Prayer in the Life of the Claretian
Prayer was one of our Fr. Founder’s most beloved topics, something he lived and urged others to do. In the earliest Constitutions he passionately urged the novices:
“What the Missionaries being tested must never forget, what must clamor for their attention before all else, and what must ceaselessly be practiced without slackening or tepidity is the prayer that will be done faithfully and in community...”
From Claret’s perspective, which must be ours since we have been graced with the Claretian charism, prayer is necessary to configure us to Christ, to grow in our missionary life and to be aflame with the love of Christ that must impel us in mission. Only when we are on fire with that love can we spread its flames wherever we go and set all people on fire with God’s love.
In this chapter we will discuss various biblical and theological aspects of prayer that are valid for all Christians and, within them, some more specific elements that our Founder lived and that we should live. Finally, we will offer some pedagogical considerations. We will follow this outline:
I. BIBLICAL ASPECTS
II. THEOLOGICAL ASPECTS
III. CLARETIAN ASPECTS
IV. PEDAGOGICAL ASPECTS
We will focus on two models of prayer proposed in the Constitutions: the prayer of Jesus and that of Mary. Both present the essence and characteristics of Christian prayer and also inspire Claretian prayer.
1. The Prayer of Jesus
In the New Testament the perfect model for prayer is found in the filial prayer of Jesus. In His own prayer and in His teachings his disciples learn to pray at all times. And He Himself receives their prayers.
1.1. Jesus Prays
Jesus becomes one who prays by virtue of His being Son of God. He lives prayer as the constant and spontaneous realization of his filial status. By being Son, he encounters the expansion of His being in His relationships with the Father. He responds with radical and absolute trust as one who knows that He is always heard (cf. Jn. 11:41-42) and desiring to hear the Father’s will in order to carry it out.
The encounter with the Father clarifies his mission (cf. Lk. 4:18-19), makes Him accept the cross (cf. Mk. 14:36) and makes Him trust unto the end (cf. Lk. 23:46). In His final words on the cross He shows us that praying and giving oneself are one and the same thing.
Prayer also animates His daily life and is deeply rooted in His ministry. Jesus looks for moments of solitude and silence (cf. Mk. 1:35; 6:46; Mt. 14:23; 26:36; Lk. 5:16; 6:12; 9:18). He prays before the decisive moments of His mission (baptism, cf. Lk. 3:21; transfiguration, cf. Lk. 9:28; passion, cf. Lk. 22:41-44) and He also prays before the decisive and critical moments for the mission of His apostles (election and call, cf. Lk. 6:12; Peter’s confession, cf. Lk. 9:18-20; Peter’s temptations (cf. Lk. 22:32).
In his glory, Jesus the Lord prays for us today. Even in His high priestly prayer (cf. Jn. 17) He prayed for His future disciples (cf. vv. 20-26). But now, as the only mediator before the Father (cf. Hb. 8:6), He continuously intercedes for us. This intercession of Christ on our behalf has more influence than all our voices.
1.2. Jesus Teaches Us to Pray
Jesus teaches us to pray not only by His example but also by His teaching. Prayer must be humble, free of pretense before God (cf. Lk. 18:10-14) and boasting in front of people (cf. Mt. 6:5-6; Mk. 12:40), from the heart more than from the lips (cf. Mt. 6:7), trusting in the Father’s kindness (cf. Mt. 6:8; 7:7-11) and persisting to the point of importunity (cf. Lk. 11:5-8; 18:1-8). It will certainly be heard if it is done with faith (cf. Mt. 21:22), in Jesus’ name (cf. Jn. 14:13-14), and if it asks for good things (Mt. 7:11), as, for example, the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk. 11:13). It must ask God for forgiveness (cf. Mk. 11:25), for the good of one’s persecutors (cf. Mt. 5: 44; cf. Lk. 23:24), and, above all, for the coming of the Kingdom of God and preservation during the eschatological trial (cf. Mt. 24:20; 26:41; Lk. 21:36). All of this is contained in the model prayer, the Our Father, taught by Jesus Himself (cf. Mt. 6:9-15). Oriented toward the Lord’s coming, prayer must be vigilant (cf. Mt. 26:41; Lk. 21:36). It is done in common around the Lord who is present (cf. Mt. 18:19-20). It achieves its perfection in liturgical prayer on earth (Ac. 2:42-46; 20: 7-11; 1 Co. 14:14f; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19) and in heaven (Rv. 4:8-11; 5:8-14; 7:9-12).
