The Prayer of the Poor

The significance of this alternating course, by which you are obliged to pursue union with God in two diametrically opposed directions, requires your full and willing acceptance. On the one hand, you have your work days when, heavy with fatigue, pressed by those who need you, you will be reduced to prayer of that dark, formless and sometimes painful kind whose value for purification and union with God in pure faith I think you will now realize, given what I said above. On the other hand, you have your longer periods of withdrawal and silence when, owing to the contrast, you will very likely find yourselves psychologically unprepared, at least at the outset. And this is perfectly normal.

You will have to make a spiritual effort at thoughtful reading and deeper reflection on your faith. This faith will be truer for your being less tempted to seek enjoyment in it and inclined to stop at this step. With notransition to assist you it will likewise be more difficult for you to adjust to the outer silence, though this will not necessarily mean that you are lacking in either inner silence or inner generosity. Sometimes it will simply be a matter of your not feeling at home right away, and the effort you will have to make to overcome that reaction will give the outer silence you observe during these brief "flights into the wilderness" its full "filtering" capacity. Thus you will also be able to see how real the inner silence, which you have struggled to keep in'the depth of your hearts in everyday life, has actually been.

In short, this constant changing from one kind of life to another acts as a guarantee of the authenticity of your lives as believers. By giving yourselves generously to both these forms of life, one after the other, without ever seeking to run away from the challenges both offer to our self-detachment and self-giving, you can avoid the risks inherent in both. And your faith, your prayer, your love of God and people will be safe from illusion.

As regards prayer more especially (since prayer is what I started out to write to you about tonight), whether during your hour of adoration at the end of your work day or in the silence of a retreat day, you must always expect that you will be coming to it under conditions that will require a real effort in faith.

Let me also stress again the value of what I might call the "work-and-expenditure" period of your life rhythm as a vehicle on the road to divine union. This is not a period during which you live off a supply of spiritual energy accumulated in the course of your retreat times, like a tank running out almost faster than it can be re-filled. Such an idea is radically false. It would amount to saying there can be no growth in love in a prayer life led with courage under difficult circumstances.

A live body is strengthened by exercise as well as by rest. These two factors are equally necessary to its well-being and development. But too much rest causes one to become weak, and too much exercise causes strain. Proper development depends on adequately alternating between the two. And so it is with living prayer. We are quite as much—and sometimes more—open to the sanctifying influence of God's Spirit in the state of self-emptying brought about by a courageous effort to pray at the end of a long and difficult day as we are, say, in the peaceful rest of a moment of meditative reading at the beginning of a day of silence. Both of these "movements," however, are required to ensure the growth of our generosity, and the balance of our life for God, beyond the realm of illusion.

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, 27th July, 1951