+JMJ+ Welcome to part 21 of our current Catholic Book of the Month, Introduction to the Spiritual Life, by Brant Pitre. I’m on a Quest to become a saint, using this book as my guide. Come along with me and let’s become saints together!
I really do hope that you have a copy of the book itself. Dr. Pitre is such an engaging writer (and speaker) and I cannot hope to begin to do justice to his book in these posts. Hopefully I have been able to whet your appetite to go further and if I have done that, I have accomplished at least one of my goals.
Having given us an overview of the battle against vice, Dr. Pitre now turns to the battle of prayer. And if you’ve ever tried to cultivate your prayer life, then you know it really is a battle. Here he gives a brief quote from the Catechism. I’ll give you the full quote.
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.(68) Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes:
He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows.(69)Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2015; footnote 68: See 2 Tim 4; footnote 69: St. Gregory of Nyssa, Hom. in Cant. 8: PG 44, 941C.
Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.Ibid., no. 2725.
We could think about those paragraphs and meditate on them for a long time and I think we absolutely need to get those words of St. Paul’s firmly fixed in our minds: “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” If anyone thinks that being a Christian is taking the easy way out or that it should be easy, then they don’t know the first thing about being a Christian. And, yes, I have had people argue with me that Christianity shouldn’t entail study or striving of any kind. It’s happened many times over a period of many years. But I digress. Maybe I’ll write a post about that later on. Back to the subject at hand.
The section on Jacob and the battle of prayer is fascinating (Gen. 32:22-31, Intro, pg. 515-516, ebook). I recommend reading it in the book–or listening to it via the audiobook. (Maybe I need to get a copy of that, too, soon.) I just noticed something: using the Books app on my phone I can see the page number in the print version of the book, but using the app on my laptop, I can’t. :/
Dr. Pitre points out that this battle happens at night and last all night long, until dawn comes and the face of the person Jacob is wrestling with could become revealed more clearly. That’s when Jacob has to let him go. Jacob realizes that he has been wrestling with God, Who then blesses him (gives him a new name, Israel) but also wounds him in the thigh. Jacob will limp forevermore, and is a changed man.
Jesus describes prayer as a battle with a “God who seems disinclined to answer” when He delivers the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8). We are to pray always, at all times, being persistent, and not to lose enthusiasm or not be discouraged and not give up.
And I couldn’t help but really notice this part: that persistent widow has to keep coming back to that unrighteous judge “who neither keeps the commandments nor shows any concern for others…” She has to keep trying and we do, too. And this I did not know or have any idea about: the Greek word translated as “wear out” in the RSV means “to hit under the eye” and is taken from ancient boxing. So the judge is not only worn out with her pleading her case, but he is also afraid that she will punch him out and give him a black eye! :O So Jesus is saying, not to punch anybody’s lights out, but to pray without giving up, no matter what, because if even this unrighteous judge will give justice, how much more so will the “good God hear the prayers of his beloved people, who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7)? (See Intro, pp. 524-525.)
And this so hard for me. This! “The Battle to Rise and Pray” which is the “absolutely unfailing commitment to rise every morning at a fixed hour [ARGH!], no matter what, and spend time in prayer.
If you avoid unnecessary conversation and idle visits, as well as a preoccupation with news and various reports, you will find sufficient and appropriate time for good meditations… Anyone who has set his heart on progressing spiritually will do well to spend time apart from the crowd, as Jesus did.Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 1.20.2, quoted in Intro., pp. 528-529. Pretty timely words, huh?
We have to fight the urge to sleep instead of rising, fight against the rejection of the fixed time, and also fight against distractions (and those will show us to what we are attached, perhaps inordinately attached). We can turn that into part of our prayer, asking the Lord to help us get free of those attachments. We also have to fight against the urge to give up when we don’t get the answer we want, when we want it, so that we become “more and more conformed to the will of God” (p. 534). (Praying the Rosary helps, too, especially if you call to mind the mysteries and the fruits of the mysteries as you pray. Do not hesitate to pray for the grace and graces you need. It’s not selfish to do so. I don’t know where people have gotten that idea, but it’s a sadly widespread one.)
There’s more in this book than I can possibly cover in these posts. You can get a copy of your own in hardcover, Kindle ebook or audio format using the links at the end of this post. View other parts of the series on the annotated Table of Contents page and scroll down for this series of posts.
Next time, the Dark Night of the Senses and the Dark Night of the Soul.
Thanks for visiting the blog and reading. I pray that you and I will stay holy and virtuous this Easter season, and may these spiritual helps aid us to become who the Lord intends us to be: SAINTS. God bless you and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+
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Notes and Links
- The current Catholic Book of the Month is Introduction to the Spiritual Life: Walking the Path of Prayer with Jesus, by Brant Pitre: Hardcover, Kindle. Audiobook via Audible (free with Audible trial). (Amazon affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.)
- There are a lot of books on the spiritual life listed in a post I did a few years ago on Dr. Pitre’s audio course on Spiritual Theology. There are links in that post for some of those books in PDF format for free at archive.org.
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Image: 1) in the banner, same one the cover of the book uses: The Road to Emmaus (or The Way to Emmaus), by Robert Zund, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. 2) Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Leon Bonnat, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. 3) The Unjust Judge and the Importunate Widow (The Parables of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ), print, after Sir John Everett Millais, engraved and printed by Dalziel Brothers (MET, 21.68.4(18)) 4) Agony in the Garden, by Giuseppe Cesari, via Wikimedia Commons, Photo by Mentnafunangann, CC BY-SA 4.0.
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