1.3. Jesus Hears Prayer
Jesus hears prayer throughout His ministry, through the signs that anticipate the power of His death and resurrection. Jesus hears the prayer of faith expressed in the words of the leper (cf. Mk. 1:40-41), Jairus (cf. Mk. 5:36), the Canaanite woman (cf. Mk. 7:29), the centurion (cf. Jn. 4: 46-53), the good thief (cf. Lk. 23:39-43), the blind men (cf. Mt. 9:27). He also listens to the silence of the ones who carry the paralytic (cf. Mk. 2:5), the woman with the hemorrhage (cf. Mk. 5:28), the tears and the perfume of the sinful woman (cf. Lk. 7:37-38). Curing the sick and forgiving sinners, Jesus always responds to the petition that is made with faith: Go in peace, your faith has saved you!.
2. The Prayer of the Virgin Mary
Mary is the praying Virgin (cf. MC 18). Before the incarnation of the Son of God her prayer cooperates in a singular way with the Father’s loving plan for the conception of Christ (cf. Lk. 1:38). The gift of God, Christ, finds in Mary the hoped for welcome by her responding with the offering of her entire being: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word. Fiat (let it be done): this is the Christian’s prayer.
Many of the sayings that the Gospels attributed to Mary are considered prayers. But, undoubtedly, the place where she most appears to us as the praying Virgin is in her visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary opens her spirit in expressions glorifying God, expressions of humility, faith and hope. This is the Magnificat (cf. Lk. 1:47-55), Mary’s most excellent prayer.
Mary appears as the praying Virgin at Cana, where, when she delicately asks her Son to meet a need that has arisen, she also obtains an effect of grace: Jesus, working the first of His signs, strengthens His disciples’ faith in Him (cf. Jn. 2: 1-12). Also, before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, Mary is presented to us as praying, cooperating in the formation of the Church, the Body of Christ (cf. Ac. 1: 14). The praying presence of Mary continues in the Church for all time because, she, assumed into heaven, has not abandoned her mission of intercession and salvation.
II. THEOLOGICAL ASPECTS
Prayer, from a theological point of view, is a gift from God. God has spoken to us, his children, and has given us the power to hear Him and respond to Him as Father (cf. Jn. 1:12). Highlighting this character of gift, prayer is also a human enterprise, a commitment of the person who opens himself or herself totally to God and allows God to enter.
1. Prayer is a Gift of God
First and foremost, prayer is a grace, an offering from God. God is the one who takes the initiative, who first calls the human being. God shows the person His initiative in various ways:
1.1. Through Created Things
Everything bears the imprint of the divine initiative and summons us to praise, gratitude and adoration. God’s presence is also manifested in the human being created in God’s image. Every person must become a visible sign, a sacrament of God’s presence. But God speaks to us in a special way in the poor. The humble, grateful and generous acceptance of the poor is a sign of progress in recognizing God and in the meaning of true prayer.
1.2. In God’s Revealed Word
Scripture is a Word of God of a privileged kind. It is the very source of our prayer. However, the best expression of the Father’s loving initiative is the incarnation of the eternal Word in Christ Jesus. Christ is the definitive word of the Father to us and the perfect response. In His humanity, united the eternal Word, Christ responds in the name of all creation and also in our name. And this becomes a grace for us and an invitation to unite ourselves to Him and to transform our lives in order to give Him an authentic and total response.
1.3. In the Signs of the Times
An active form of God’s presence is the signs of the times, which, for the believer, become a powerful word of God that demands a united response. This makes it clear that the Christian’s prayer can never dissociate itself from the history of salvation and from events, nor can it be reduced to a simply reciting formulas.
1.4. In the Giving of Christ, of the Spirit and of the Church
God’s gift is given to us in the presence of:
• Christ, who is, as mediator, the center of our prayer, since the Father addresses Himself to us through Him and, through His mediation, our prayers reach God;
• the Spirit, who makes us aware of our status as sons and daughters and who prays in us with unutterable groanings for what is appropriate (cf. Rm. 8);
• the Church, which provides a dimension of communion for all worship and prayer, whether we pray in community or in private. Our prayer always has ecclesial dimensions.
