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Come Holy Spirit - Help Us To Pray
by Benedict Heron OSB

Part 4

Chapter Eight: Praise

In this chapter I am writing not only on praise but also about thanksgiving and adoration, because in practice these three tend to run into each other. We thank God for what He has done for us, we praise Him for what He is in Himself, and we adore Him out of love.

When I realised the next chapter of this book should be on praise, I found that I had hesitations. I asked myself how am I doing in my life in the area of praise and thanksgiving these days, and I felt the answer was "
not so good". So I found myself thinking that perhaps I ought to brush up my praise and thanksgiving for a time before writing about them. On reflection, I realised that would be hypocritical. It would be more honest to show myself as I really am, a Christian who is continually struggling to give praise its rightful place in his life rather than as someone who is riding along on a cloud of praise. So I am also writing this chapter for my own benefit!

Many of us find, I think, that we tend to spend too much of our prayer time in asking for things and not enough in praising and thanking God. We are of course quite right to be asking for things - we should probably be doing far more asking than we do, as I showed in the last chapter. However, our asking should be surrounded by, permeated and shot through with, praise and thanksgiving and that is often where we fail, where I fail.

This can result in our intercession becoming something of an anxious worrying rather than hopeful prayer. And we can easily become problem centred and then often self-centred rather than Jesus-centred, God-centred. For example, praying for one's financial needs or health problems can easily drift into just worrying about finances and health.

So if someone is praying about financial needs it could be good to start by thanking God for His provision in the past and to thank Him for the material things one already has. If praying for health one can thank God for the health one has, for being able to hear, see and walk if one can do these things. If one is praying for peace and justice in connection with Ireland or Yugoslavia one can begin by thanking God for the progress made in the peace talks and thank Him for all the good people who are truly working for peace.

It is helpful to remind ourselves that when Jesus taught us to pray He started with praise, "Hallowed by Thy name". Before we ask that His perfect will be done in us, that He will provide for our needs, that He will forgive us, that He will protect us, we praise His holy name. How often do I in fact praise and thank before asking for things? In 1 Peter 2:9 we read: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God". That is also something for now, not just for Heaven. Ask yourself how much praising you have done in the last two days, the last week. Are you in truth someone who in reality is living up to your vocation to "sing the praises of God"? Note that this vocation to praise is not just something for contemplative nuns and monks but for all Christians,
although of course this vocation will be lived by busy lay people in a different way to nuns and monks. One can add that the fact that one is living a. monastic life and 0pending quite a lot of time in monastic offices does not at all guarantee that one is living a true life of praise and ~anksgiving interiorly - I know from my own personal experience!

The psalms also remind us of our vocation to praise. For example, psalm 145 starts: "I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable' The prefaces of the Mass also take up the themes of praise and thanksgiving For example, take the preface of the second Eucharistic Prayer: "Father it is our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ
..... And so we join the angels and saints in proclaiming your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who bomes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest

Indeed the whole Mass is primarily a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. Some of us, and I include myself, can at times be in danger of seeing the Mass primarily as an occasion to ask God for things, which is of course a very Important element in the Mass, rather than as primarily a prayer of thanksgiving and praise. And the liturgy of the Divine Office, which is not only a prayer for monks, priests and religious, is centred on the theme of praise.

However, it is not always easy to praise and thank sod, indeed it is sometimes totally impossible to do so without a special grace from God. If a person is extremely depressed, if someone's husband has just dropped down dead unexpectedly leaving the wife and four children, if one has just been blinded in a car crash, if all one's material security has suddenly vanished in old age through the dishonesty of someone else, if unexpectedly you discover that your daughter is a serious heroin addict - the list could easily be continued -probably the last thing you would feel like doing is praising and thanking God. Indeed, you might well be feeling very angry with God for having allowed these things to happen. Why me, why us?

Praising and thanking God, however, are not basically a matter of the feelings but of the will. By the grace of God we can often simply decide to praise and thank Him and then do so whatever our feelings. As has often been said, we sometimes have to praise God through gritted teeth. However, we must be careful not to urge people to praise God when it is not the right moment for them. If I were badly hurt in a car crash perhaps the only prayer I could manage would be "Jesus help me" - indeed I might well not manage a prayer at all. We need to remember that Jesus was not carried along on a cloud of praise in Gethsemanie, and that we may well have our Gethsemanie moments when the most that God may be asking of us will be to say "not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).

