Start the engine of your heart
Milena Kindziuk, Piotr Chmielinski
The tempo of modern life increases. People hurry to some unknown destinations. But on the other hand, they look for something more, something timeless; they look for the lasting values. Therefore, we can observe that people are very much interested in publications concerning spirituality, the Ignatian Exercises, weekend stays in monasteries and spiritual direction.
Fr Stanislaw Urbanski, Fr Andrzej Ruszala, OCD, Fr Jozef Naumowicz and Fr Wlodzimierz Tochmanski, OCD discuss these issues especially for ‘Niedziela’.
Looking at Jesus Christ we see that he enjoyed a deep relationship with the Father; he prayed a lot and fulfilled his will. He lived a spiritual life. He simply loved. Since without love there is no spirituality. We are called to follow such an attitude. How? Fr Jozef Augustyn, a Jesuit, a spiritual director and well-known retreat-giver from Krakow, tells us a story: one of his friends survived a car crash. His car got into a skid and stopped just over a precipice. You could have pushed the car and it would have fallen down. He understood that event as God’s reminder and call to conversion.
Touching human limits
Lord God himself writes scenarios of people’s conversions. They can be very simple. ‘For example, Fr Augustyn writes in his book ‘O zyciu duchowym i o modlitwie’ [About Spiritual Life and Prayer], ‘someone gets sick, loses someone very close to him, experiences some failure or can simply notice that he is getting older... Then he feels it is necessary to see his life from a different angle. In such situations he remembers God, prayer, the Church and confession. Humiliation, touching human limits, makes people examine their lives sincerely.’ Conversion begins spiritual life. Theology calls it a phase of purification. Then another phase follows – enlightenment. And the third one – unity. And what is spiritual life? Rev. Professor Stanislaw Urbanski, a theologian of spirituality from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University, thinks that it means participating in the very life of God. ‘Which means growing in the gift of holiness, which each of us received at creation, and then the gift was renewed through the Sacrament of Baptism’, he says. ‘Spiritual life is a relationship between man and God. It is a dynamic relationship, which grows and reaches its peak, which the saints call unity with God’, adds Fr Andrzej Ruszala, a Discalced Carmelite friar from Krakow and a theologian of spirituality.’ Therefore, spiritual life involves reaching holiness. And although we know cases of sanctity of children (e.g. Saint Dominic Savio) it takes many years to experience spiritual change.
Conversion is the beginning of the way
One can discuss what the beginning of the way of spiritual growth is. Theology gives a simple answer: conversion. Naturally, it happens thanks to God’s grace. Man himself, only by his own strengths, cannot undergo conversion and grow spiritually. But conversion requires a decisive and reasonable involvement of man. ‘This is a conscious rejection of sin. Therefore, effort, asceticism and sacrifice are needed,’ Fr Ruszala explains. Only when you are prepared and purified you are able to collaborate with God’s grace. Of course, God does not want to force anyone to undergo conversion or to lead a deepened spiritual life. Nevertheless, he inspires man to do that.
One can see the growth of spiritual life on the example of prayer. Without prayer you cannot have spiritual life.
Someone who has just undergone conversion prays long hours and prays eagerly. He lives in a state of religious rapture. ‘At the beginning of spiritual life God gives ‘spiritual candies’ during prayer. These are various emotional experiences, raptures, fascination by the beauty of the liturgy’, says Fr Wlodzimierz Tochmanski, a Discalced Carmelite friar. It is completely natural. It is the initial phase and you should not shorten it or run away from it. You should experience it well, letting God work in you. It is hard to say how long it will last. ‘Yet, it is worth remembering that the charm of ‘the honey moon’ will disappear. Since God wants us to be with him regardless of the fact if prayer brings us joy or not’, Fr Tochmanski stresses. ‘When you pray it does not matter whether you feel good or satisfied. But you can experience difficulties in prayer. But then prayer is not worse at all. It is important not to neglect prayer’, explains Rev. Professor Jozef Naumowicz, expert in the field of patrology from Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University. He advises, ‘The best way to understand the essence and meaning of prayer is to pray. Prayer, as the Church Fathers said, gives hope, takes away sorrow and fills our hearts with comfort.’