2. Prayer as a Human Response
The person cannot respond to God’s initiative with an attitude of passivity. This is impossible in Christian prayer, which consists mainly in an encounter between the freedom of God and the freedom of the person created and challenged by God. The structure of Christian prayer is, thus, deeply personal and dialogical. In this encounter the free person also has an active role.
2.1. The One Who Prays
One prays out of one’s own person. This is true of all people who pray, but much deeper when the Christian prays. By baptism, the Christian is in Christ and lives in Christ. Christian prayer is truly situated in this being in and living in Christ. It a matter of the prayer of sons and daughters in the Son. The Christian prays through Him, with Him and in Him.
2.2. The Attitudes of the One Who Prays
Praying is a grace, but it is also a process that requires effort, discipline and work in order to concentrate diffused energy. The evangelical style of our life, the struggle against evil, self-denial and asceticism, overcoming temptations and solidarity with the poor all take on a special value in that process. Likewise the process is influenced by a healthy emotional life, the ability to be silent and alone with oneself, control over ourselves and our own actions, openness to others, etc. We are going to briefly highlight those attitudes that prepare one for, and accompany, prayer:
a. An attitude of faith, hope and love. Prayer is a typical faith experience. It is one of the few activities that are done purely out of faith, for the sake of God. The one who truly prays stands before God as One in whom he or she places his or her hope. The one praying knows that every gift from God, including that of prayer, although given without regard for our merits, draws its impetus from our passionate hope. Prayer also presupposes the love of the one praying. One seeks communication with God, one’s Father, because one feels loved and loves, because one wants to receive the love with which one is loved to respond it with an identical love.
b. An attitude of humility, recollection and silence. Humility is the gateway to encounter with God. The one who prays truly is always a poor sinner before God who receives grace, mercy and salvation (cf. Lk. 18:9-14). Recollection is an attitude recommended by Jesus Himself (cf. Mt. 6:6). To encounter God often requires that we unite our inner energies and concentrate them, shutting ourselves off from the outside world. Silence, understood as the ability to pay total attention to God, helps those who pray to hear the Word, at the same time as it confronts them with the truth about themselves.
c. An attitude of abandonment to God, of surrendering oneself and carrying out God’s will. In prayer the attitude of absolute abandonment into the Father’s hands is very important. This is the attitude that characterizes the prayer of Jesus (cf. Lk. 26:43; Mt. 11:26). The Father knows better than we do what we need and what conforms best to the fulfillment of his plans for us. This abandonment is concretized, above all, in ardently desiring to do God’s will and has its ultimate expression in self-surrender. Prayer is a mutual surrender of freedom. God, more than giving things, gives Himself and the one who prays must do the same, like Jesus in Gethsemane (cf. Lk. 22:42).
2.3. The Situation of the One Who Prays
Undoubtedly the personal and environmental situation of the one who prays affects his or her prayer. Jesus Himself often broke into thanksgiving (cf. Mt. 11:25) and, at other times, asked for God’s help with shouts and tears (cf. Hb. 5: 7). What matters is that those who pray use everything at their command according to their own way of being, the culture to which they belong and the environment in which they live, their intellectual level, their education, and the resources of the present moment and the state of mind they currently find themselves. Sometimes we will pass through moments of light, peace and serenity, while circumstances at other times create a dark night. They mystics teach us that in the night and in the desert God works most deeply in people. In the prayer in darkness one is prepared for the light.
III. CLARETIAN ASPECTS
1. Claret’s Prayer
Rather than a theory of apostolic prayer, Claret sets before his missionaries, especially in his Autobiography, his own lived experience. Claret the evangelizer prays because Christ the evangelizer does it.
1.1. Prayer, A Constant in His Life
Claret’s missionary vocation is the best place to discover the essence of his prayer. For him, to be an apostle meant, above all, to pray and work intensely. In order to prove this, Claret cites the example of Christ, who worked by day and prayed by night. It is also supported by the example of the apostles who, according to what we read in the Book of Acts, were consecrated “to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Ac. 6:4).
It is not strange, then, that prayer and apostolate are so well connected in his life. He knows how to be alone with God in the middle of the bustling crowds; and, when he is alone, how to fill his prayer with persons living and dead.
