the Lord, perhaps with one’s physical eyes (as one gazes on the Eucharist or an image of the crucified Lord), but most especially with the eyes of one’s heart. Silence is indispensable in having a relationship with the Lord.
Finally, the E in DESIRE is for evangelization. Prayer must lead us outwards toward love of neighbor. Our prayer should form us and shape us and lead us to manifest faith, hope and love with all we meet along the way.
It was said of St. Francis that he became a prayer. This should be our desire as well. St. Francis also said to desire one thing alone: the operation of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the result of the Holy Spirit operating within us. May that same Holy Spirit allow us to experience conversion through the gift of prayer.