Yet it remains true that we often need to praise and thank God when we are not feeling like it, and that we should seek to develop the practice, with God's grace, of praising and thanking Him in the difficult times. It may help us to see the importance of this if we remember that praise and thanksgiving are an important part of loving
God, and that we are called to fulfil the first commandment of loving God not just when things are going well. I personally find that I often do more praising of God when I am in trouble than when things are going well. Indeed I sometimes wonder whether at times God allows me to get into difficulties because He wants me to praise Him more!

To give an example, a few years ago I was attending an international conference on praying for healing in San Giovanni Rotondo, where Blessed Padre Pio lived. The afternoon before we had to leave for England, I could not find my return air ticket The situation was complicated by the fact that I had to transfer quickly from one hotel to another two days earlier. I looked very thoroughly for the ticket in my baggage, but in vain. So I handed the problem over to Jesus and spent the next two lectures praising Him instead of listening. Then I looked again for the ticket and found it in my dirty linen! The two hours when the ticket was lost was the time when I did the most intense praising during my whole stay there.

This story underlines another point. Praise often seems to release the power of Jesus, of God, into a situation in a new way. Quite often when there is authentic praise, especially powerful praise, remarkable things happen. Merlin Carothers in his books Prison to and Power in Praise gives examples of very wonderful healings and other remarkable things happening when people really gave themselves to praise. However, it is important to add that praise must not be attempt to bend God's arm to do things He does not to do, such as healing a particular person's cancer, when God wants to take that person to heaven. We must praise whether someone is healed or not, whether someone passes an exam or not, whether she says yes to a proposal of marriage or not. Our praise must be based on an acceptance of God's perfect will in every circumstance, trusting God that He knows what is best in every situation and trusting that He will always bring good out of evil if we let Him. As we read in Isaiah 55:8, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts".

Moreover, as far as we can we should praise and thank Jesus, God, for the situation in which we find ourselves, including its difficulties and even its horrors. Our present situation is where God has put or allowed us to be, and our present situation is His opportunity for doing in one way or another something beautiful in our lives. So if I were in prison for peddling drugs, I could thank God for that situation. I would not thank Him that I had sinned by peddling drugs - I should repent of that - but I could thank Him that God will bring good out of that evil if I let him. Indeed to take an actual case, Sr Breige McKenna tells of how a drug addict in Singapore who was converted through her ministry was used to convert a whole group of addicts in prison before they were all executed.

In my own life as a priest-monk I went through a very difficult period of depression, which at the time prevented me from getting on with my ministry and which seemed nothing but a disaster out of which no good could come. But my healing ministry of prayer, such as it is, was born in that difficult time of darkness. So now I can thank God for that suffering period and the good He has brought out of it. I am not saying that God sent me that depression, I would think rather that the devil was involved with it. But God upheld me in it and brought good out of it.

St Paul wrote: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28). We need to pray for the grace to believe this, especially in the difficult times. As we believe this we shall find it easier to give ourselves to praising and thanking God in difficult situations.

When I lose or mislay something I start by looking for it, then I ask Jesus to help me to find it, then I begin to praise Jesus. So often it is only when I praise Him that I find the lost object Once, however I lost the crown of a tooth which I had carefully put aside, and I could not find it despite all the looking and praising. Later the dentist told me that the roots of the tooth were in fact no longer strong enough to support the crown, and that it was in fact fortunate that I had lost the crown Then I thanked God for not answering my prayer to find the lost crown!

I am aware of course that things like finding the lost crown of a tooth, or one's glasses are relatively very small matters in a world in which so many people are having to face great problems and sufferings. However, if we learn to praise and thank God in the face of smaller problems that will prepare us for doing so when great trials come along. If we experience the loving care of God in small things, that will increase our faith for facing the big trials. And when we praise and thank God in the face of big difficulties and trials we shall in fact often, but not always, experience that the objective situation has improved.

What can we do practically to praise and thank God, Jesus more? Going to Mass more often can be a big help, for Mass is the supreme form of worship, praise and thanks giving. Praying regularly some of the Divine Office may help some people to praise more. But participating in liturgical services does not automatically result in authentic interior praise and thanksgiving, although it normally helps. In our times many Christians involved in the Charismatic Renewal, including myself, have found that praying with the gift of tongues has greatly helped them to praise and thank God, but doubtless the gift of tongues is not for every Christian.