His prayer has two main purposes: one, to keep himself in the grace of the Lord; and, especially, to make his apostolate fruitful. This is one of the great convictions he reached in his life: “The first means that I have always employed and still do is prayer. This is the greatest means that can be used for the conversion of sinners [...] I not only prayed myself but also asked others to pray [...].” Such convictions and the experience of the great favors that he received from God in prayer, led him to dedicate 3 or 4 hours to it every day, as is shown in his writings and in the events of his life.
To get to this point, Claret had to travel a long road not always free of difficulties. Even in his childhood his prayer had been precociously missionary. This is revealed in his great preoccupation with people’s salvation and the contemplation that he does on the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ as he prays the Rosary. At that age he also discovers the prayer of personal friendship with the Lord present and living in the Eucharist, to whose service he comes to dedicate himself.
In his youth, after passing through various perils and through his infatuation with manufacturing, he experiences an increase in his piety and devotion that allows him to discover the vanity of the world and of human success. During his seminary period, he began to apply himself to reading and meditating on the Word of God, being deeply impressed by certain passages that prod him to offer himself for the service of the Gospel.
Later, after already being a priest and a novice, his prayer achieves its full missionary expression. He shares with the Virgin his view of the needs of the world, his burning reaction of apostolic zeal, his intercession, and he generously and docilely dedicates himself to the apostolic mission. Claret’s prayer will turn preeminently apostolic during his journeys as an apostolic missionary, when he proposes to imitate Jesus the missionary, who worked by day and prayed by night. He understands that this is the forge in which the fire of Pentecost is enkindled in him to tirelessly proclaim the Gospel. This same prayer predominates while he is Bishop in Cuba. He thinks that, in the heart of a Prelate who busies himself with meditating on what Jesus did and suffered in order to save the human race, a fire is enkindled that allows him no peace and no rest.
In Madrid, as royal confessor, the need for prayer becomes more urgent. Under the influence of the Lord’s telling him to dedicate more time to prayer, he resolved to spend his night in prayer. From then on he dedicates 3 hours before dawn to prayer, not counting the time he spends reading the Bible and praying the Breviary. We then see the aspect of missionary intercession in his prayer due to persecution and the impossibility of going out to preach. This is also a period in which he receives enlightenment and extraordinary graces.
Finally, in the solitude of the monastery of Fontfroide, a sick old man now configured to the suffering Christ, he is only left with prayer as a means of apostolate.
1.2. The Forms and Expressions of His Prayer
Even though every apostolic action of Claret’s was developed in the presence of God, we see that in his life plan a time was set aside exclusively for prayer, whether liturgical or private .
a. The Eucharist. Claret is one of the great Eucharistic saints, one truly enamored of the Eucharist. Even as a child, Holy Mass was a moment of great spiritual intensity. From the time of his arrival in Vic to pursue his priestly studies he began to go to Mass every day and he remained faithful to this practice from then on. But rather then its mere practice, it is interesting that the Eucharist appears in Claret as the most painstaking action of the day: a time attentively prepared for and followed by thanksgiving; an intense place for communication and union with Christ, the Son sent to sacrifice Himself for the salvation of the human race and of the world.
We can say, then, that the Eucharist is a dimension that sums up the life of Claret, integrated, at the same time, with that other summarizing dimension, which is his being a missionary. His eucharistic union with Jesus is translated into apostolic energy. Fire begets fire. Thus, living out, for example, the grace of the preservation of the Sacred Species is done in communion with the other dimension. He knows it has been granted to him in order to go around recollected and devoted, but it adds something to his missionary vocation: in order to “confront all the evils of Spain.” The Lord, making him into a living tabernacle, transforms him and fortifies him for mission.
b. The Divine Office. Claret repeatedly speaks in his Autobiography of his dedication to praying the Divine Office. In order to make sure that he completes this prayer, he makes use, on occasion, of the following means: including it among the resolutions he makes for each year, sometimes even specifying the way he will do it and planning the best way to distribute it throughout the day. Evidently this distribution varied according to the stages of his life and the mission entrusted to him at the time.
