Carmelite Spirituality – Prayer
The Centre of our Lives
Patrick Burke, O.Carm. Carmelite Family: Number 22, Summer 2004.
The Holy Trinity draws us into communion with themselves and with one another, in faith, in hope and in charity. These virtues are experienced, nourished and expressed in prayer, as we turn our attention to God, in adoration and in love, in obedient listening, in sincere contrition, and in hope-filled petition.
Prayer is a matter of communication. When we pray we communicate with God. We speak to him and he listens to us. He speaks and we listen to him. The model for this communication is the Blessed Trinity. The persons of the Blessed Trinity communicate with one another. The Father speaks to the Son and the Son listens to the Father and the Spirit is in the listening. The Son speaks to the Father and the Father listens to the Son, and the Spirit is in the listening. Through prayer, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are brought in to the conversation that goes on all the time between the Father and the Son. This is the insight we find in the experience of Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi, a Carmelite Mystic. It gives us the foundation for our understanding of prayer that we find in the Constitutions of the Carmelite Friars. It indicates how meaningful prayer can be and the ideal, which is offered to us in our faith.
Belief in the Blessed Trinity lies at the heart of Christian faith. The Christian believes in the God who is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. Divinity is revealed as a relationship between persons in a love and knowledge that is extended to all that their love creates.
Prayer is exercised in Faith, in Hope and in Charity.
Faith and prayer are related in the way that God communicates with us. From the moment of our creation, and perhaps from even before that, we are in God’s intention and we become the children who communicate with God. This God goes on speaking his Word to us, even when we are not quite conscious of that fact. We recognise that word coming from God, and give it different names. The Christian believes that God’s clearest and most perfect word of communication is in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Our prayer is our recognition of God’s presence in us and in our world. Faith is an acceptance of that presence and action, and that acceptance and the consequences of it are expressed in prayer. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Son of God.” Hope is the virtue that confirms that it is worthwhile to pray because of the recognition that God is God, God is present and God is acting for our good, even though we cannot always see that. The possession of hope is the possession of an assurance that we are not lost, and that all things work for God in the world of God, or the Reign of God. If we did not possess this assurance, at least in some measure, we would never pray. Prayer is an act of love, because it is an act of loving communication with the God of love, and it is an act of love that we make on behalf or in favour of those whom we love. If we did not love, our prayer would be nothing more that a vocal or mental exercise, an empty drum, a clashing symbol. But because we love, and would like to love more, prayer helps us to go beyond ourselves in love for others and to link into the love that God has for those whom we love.
Prayer in Adoration, Thanksgiving, Petition and Repentance.
The more we accept the presence and action of God, the more we will try to respond. Adoration suggests the silent recognition on the part of the believers that they stand in the presence of God and do not have words with which to pray.
We believe that at that moment the Spirit gives us words with which to pray. We find words that allow us to thank God for his goodness to us. Once we recall all his acts of goodness and recognise them, we are moved to praise and thank him for them. We find words also that express our sorrow and repentance when we realise what we have done with the gifts that God has given us. Finally we find words to ask for God’s help, because of a very deep recognition that without God we can do nothing, neither for ourselves nor for others, and that with God’s help we can do ordinary things in an extraordinary way, as we become united with the mind and heart of God through our prayer. In this kind of prayer we learn more and more to see with the eyes of God, to listen with the ears of God and to love with the heart of God, and the experience brings communion and in that communion our joy becomes complete.