I think that many Christians are finding that spontaneous prayer as the Holy Spirit leads them helps them to praise better, indeed helps their prayer in other ways also. So someone can simply say, "
Thank you Jesus" or "Thank you God" for this beautiful weather, for a safe journey, for my family, for my boss, for helping me to stop smoking, for answering my prayer, for the Holy Eucharist, for saving me - the list could obviously go on. Someone might simply feel led to go on repeating "Thank you Jesus" or "Thank you God" for quite a time. I think it will often help us to thank and praise if we stop to count our blessings, especially if we do this when things are difficult. If you are worrying about the health of your lungs, thank God for all the parts of your body which are functioning well. Count your blessings.

Remember all the obvious blessings in your life like a happy marriage, and thank God for them. Thank God for the gifts and talents He has given you. (There are so many blessings we simply take for granted like being able to see or hear, until they are threatened or lost). I find myself increasingly thanking God for my beloved parents and for other departed members of my family. How much I have received through them! We should thank God for all the natural blessings He has given us, but we should do so even more for the spiritual blessings. Thank God that He created us out of love, thank Jesus for having suffered and died for our salvation, thank the Holy Spirit for dwelling within us and for His gifts. Give thanks for the sacraments of the Church, for the Bible, for the support of the prayers of others, for our spiritual mother Mary, for the saints, and angels. And thank Jesus for a share in His sufferings, which is more difficult. St Paul wrote: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church". (Colossians 1:24).

Each one of us will find that different things particularly inspire us to thanks and praise. I personally find that the beauty of nature and flowers frequently helps me to praise and thank God the Father who created them.

I am writing this chapter on praise while spending a week with my sister and her husband, who have a lovely garden in beautiful country near the Lake District. For
this is a wonderful setting for writing on praise. Other people will be especially helped by music, still by the wonders revealed by scientific study. And we can all, I hope, be moved to thanksgiving by the goodness of some human beings. Watching the funeral of Cardinal Hume on television yesterday inspired me and many others to thank God for his life.

Each one of us will find different ways to help us to praise more. I often try to praise Jesus when I am walking up stairs, which I do frequently in our monastery. I probably forget to do this more often than not. But this practice does help to give praise a greater place in my life. I think it is important to seek to give praise and thanksgiving a regular place - and not too short a one - in our daily routine of prayer. The liturgy can be a great help there, but not everyone is able to participate daily in the liturgy. Grace before and after meals is surely a helpful practice. Before I turn the light out at night I try to thank God for the day and its blessings. (You will notice that here and elsewhere I write "
try to". Being a rather distracted person at 78, I frequently forget to do things like saying grace after meals. This however does not worry me too much. God knows what I am like! So I just try to do better in the future).

In the Catholic Church adoration is frequently linked with the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament. Devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, having diminished somewhat after the Second Vatican Council, is now on the increase again, and I think this is bearing much spiritual fruit. Just kneeling or sitting before the tabernacle or the Blessed Sacrament exposed is obviously helping many people, as we find in movements like Youth 2000, Cor Lumen Christi, and the groups connected with Charles de Foucauld. Many people visit the chapel of the Benedictine nuns at Tyburn in London where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed day and night. Just being there in silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament can open people up to a more contemplative dimension of prayer, where stillness and silence largely replaces words.

Praise can be very important in praying for healing. It is not for nothing that healing services usually start with a quite lengthy period of praise. The healings of spirits, minds and bodies which do or do not take place can be closely linked with the depth of the praise. I once saw a sick foot being progressively healed over about twenty minutes while the two members of the healing team who were ministering to the lady simply went on praising fervently. Indeed in Christian gatherings where the praise is really intense, sometimes healings of spirits, minds, and bodies take place without anyone having explicitly prayed for healing for the particular illnesses in question.
Praise can also be very important in spiritual warfare. The devil does not like hearing Jesus being praised. Fervent praise can not only protect people from demonic attacks, it can also liberate them from demonic troubles. If an individual, a family, a prayer group or a parish really keeps authentic praise flowing, that can be a great help in the spiritual warfare in which we are all involved.