c. Vocal Prayer. Fr. Claret was always one who prayed a lot. We are surprised, for example, by how many prayers he said while was at Court. This is due in large measure to his temperament, very active and more intuitive and synthetic than deductive. He himself acknowledges that vocal prayer was a better way for him than mental prayer. This confession has to be situated in its proper context. It does not means that, in practice, he would give it greater importance than mental prayer. It is enough to look at his schedule to see the predominance of mental prayer: meditation, private reading and examinations of conscience. This same plan of piety is the one he establishes for the missionaries in the Constitutions: an hour of meditation, a 15-minute examination of conscience at noon and another at night, spiritual reading. The only vocal prayer he emphasizes is the Rosary, which must be said in common.
d. Mental Prayer. For Claret, mental prayer is not the first stage of prayer. On the contrary, it is the superior form of prayer at any stage. All stages of mental prayer, no matter what, are a superior form of prayer. In the lists he makes of the stages of prayer or in his recommendations, mental prayer always takes first place. It translates into an essential demand for his role as minister of the Word. Three main forms stand out to which he constantly returns in his teachings and in the resolutions with he concludes his spiritual exercises every year: meditation, spiritual reading and examination of conscience. He strongly recommends all three together:
• Meditation. The Fr. Founder considered meditation, centered on the life and teaching of Christ, absolutely essential for the apostolate, and first and foremost, for the salvation of the missionary. He did meditation according to the Ignatian method of the three points, although taking liberties with the content. He indicates, for example, that he is more interested in the actions of Christ, in his person, than in dry truths. The phrases that the Fr. Founder insistently repeats are very significant in this respect: “Observe and note [...], look, listen, contemplate [...].” What moves him most is to contemplate Christ as an apostle, the head and model for missionaries. It is not surprising, then, that Claret would propose, at one time or another, contemplating and imitating the Lord both in his external actions as well as in his interior attitudes.
The goal Claret stove for with his meditation was to be set on fire with charity and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. So he goes to meditation looking for what a missionary needs most: the fire of divine love. This fire impels him to proclaim the Gospel, as it did the apostles going out from the upper room.
• Spiritual Reading. Claret placed great importance on spiritual reading, from which he always obtained very good results. Therefore—and because he saw the good it had for others—, he recommended doing it, either in private or in common. Naturally, the preeminent book for spiritual reading is the Bible, and Claret recognized its centrality—something not easy to find in his time. Out of the nucleus of that Word, a message of salvation and a rule of life, naturally flowed both his discursive meditation and his examinations for revision of life. He himself notes how certain passages deeply impressed him in which he seemed to hear the voice of the Lord talking to him in what he was reading. He also notes its decisive influence on the most important events of his life. In effect, by reading the Bible and the lives of the saints he discovered his apostolic vocation. For Claret the efficacy of spiritual reading lies in the personal contact with the Master, whom one assumes is looking at us and speaking to us through it.
• The Examinations. Claret’s fondness for the particular examen was very great, and his faithfulness to it never faltered from his years in the seminary until the end of his life. He examines his conscience twice a day, at noon and at night. He dedicates the first to examination on a particular set point that changes over time. He dealt with humility until 1861; with meekness until 1864; and with love of God until 1870, the year of his death. The second, lasting 15 minutes, he began with the particular examen and continued with a general overview of the whole day. The way of doing the examinations was strictly Ignatian.
e. Devotions. Claret maintained a large number of devotions throughout his life as a means for achieving perfection: visits to the Blessed Sacrament, the Rosary, the Way of the Cross, the Trisagion, the practice of the presence of God, ejaculations, devotion to the saints, etc. He had an ordered and correct conception of them and knew they had to be lived in relation to Christ and the sacraments. Thus, his prayer of the Way of the Cross was more a contemplation and interiorization of the Eucharist, the memorial of the Sacrifice of the Cross, than the sentimental recalling or contemplation of the sufferings of Christ.
2. Claretian Prayer
Claret’s entire prayer life constitutes a wealth of experience for us and a source of inspiration, although there are certain purely personal aspects of it, as is logical, that do not pass to the Congregation. This, based on the Fr. Founder’s experience and recognizing at the same time the best of our own tradition, is basically set down in chapter 5 of the Constitutions. Nos. 84-93 of the Directory specify the aspects of it that must be lived and the personal or communal dimensions these must have. The structure presented in ch. 5 of the Constitutions is the following: Gospel foundation (n. 33); spirit and content of missionary prayer (n. 34); liturgical prayer and the prayer of the Church (n. 35); Marian piety (n. 36); personal prayer (n. 37); sacramental reconciliation(n. 38).
