Though it may seem obvious, we should remember that holiness consists in a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration. The saints are distinguished by a spirit of prayer and a need for communion with God. They find an exclusive concern with this world to be narrow and stifling, and, amid their own concerns and commitments, they long for God, losing themselves in praise and contemplation of the Lord. I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions.
Always Go to God. St. John of the Cross tells us: “Endeavor to remain always in the presence of God, either real, imaginative, or unitive, insofar as is permitted by your works.” In the end, our desire for God will surely find expression in our daily lives: “Try to be continuous in prayer, and in the midst of bodily exercises do not leave it. Whether you eat, drink, talk with others, or do anything, always go to God and attach your heart to him.”
For this to happen, however, some moments spent alone with God are also necessary. For St. Teresa of Ávila, prayer “is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with him who we know loves us.” I would insist that this is true not only for a privileged few, but for all of us, for “we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored.” Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encountering God face-to-face, where all is peaceful and the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard in the midst of silence.
In that silence, we can discern, in the light of the Spirit, the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us. Otherwise, any decisions we make may only be window dressing that, rather than exalting the gospel in our lives, will mask or submerge it. For each disciple, it is essential to spend time with the Master, to listen to his words, and to learn from him always. Unless we listen, all our words will be nothing but useless chatter.
In Silence. We need to remember that “contemplation of the face of Jesus, died and risen, restores our humanity, even when it has been broken by the troubles of this life or marred by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ” (Pope Francis, November 10, 2015). So let me ask you: Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart?
Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.
I ask that we never regard prayerful silence as a form of escape and rejection of the world around us. The Russian pilgrim, who prayed constantly, says that such prayer did not separate him from what was happening all around him. “Everybody was kind to me; it was as though everyone loved me. . . . Not only did I feel [happiness and consolation] in my own soul, but the whole outside world also seemed to me full of charm and delight” (The Way of a Pilgrim, 105–106).
In Memory. Nor does history vanish. Prayer, because it is nourished by the gift of God present and at work in our lives, must always be marked by remembrance. The memory of God’s works is central to the experience of the covenant between God and his people. God wished to enter history, and so our prayer is interwoven with memories. We think back not only on his revealed Word, but also on our own lives, the lives of others, and all that the Lord has done in his Church.
This is the grateful memory that St. Ignatius of Loyola refers to in his Contemplation for Attaining Love, when he asks us to be mindful of all the blessings we have received from the Lord. Think of your own history when you pray, and there you will find much mercy. This will also increase your awareness that the Lord is ever mindful of you; he never forgets you. So it makes sense to ask him to shed light on the smallest details of your life, for he sees them all.
In Intercession. Prayer of supplication is an expression of a heart that trusts in God and realizes that of itself it can do nothing. The life of God’s faithful people is marked by constant supplication born of faith-filled love and great confidence. Let us not downplay the prayer of petition, which so often calms our hearts and helps us persevere in hope. Prayer of intercession has particular value, for it is an act of trust in God and, at the same time, an expression of love for our neighbor.
There are those who think, based on a one-sided spirituality, that prayer should be unalloyed contemplation of God, free of all distraction, as if the names and faces of others were somehow an intrusion to be avoided. Yet in reality, our prayer will be all the more pleasing to God and more effective for our growth in holiness if, through intercession, we attempt to practice the twofold commandment that Jesus left us.
Intercessory prayer is an expression of our fraternal concern for others, since we are able to embrace their lives, their deepest troubles, and their loftiest dreams. Of those who commit themselves generously to intercessory prayer we can apply the words of Scripture: “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people” (2 Maccabees 15:14).
In Word and Worship. If we realize that God exists, we cannot help but worship him, at times in quiet wonder, and praise him in festive song. We thus share in the experience of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who said: “As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could do nothing other than to live for him.” In the life of God’s pilgrim people, [he said], there can be many simple gestures of pure adoration, as when “the gaze of a pilgrim rests on an image that symbolizes God’s affection and closeness. Love pauses, contemplates the mystery, and enjoys it in silence.”
The prayerful reading of God’s word, which is “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 119:103) yet a “two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), enables us to pause and listen to the voice of the Master. It becomes a lamp for our steps and a light for our path (cf. Psalm 119:105). As the bishops of India have reminded us, “devotion to the word of God is not simply one of many devotions, beautiful but somewhat optional. It goes to the very heart and identity of Christian life. The word has the power to transform lives” (February 18, 2009).
Meeting Jesus in the Scriptures leads us to the Eucharist, where the written word attains its greatest efficacy, for there the living Word is truly present. In the Eucharist, the one true God receives the greatest worship the world can give him, for it is Christ himself who is offered. When we receive him in Holy Communion, we renew our covenant with him and allow him to carry out ever more fully his work of transforming our lives.
Hail, Mary . . . I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary. . . . She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen, and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees, and sanctifies us.
Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary . . . ” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 147–157, 176) © 2018, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.