There is, I think, a close connection between praise and joy. How often have I gone to a prayer meeting or a liturgical service feeling heavy and perhaps discouraged, to find that after a period of real praise, the feeling of heaviness and discouragement has gone. The same could apply to praising and thanking God on my own. Joy and peace seem to be closely linked with praise and thanksgiving. The words of St Paul to the Philippians seem very relevant here: "
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7).

In this chapter I have written of things which may, I hope, help some readers to praise and thank God better. However, all the suggestions in the world will make no difference unless Jesus Himself touches our minds and hearts. We cannot force ourselves to praise and thank authentically. It is all a matter of His grace and mercy. We can however, ask for the grace to praise and thank, for the grace to do these things more truly, more fully. Let us ask for the grace to do that until the 'day' comes when through His mercy our faltering praise will be perfected in the heavenly choir above.


Chapter Nine: Contemplation

Modern Catholic spiritual writers increasingly say, and I think rightly so, that all Christians are called to contemplation. This does not mean that every Christian will or should experience special gifts of contemplation. I think it means that there should be, indeed will be, a contemplative element or dimension in every mature life of prayer, although some Christians are temperamentally more inclined in a contemplative direction than others.

There is a difference between the reflective meditation on Jesus, on God, and the contemplative awareness of the presence of Jesus, of God. Reflective meditation has an important part to play in the life of prayer. We need to meditate on the Bible and on the life of Jesus in the New Testament. In our life in this world we shall never get beyond the need to meditate on the life of Jesus and the Bible. However, in reflective meditation we are intellectually thinking about Jesus, whereas in contemplation we are in some way experiencing the presence of Jesus. We are called not only to know about Jesus, but in some way to know Jesus. The 'head' nowledge of Jesus, of God, is important, but we are called to go beyond that and to have a 'heart' :nowledge. We are called to know through love, indeed if there is no love there will be no truly living knowledge of Jesus, of God.

Needless to say, Christians should not make contemplative experience or special contemplative graces their aim in the Christian life. That could lead to all sorts of self seeking, spiritual pride, and illusions. Our fundamental aim must surely be to grow in the first two commandments of loving God and our neighbour. It is as we grow in love that we shall open ourselves to authentic spiritual experience. St Teresa of Avila valued true ecstasy because it can lead to a great increase in love. That surely is a key test for all mystical experiences. Are they in fact making the recipient a more loving person? Contemplative experience may not always take the form of experiencing light, as we read in the lives of some of the saints who experienced great darkness. There is a long tradition of having to pass through periods of aridity, the desert, and dark nights in the spiritual life, and these times can be important periods of purification, growth, and testing. Are we seeking the consolations of God rather than God Himself? However, I must admit to sometimes being rather worried at what I feel can become something of a cult of darkness, which suggests that the more darkness the better, that darkness is the normal state of prayer, or that darkness is the safest way.

Jesus said: "
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). The many references to light in the New Testament are nearly always referring to something spiritually positive, and the references to darkness nearly always to something spiritually negative. For example: "Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another brother or sister is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness" (I John 2:10).

So, although it is important not to misunderstand, and criticise Christians who are going through dark nights and arid periods in prayer - indeed we should
know how to help and support them - I think we should basically maintain the New Testament perspective of light. Indeed, the dark nights of St John of the Cross are
preparing us for an even fuller experience of light - in this life or in the next.

I have the impression, and many others would agree, that in these times God is being especially generous with His contemplative and mystical graces in the lives of many Christians. I seem to meet or hear of an increasing number of Christians who are having special contemplative experiences of the presence of Jesus, of God, or perhaps of Mary. Or perhaps they are experiencing visions, touches or messages. And it is not among Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians that things are happening. Of course some of these experiences may not be authentic, do not come from God. Mental illness, emotional stress, or demonic forces all play their part in creating illusions. There could a1so sometimes be straightforward fraud. Obviously it is necessary to try to discern carefully whether or not these experiences come from God, as I have tried to explain in Chapter 5 on Listening to God. And it is not just a question of black or white. There can sometimes be grey areas. The right question can be, how far something is of God. Even the visions and messages of the canonised saints are not infallible.