2.1. Christological Foundation (n. 33)
This number emphasizes the Christological perspective of prayer. The foundation of Claretian prayer is not a theory, but a specific person: Jesus the Missionary, who, as such, teaches, enjoins and gives a example for prayer. If Jesus the Missionary prays, the Claretians, involved in the same mission among people as Jesus, should imitate Him in His assiduous prayer. Jesus’ mission is preceded, accompanied and followed by prayer and the Claretian mission, the same as Jesus’ disciples and Claret, must follow those same steps. Jesus also taught the apostles to pray like no one else. With the Our Father he taught them to pray as sons and as ones sent. The missionary, likewise, must listen and docilely follow His teachings.
2.2. Spirit and Content of Missionary Prayer (n. 34)
This number offers us some indications regarding the spirit of prayer, as distinct from its practice, although both are indispensable nourishment for the apostolic life. In its makeup Fr. Caret’s spirit of prayer is very much present, emphasizing these characteristics of how he prayed: his prayer was filial, prophetic, evangelical and apostolic. This last characteristic pours forth as both fire and intercession.
Above all, this number requires us to be filled with a filial spirit as far as what we do as well as what happens to us in our lives. Thus we will be in a kind of continuous extended prayer that will facilitate, during specific prayer times, the exclamation of the Spirit –Abba, Father- within us. And, along with the exclamation, goes filial intimacy, the ardent desire to do God’s will, the offering of our whole being in order to carry out the mission entrusted to us. From the Father His sons receive love and the desire to know, love and praise and serve Him.
It then goes on to require us to seek signs of God’s will in all the events of our lives. This is prophetic prayer. It indicates that the most specific place where the inspiration for our prayer needs to be found is the same as it was for Claret: events, specific situations, missionary practice—with their entire burden of meaning and all their contradictions and conflicts—in which we are caught up. Through those life events, the missionary can trace and discern God’s will and God’s providence, can internalize God’s merciful plans—which will give prophetic import to his preaching and his life, can reaffirm his own readiness to meet new challenges.
The text of the Constitutions then focuses on the Gospel wellspring from which praying missionaries should drink: the Word of God, a force that unifies prayer and apostolic activity. From the Word we receive light in order to interpret events, power to convert us to the Gospel and to configure us to Christ (the disciple’s prayer) and fire to carry out the mission (the apostle’s prayer for zeal). All this becomes even better when we can, through shared prayer, avail ourselves of the experience of our brothers in community. It is the prayer of the disciple and the prayer of the apostle, who learns in the school of the Master (and along with the other listeners) the very Word that, by contemplating it, he must proclaim, burning with missionary zeal.
Lastly, the text expresses a characteristic very specific to Claret’s prayer that we must make our own: the apostolic prayer of intercession. Like Claret, we too have the need to pray in order to bear fruit and to convince ourselves that prayer is the primary means for achieving people’s salvation. The Claretian, then must onside his prayer as a privileged way of communing with people’s joys and sufferings and of showing his love for the Church.
2.3. Liturgical Prayer and the Prayer of the Church (n. 35)
This number prescribes various things: a) Eucharistic worship as celebration and adoration; b) the obligation to pray the Office of the Hours in the name of the Church; c) to live the prayer rhythm of the liturgical year, and d) to unite ourselves with the worship of the Church in heaven.
If before the text talked about prayer being cultivated out of the wellspring of the Word of God, it now talks about the other wellspring: the Eucharist. It adds: the Mass marvelously unites the Word and the Eucharist as the two complementary parts of a single celebration: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The text of the Constitutions requires each Claretian to unite himself in the celebration with Christ the Lord, considered from four perspectives: the Lord who proclaims the words of life, who offers Himself, who honors the Father and who builds unity. These are perspectives much beloved and lived by Fr. Claret, who found in the Eucharist the wellspring of his apostolic energy and which he considered “the privileged place for encountering Christ in His Real Presence and then as sacrifice and communion.” It also gives two directives: the Eucharist must be celebrated every day by all members of the community and this must be done wholeheartedly. This is what Fr. Claret did and what he recommended.
The Constitutions, in accord with Claret’s experience and the tradition of the Congregation, then go on to focus on visits to, and adoration of, the Blessed Sacrament. They ask the missionaries to place great value on the dialogue with Christ during those times.
