Prayer and reflection are problematic in these days, not for themselves alone, but because of the nature of the hectic way we live today, which seems to provide in the course of the day, or indeed in the course of the week, little time apart to converse with the infinite and reflect upon its nature.
But, as Finbarr Lynch writes here, to enter fully into that inner life through prayer is to reach that final “island of peace”, where prayer wells up, often turning to an intense flame at times.
Finbarr Lynch’s book is a successor to his popular earlier title When You Pray (Irish Messenger Publications), and addresses what might be seen as the reverse situation: what to do when you can’t pray.
A spiritual director is quoted here who tells a retreatant: “Your preparation for prayer is how you live outside prayer, your attitudes, and choices you make, in your daily life, are what bring you to prayer. They dispose you for prayer, or impede prayer. How you are in your heart is your preparation.”
Many seemingly devout people, in how they live, have so much anger with the world and with others, often expressed as righteousness, that it must seriously impede their prayer life.
Fr Lynch takes his readers slowly through the various stages – this is not a book to rush at. But he adds also a long section for those directing retreats which will be read with interest by those taking retreats.
As regards that life outside, there was an old saying, derived from St Benedict: laborare est orare. He supposed prayer, work and study to be equally important. But study has to be more than reading over the past, it must be a preparation for making things new. Prayer should call us not to repeat the past, but to create the future. When You Can’t Pray will guide people to this end.
Answer the call
The Cross Our Only Hope, produced by Congregation of the Holy Cross in the United States, is the fourth version of a book that first appeared back in 1970. That it has lived so long suggests something of the vital outlook which it puts forward.
In his foreword the Superior General of the Congregation remarks that “My hope for this new edition is that it helps us all to answer the call of Pope Francis, the calls of Blessed Moreau, and ultimately the call of Jesus himself.
For each and every day of the year the editors have provided a series of extracts by way of reflection on the themes of trust in God, zeal, compassion, hope in the Cross, discipleship, and finally, and education in the faith. Each daily piece is quite short. Room to read it can be found in even the busiest schedule.
In the revision space has been found for extracts from the writing of St André Bessette, the Holy Cross brother who was canonised in 2010. The pieces take only a minute or two to read, but many are accounts of moving personal experiences – some very extreme such as the death of an infant, a missionary’s loss of an eye in an ambush. Yet all are in themselves life enhancing. A book to be recommended for its brief intensities.