Fewer prayers, more prayer
At some moment of our spiritual life God leads our prayer to a new stage. It is not accompanied by any emotional experiences. You do not feel the pleasure of praying. ‘At this stage you feel it is not enough to pray. If you restrict yourself only to recite prayers you will rather not grow in your faith. In principle, prayer does not mean reciting. I often repeat: fewer prayers, more prayer. Or less reciting, more listening. Prayer is a dialogue, conversation between friends who keep talking. It is God that speaks to us. We need to listen to him and then answer him. It is important to have the attitude of openness to God’s work and not to depend on your own efforts or formulas’, Fr Tochmanski explains. This new stage of prayer is called contemplation. Man, who has abundantly used his senses or imagination so far, does not like it any more. So prayer comes with difficulty and is accompanied by dryness. One of the greatest mystics of the Church St John of the Cross called this stage ‘the night of the senses’. If someone is permanently tired, sick, suffers from depression or commits sins, he will naturally experience difficulties in prayer. In such a case he should take care of his health and seek specialists’ advice. If he commits sins, he should go to confession.
Prayer of the heart
Is ‘the night of the senses’ or emotional indisposition the cause of my difficulties in prayer? How can you check that? St John of the Cross gives three signs: when they appear at the same time they indicate the night of the senses. The first sign: man does not take pleasure in prayer and cannot enjoy created, material things, either. The second sign: man thinks that he does not serve God properly since he does not feel any pleasures connected with prayer and is concerned about that. The third sign: man cannot reflect and use imagination in prayer as he used to. So first of all prayer means abiding in God’s presence. It is deeper and more fruitful. Man is not moved by his emotional waves; he is being healed from his spiritual pride. Humility, self-control and moderation are born in him. ‘Besides overcoming imperfections, Cezary Sekalski writes in his book ‘Misterium przemiany wewnetrznej’ [Mystery of Inner Change] the night of the senses brings about spiritual effects. These are: constant remembrance of God’s presence as well as growth in patience and God’s love. Since man becomes active not because of some spiritual pleasure but because of God. He also grows in fortitude in facing adversities and gains perfection in all theogonal virtues (faith, hope, love) and cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, moderation, fortitude) as well as moral virtues.’ Fr Tochmanski calls contemplative prayer ‘prayer of the heart’. ‘I will use a metaphor of a car. To start it you need to start the engine. The same applies to prayer. Before you hear the noise of the exhaust pipe, which mean your lips, you must start the engine, i.e. your heart’, the Discalced Carmelite friar explains.
Prayer or duties
The experience of the night of the senses does not mean the end. St John of the Cross writes about the dark night of the soul during which the inner change is realised in the deepest dimension. And the summit of this change is full and complete unity of the soul with God. After reading these reflections one can think that it is too difficult and complicated. But actually it is neither difficult nor complicated because the growth in spiritual life is caused by God’s power, and not ours. For our part we need to be faithful to the fundamental things: prayer, sacraments, reading the Word of God. God will do the rest. Today’s tempo of life makes many of us stop praying regularly. ‘We must order our lives so that there is a balance between our activities and our spiritual lives. With time, practicing systematic prayer, we desire to spend more time with God. And this is not our duty but spiritual need’, says Fr Urbanski. In his opinion, a practising Catholic should spend in prayer a minimum of one hour per day. But Fr Ruszala claims that it is hard to set any limit. ‘However, a quarter of an hour is the minimum. Not less since prayer is a meeting with someone close to you. We spend five minutes to get rid of someone at the door. It is important not to prefer prayer to duties. When the mother leaves her kids at home and goes to pray half of the day in church it is not in accordance with God’s will’, Fr Ruszala says. He adds that work is also prayer if we relate it to God’s will and love of your neighbour. ‘But work does not substitute for personal prayer. During the day time slips through our fingers and we are not able to find some time to say, e.g. the Divine Mercy Couplet’, says Rev. Prof. Naumowicz, the author of ‘Filokalia – teksty o modlitwie serca’ [Philocalias, texts about prayer of the heart].
Rev. Prof. Jozef Naumowicz, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University: In prayer it is not important to feel good or satisfied. But you can experience difficulties in prayer. Then prayer is not worse at all. It is important not to neglect prayer. The best way to understand the essence and meaning of prayer is to pray. Prayer, as the Church Fathers said, gives hope, takes away sorrow and fills our hearts with comfort.’