The Liturgy of the Hours accompanies the central act of worship that is the Eucharist. This is the public prayer of the Church through meditation and proclamation of the inspired word. The Constitutions make two notes: that it be done faithfully and every day. These are notes that capture the sense of the Church, of the Founder of our Congregation’s own tradition.
Daily Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours assure that prayer is lived according to the rhythm of the liturgical year, during which the Church celebrates the entire mystery of Christ and opens to us the riches of the sanctifying power and the merits of the Lord Himself. Within the liturgical year the Church has inserted the remembrance of the saints who sing the perfect praises of God in heaven and intercede for us. The Constitutions require us to associate ourselves in our liturgical prayer with that heavenly worship, united in communion with the saints and venerating their memory. They emphasize the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Michael and all the angels, the apostles and the patrons of the Congregation.
2.4. Marian Piety (n. 36)
This number is built around the loving veneration that, as sons, we owe to Mary and that we must express in liturgical worship and acts of piety. Our veneration is based on her divine motherhood. It specifically highlights, when treating prayer, that she lived united with Christ the Savior with her whole heart, i.e., with a living faith and a conscious and sacrificial love. It states that this veneration, in response to her maternal love and in harmony with Fr. Claret, must be permeated with filial love. This veneration is carried out, first of all, through liturgical worship. In it, sharing in the experience of her spiritual motherhood, we can actually assimilate and deeply live the mystery of Christ throughout the liturgical year and discover the place His Mother has in it. The veneration is also expressed in traditional devotions such as the Rosary and other, similar devotions. Through the Rosary we can assimilate the Mystery of Christ as it was lived in the Heart of His Mother and our Mother.
2.5. Mental Prayer (n. 37)
This number treats personal mental prayer in the three forms we have previously seen in Fr. Claret: meditation, spiritual reading and examination of conscience. It highlights the importance of the Word in all three forms, which is logical given that we Claretians are servants of a Word that, first of all, must transform us.
Meditation must be grounded in the Word and ruminate in the heart, in the inmost depths of the person. It must be done daily and, as far as possible, for one hour.
Spiritual reading must also be done primarily from the Scriptures, following Fr. Claret’s example. In the book of the Scriptures we not only place ourselves before the project of God, but we also read, like Claret, the book of our missionary life as a work of God. From it we see who God is and who we are, why and for what God calls us, what meaning personal and historical events have, as well as the upheavals of modern life.
Lastly, the way the examen is phrased is very significant: let us examine our fidelity to the Gospel. Here also the Word of God is fundamental and must be present for the examination to make sure that grace of God in us is not fruitless. The missionary must confront his life, as was the desire of the Fr. Founder, with the Gospel that he lives and proclaims. The Directory specifies basic times at which it is to be done: around noon, with the predominant character of mental prayer, and at night, with the character of a general review of the day.
The number concludes by reminding us of the priority that daily prayer should have as a primary need of the community and of each missionary.
2.6. Sacramental Reconciliation (n. 38)
This number proposes a specific type of prayer that finds its culminating moment in the sacrament of reconciliation. This is the prayer which expresses our desire for permanent conversion and asks God to forgive our sins.
This concluding number condenses the Council’s teaching on the sacrament of reconciliation, but it also has as its background the teaching and practice of the Fr. Founder and the recommendations of the Congregation. The reception of the sacrament is presented as a celebration of conversion and reconciliation. It thus is something joyful. By virtue of this sacrament we die to sin with Christ and are effectively reconciled with the Church. The text indicates that it should be received frequently.
IV. PEDAGOGICAL ASPECTS
All pedagogy is directed at assuring that a person assumes a value, which is then translated into criteria and into concrete realizations. The pedagogy of prayer has this same goal: that the relationship between God and the one who prays is very real, complete and permanent so as to become a part of oneself. Achieving this goal presupposes that some antecedent conditions are met before one prays and that progressive steps are followed.
1. Antecedent Conditions for Prayer
We list these conditions in summary fashion:
• A progressive and up-to-date knowledge of what Christian prayer is, so as to avoid subjectivism on the part of the one who prays. Prayer must be programmed into academic studies and must be part of the specific instructions given by formators, beginning with the novitiate year.
