“What the world most needs today is prayer,” according to Fr. Jacques Philippe, author and retreat master. His books on prayer and spirituality are printed in 18 languages and have sold over 500,000 copies. “Faithfulness to prayer is a path of freedom,” he writes in his newest book, Thirsting for Prayer. He explains that prayer is more about spending time with God than asking for things. It deepens our understanding of God and ourselves and keeps God, rather than ourselves, at the center of our life.
Fr. Philippe wrote this book because he said the hunger and need for prayer in our world impelled him. “I often go to preach retreats in many different countries, and I am struck by the thirst for prayer that is apparent today among so many people…but also by the need that exists for definite signposts to ensure their perseverance.”
Make the Time
Praying well, according to Fr. Philippe, begins by making time for it. “Without faithfulness to our appointments with prayer, by contrast, there is a serious risk that our lives may never acquire any coherent meaning,” he writes. He states that prayer will give birth to all the renewals, healings, and transformations we all want for society today. “This world of ours is very sick, and only contact with heaven will be able to cure it,” he says. “The most useful thing for the Church to do today is to give people a thirst for prayer and teach them to pray.”
The opposite are those who have everything through prayer. On that basis, God can freely enter their lives and act in them, working the marvels of his grace. But Fr. Philippe says we are all not the same and we should do whatever we can.
“I know lay people fully taken up by their family and work commitments who in twenty minutes of daily prayer receive as many graces as monks who pray for five hours a day,” he writes.
God himself is inviting us to prayer, says Fr. Philippe, but he points out that while man searches for God, God seeks out man even more actively. With that in mind, he warns that we risk becoming discouraged at some stage if we just pray for the sake of the benefits we hope to obtain because benefits are neither instantaneous nor measurable. “God knows what is good for us, and that should be enough for us,” he says. “We ought not to take a utilitarian view of prayer, reducing it to questions of results and profits; that would distort it completely. God invites us, so to speak, to “waste time” on him, and that is enough.” Yet, paradoxically, Fr. Philippe says that the more our prayer is done freely–not to get something out of it–the more it will bear fruit.
God, Not Self, in the Center
By putting God at the center, we find balance and detachment from ourselves. Prayer teaches us to put down our roots in God, to “abide in his love.” Fr. Philippe acknowledges we will experience trials and weariness since we need to experience our weakness and know that we are poor and small. Nevertheless, he says it is still true that in prayer, God is able to give us the energy, sometimes including physical energy that we need to serve him and love him.
In the end, Fr. Philippe says that prayer gives us a foretaste of heaven. “It makes us glimpse and savor a happiness that is not of this world, and that nothing here below can give us: the happiness in God for which we are destined, for which we were created. Yes, we do encounter struggles, sufferings, and aridity in our prayer lives, but if we persevere faithfully in prayer, we taste from time to time an inexpressible happiness: a degree of peace and fulfillment that are a real foretaste of paradise. ‘You will see heaven opened,’ Jesus has promised us (Jn 1:51).”
According to Fr. Philippe, it is a spiritual emptiness that drives people into a frenzied search for sense satisfactions. “People sometimes have an insatiable need to feel, to savor, to experience newer and more intense emotions and sensations, and this need can lead to destructive behaviors, as in the areas of sex, drugs, etc.,” he writes.
When meaning is lacking, people try to replace it with feelings and sensations. Fr. Philippe explains: “’Get your fill of sensations,’ said a recent car advertisement. But that is a dead end, producing nothing but frustration, even self-destruction and violence. A thousand satisfactions do not add up to happiness.”
It is through prayer, Fr. Philippe says, that causes us little by little, to experience our real treasure within us, that we possess within ourselves the Kingdom and its happiness. “This discovery will make us freer with regard to earthly possessions, liberating us gradually from the excessive need to have things.”
By contrast, he says, without prayer, there is a serious risk that our lives may never acquire any coherent meaning. “He who does not gather with me scatters,” our Lord tells us (Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23).
True freedom, Fr. Philippe explains, come from prayer. “It teaches us progressively to seek in God the essential gifts we desire: infinite, everlasting love, peace, security, happiness . . . and to find them, because ‘he who seeks, finds,’ as the Gospel assures us (Mt 7:8).”
Art: File photos.