The Prayer of the Poor

The Gospel teaching on prayer can, then, be considered to be contained in two essential points, a promise that God will come to meet us when and as he wishes (this is God's share in the work, as far as we are concerned the greater share, for his promise will not be frustrated), and a pressing summons to perseverance, whatever happens and despite all adverse appearances (this is our share in the work). And what more do we need to know?

So, to learn how to pray, just pray. And pray a great deal, and make yourselves keep starting over again tirelessly, even if there is no response, even if there is no apparent result. Jesus stressed perseverance as he did because he knew how difficult it would be for us, owing to our need for novelty and change.

To help yourselves persevere, you will frequently have to recall the characteristics which prayer of pure faith habitually takes on.

Thus, do not wait to pray until the desire for it comes, or until you "feel like it." If you do this, you will find yourselves slipping just when you most need to pray. This is a most dangerous illusion, and one to which a great many people owe their estrangement from Christ. The desire for prayer can only come from faith; it is an effect of prayer, and not the other way around. It should be enough for you to realize that God is expecting you. God never stops wanting you to pray, even when you have no wish to do so—and perhaps even especially then. Something never to forget is that the less you pray, the less well you will pray, and the less often you will desire it.

Of course, you must not look for any personal benefit from pure prayer. It is for God's sake that one must pray, and not to get satisfaction out of it, or to see how well one can pray, or how good one's method is. Nor should one wish for any other kind of prayer than the one God gives as one goes along.

I do not see in the Our Father, at least, in the first part of it, any request whose answer could bring any personal satisfaction, or even any immediately observable result; and that is the prayer which Jesus gave his disciples as a model. One must persevere without seeing. One must therefore be capable of always starting over with no "purpose," for no "reason" at all—for his sake. This amounts to saying that, if you are to succeed at all inpraying this way, you will need a great deal of courage; and you will need even more in order to prolong your prayer and persevere in prayer. Father de Foucauld always asked for courage as something indispensable, and he was continually accusing himself of having too little of it.

Do not be diffident about taking with you into prayer (or of carrying away with you either) a feeling of aversion, or even revulsion, for your shortcomings or your weaknesses or your mistakes, in short, for your misery. Recall the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, and ask yourselves why the Lord's preference was for the latter, with his consciousness of his faults and his shyness. It is even probable that the more generous your prayer, the more acutely, the more overpoweringly, you will feel your shortcomings.

And what of it? What do you imagine you would stand to gain by trying to appear other than you really are before God, or by insisting upon being different with God in prayer from what he asks you to be? Be what you are, as you are. Refrain, too, from trying to make your prayer easier, or to make yourselves feel it, by using a book. You would probably be wasting your time. Your aim is simply to be really present before God, not through thought or imagination or feeling (these will wander waywardly sometimes, anyway), but through the desire of your wills, constantly re-focused. At times, the only way within your immediate power to express this intention—and yet it will still be very real, will be simply to remain physically present, on your knees, before the Tabernacle. And that will then suffice. The aspiration of your being towards God in silence is infinitely more than reading or meditating.

When one prays, one must be prepared to accept what prayer itself demands. You will therefore often have to go to prayer as to the cross. And this is much more deeply true than you may think, because it is precisely in prayer that you are associated with the work of redemption which was brought about on the cross. Go to prayer to "lose" yourselves, and then you will be certain of realizing the whole of the Lord's will for you. For

"the one who tries to save his life will lose it; the one who loses his life for my sake will secure it" (Matthew 16:25).

I can assure you that there is no truer method, nor one more in keeping with the Gospel. It will be impossible for you to go astray if you follow it. The vacuum of thought and feeling is nothing for you to recoil from, provided that, first, it has not been brought about artificially by your own efforts; and second, you put into it your silent, courageous, perhaps painful, and in any case obscure, expectancy of the divine visit.

You must be capable of waiting for the meeting with God, all your life long if necessary, without ever ceasing to believe it will come, but beginning your wait afresh each day. That is exactly what it means to persevere in faith in the Lord's words, and to keep one's lamp filled with oil.