• A style of prayer that takes into consideration the real life situation of the one praying. This varies according to age, state in life, the social and cultural context in which one moves, the Christian commitments one assumes, and the Christian religious experience that one lives. In relation to ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, it is fitting—as circumstances dictate—to become familiar with prayer forms inspired by other religious traditions.
• A clear consciousness of the communal and ecclesial dimension of all prayer—including personal prayer—and of the interrelatedness of prayer and commitment to others, especially the poor. Prayer creates community.
• A community prayer at which all members of the community are normally present; a community prayer in which the brothers participate in an active, responsive and creative way; a prayer carried out in union with the Church and the Congregation.
• A firm decision to embark on the path of prayer and to pursue it. This carries with it certain specific resolutions, e.g., the choice of a spiritual director and interviews with him or her, the setting of prayer times, etc.
• A good conscience. Purity of heart helps to recollect one’s thoughts and arouses desires for God. This does not mean that those who do not have a good conscience cannot or should not pray, since prayer is often a cause of conversion. But it is obvious that desires for God cannot go along with attachment to sin. The spiritual masters insist on the need to prepare for prayer with an ordered life, a pure heart and an effort to eliminate the noise and distractions that surround us.
• Personal accompaniment (spiritual direction) is especially needed here. Through it one is able to gauge, rigorously and continuously, the progress of one’s prayer life, specific difficulties, advances one makes, means to guarantee constancy and care for its continued practice.
• A great freedom of spirit—when prayer is private—in regard to time, body posture and place.
2. Progressive Steps
Before we discuss the specific steps, it is necessary to say that, in general, whoever starts on the path of prayer needs a guide.
Although prayer is not a mechanical exercise, but a living reality that demands an overflowing spirit, we cannot naively forget that it is also an art and a task and, therefore, something that, at least in part, is taught and learned. To forget this is a dangerous error. Jesus Himself taught His disciples to pray.
Teaching, even teaching prayer, is something for masters. And masters are not improvised. As we have seen, the primary Master is Jesus. After Him, comes His Spirit. And then many other masters from every age that, without supplanting Jesus nor His Spirit, carry on the divine teaching. A master of prayer proposes to those who pray—paying careful attention to each one’s peculiarities and allowing for a margin of flexibility, since the Spirit breathes where it will—a plan, some methods. The master is careful that there is a certain order and discipline, and provides aid in order to discern and illuminate. Based on this presupposition, we explain the steps involved:
2.1. Knowing How to Be With God
This is a basic step. Knowing how to be with God in prayer is knowing how to persevere at prayer for extended periods, without hurrying, without forced efforts, with natural spontaneity. Extended prayer is the mother of elevated prayer.
2.2. Knowing How to Unburden the Heart in God
If one knows how to be with God, then it is normal to spontaneously unburden one’s heart in God, but adverting to the fact that one never comes to prayer alone, but that one is there in the name of many brothers and sisters, of their desires and outcries. It is a matter of arousing, ordinarily after having read and reflected on some text, emotions and personal feelings of gratitude, humility, supplication, confidence, contrition, self-surrender, etc. And it is also knowing how to persevere in this same emotion for as long as the emotion requires, without changing it to some other one.
2.3. Knowing How to Hear God
This third step marks a clear advance along the path and helps to prove the authenticity of the precious steps. It is the key to how prayer is a reciprocal affair, a dialogue in which we unburden ourselves in God and God reveals his heart in ours. To hear God, to really listen to God’s words, is to take into account that God speaks to us in a multiplicity of ways and contexts. And if God speaks, one must pause in order for that word to act thoroughly in the one who is praying.
2.4. Abandoning Oneself to God’s Action
This fourth step is the immediate consequence of the previous one. We hear God in order to let that word work in us (cf. Hb. 4:12). It is Mary’s attitude (cf. Lk. 1:30), Samuel’s (cf. 1 S 3:9), St. Paul’s (cf. Ac. 22:10). Knowing that we must let God work in us must be implemented, first of all, in prayer itself. One must let God work so that it will be the Spirit who prays in us. It is that Spirit who wants to duly praise, give thanks and entreat—since we do not know how to pay as we ought (cf. Rm. 8: 26). In the second place one must let God works in us and in all we are, without posing obstacles. It is to let God work in God’s own ways, so different from ours (cf. Is. 55:8). It is to abandon ourselves to God and God’s plans for the world and the Church.