However, I know of apostolic initiatives which have the blessing of the bishop and have been very fruitful for years, which were set in motion by a special mystical grace or word from the Lord. Special guidance did not stop with the Acts of the Apostles, as we can see from reading the lives of many of the canonised saints. At a much humbler level, I myself was protected from taking a wrong path in my ministry by a clear and repeated "No" from the Lord. The course of action in question, which at the time seemed the obvious thing to do, would in any case have had to receive the permission of my monastic superiors. However, I never got as far as asking for permission on account of the repeated interior "No" I was receiving. Looking back on the whole question over ten years later, I can see how right God's "No" was, although at the time I could not understand it.

Visions and words from God are not only for holy people. I remember talking with a lady who earlier in life had a vision of an angel. That did not stop her later going off the rails. However, when I spoke to her still later in life, she said that it was because of the vision of the angel she had sold some land to the church when she could have got a higher price elsewhere, and she attributed her coming back to the church and Christianity to the memory of that earlier vision of the angel. I think there is every reason to believe that particular vision of an angel was authentic.

Some people assume that any mystical experience or word from the Lord must be inauthentic if the person in question suffers from any mental illness. I would disagree with that. I think that God sometimes gives someone a special grace because their need is so great. I have known well for about fifteen years a woman who had experienced a very severe mental collapse. She is now, thank God, considerably better, indeed one psychiatrist tells her that she is medically speaking a 'success story', even though her life is still difficult. The lady in question received during her illness two or three significant touches or experiences from the Lord in one way or another. I think that it was because of those special experiences that she persevered in prayer through the very difficult years. I think that without those special experiences or something similar she would have given up prayer and probably committed suicide.

"You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). If mystical experiences and words form the Lord lead to greater faith, hope and love - and to greater fruitfulness in life, then there is reason to believe that they are basically authentic. That would not necessarily rule out all possibility of some error. However, I meet or hear of so many Christians who have obviously been blessed through their special contemplative or mystical experiences that I cannot doubt that these experiences were often at least basically from God. The same would apply to the many fruits of the Christian healing
ministry of prayer.

There seems to be a division of the Christian world between those Christians who believe that authentic contemplative and mystical experiences coming from the Lord still happen, and those very liberal Christians who do not so believe, and who would seek to explain it all psychologically. Of course the official Catho1ic position is that miracles and mystical experiences still sometimes happen, but some Catholics
have been very influenced - too influenced - by liberal Protestantism and the prevailing secular humanism of our times, which would explain all such experiences psychologically.

I would like to suggest that there is food for thought in the fact that in the Protestant world it is the Pentecostal and Charismatic evangelical churches which are in general flourishing and expanding, sometimes rapidly, and the liberal Protestant churches and milieu which are in general declining, sometimes dramatically. I would personally have reservations about some Pentecostal prophecy concerning the 'end times'. Indeed Pentecostals often disagree among themselves on that subject. However, I think that so many Catholics have yet to recognise the fact that we are living alongside the groups of Pentecostal type Christians who in one century have expanded from nothing to about four hundred million members, and that it is this group of Christians who are growing most quickly today. Moreover, their growth and vitality are clearly connected with what they would call 'supernatural' experiences coming from God. (Catholics and Pentecostals use the word 'supernatural' in different senses. For Catholic theology 'supernatural' means the whole realm of grace, while for Pentecostals and many evangelicals the word "supernatural" means extraordinary happenings like miracles and visions. In fact I think an increasing number of Catholics are now using this word in a Pentecostal and evangelical sense).

Of course as a convinced Catholic priest there are some other areas in which I would disagree with the Pentecostals, for example, I would find their eucharistic belief and practice inadequate. I would also find some Pentecostals too narrow on the question of who is saved. This however does not stop me from recognising that the Holy Spirit is often working very strongly in the Pentecostal and charismatic churches, and I think that we Catholics have frequently something to learn from them, as they have from us. For example, have we Catholics not something to learn from the zeal for and dedication to evangelisation which we so often find in the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches?

Chapter Ten: Difficulties in Prayer

Prayer is a wonderful gift from God, a glorious adventure, and a great source of fruitfulness. But praying is not always easy, indeed it can be extremely difficult at times. Jesus was not on cloud nine when in his agony in Gethsemanie He prayed, "
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). In fact He sweated blood. So we must not be surprised if sometimes our prayer is difficult, even very difficult.

What are the reasons why prayer is sometimes difficult? There are various possible reasons, and at times they may combine. Ill health can be a cause. I have met many people who told me that prayer was very difficult when they had a bad attack of flu, and I cannot remember anyone who found prayer easy when they had serious flu. When illness is making prayer difficult we just have to pray as best we can. Long prayers will probably not be possible. Short phrases will probably be best, like "Help me, Jesus", "Heal me, Jesus" "Thy will be done", "Jesus, have mercy", "I offer it up", "Thank you, Jesus", "Alleluia" or just "Jesus".

Exhaustion and tiredness can make prayer difficult. It may be right when possible to cut down on our activity, so that we can pray more easily. Workaholics, please note!
Worldly preoccupations and ambition will affect our prayer. If people are making the pursuit of great wealth their main aim in life, then obviously they will not feel like praying or find true prayer meaningful. The same could apply to the pursuit of fame, power, or any other false God.

Serious sin which we have not repented of and which we are not making a real effort to overcome will clearly blunt the desire to pray. That could apply for example, to sexual promiscuity or serious involvement in the occult. People could find these two pursuits so absorbing that there is no time and energy left over for God. So if people are finding prayer difficult they could examine their lives to see whether they are worshipping false Gods.

Prayer can be difficult because we are trying to pray in a way which is not right for us, at least at the present time. For instance, trying to meditate discursively at length when God is calling someone to contemplation will not be helpful. Nor will rushing through liturgical offices just to fulfil an obligation. Nor will trying to pray through a particular private devotion which God is not calling one to be involved in. Nor will trying to pray at length at night if you keep falling asleep - we need if possible to pray at a time of day or night which is suitable for us, and that will vary from person to person.

Then there may be the times of aridity, the dark nights, the desert periods mentioned in the last chapter. The important thing is not to give up prayer, which is what the devil will try to persuade us to do. We just have to persevere gently as best we can until the Lord Himself brings us into the light.

There is another difficulty which perhaps I should mention. Drinking too much alcohol and overeating can make prayer difficult, while fasting can be a help to prayer.

A major problem in prayer can of course be distractions. Indeed, it is normal that we all experience distractions at times, perhaps even much of the time for a period in our life.

There are distractions for which we are at least in part responsible and those for which we are not directly. For example, if I spend the hour before Mass watching a violent film, then probably during Mass my mind will be invaded by the violent film. Indeed, much reading, TV, and radio can give rise to distractions and be unhelpful in prayer. Or if I unnecessarily go to bed too late - which happens too often - then that does not help my night prayers, which suffer from distractions.

However, there are times when we are trying to pray and all kinds of distractions just enter our minds for no obvious reason. They may just reflect our current preoccupations, worries and concerns. The best way, I think, of dealing with such distractions is often to turn them into prayer for the people and situations involved. Indeed, what we first see as just a distraction may sometimes be the Holy Spirit wanting to change the direction of our prayer. I may have wanted to pray at this Mass specially for one person, but God may be asking us to pray especially for someone else.

There can, however, be distractions which are caused by the devil playing on our weaknesses. Someone may find during his or her time of prayer that his or her mind is invaded by sinful thoughts, perhaps wrong anger, envy, self pity, lust or pride. When that happens we can ask Jesus to protect us from these attacks of the devil, or
in the name of Jesus we can command the devil to leave us, as I explained in my book
I Saw Satan Fall: The Ways of Spiritual Warfare (chapter 6).

Some people find it helpful to have a notebook and biro at their side, so that they can jot down quickly things which need to be remembered. For example, if when you are praying you suddenly remember that it is important to phone someone this evening, then jot it down. Otherwise you may spend the rest of your prayer time thinking I must not forget that phone call this evening!

An important thing, I think, is not to be too upset by our distractions in prayer, for that itself can discourage us from praying. We should just bring our minds peacefully back to prayer, and continue praying If during my morning prayer time I feel that I really have got through to God, then I am not too worried by all the distraction involved on the way God knows what our weak minds are like. He made us!

The important thing about the difficulties is not to let them discourage us from praying or trying to pray Let us remember the story of the Widow and the Unjust Judge: "
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray and not to lose heart" (Luke 18 1)


The purpose in writing this book has been to encourage everyone to have a greater conviction of the importance of prayer and hopefully to help them in their life of prayer. Many of the readers of this book are certainly better prayers than I am - it is humbling for someone who is a priest and monk to meet lay Christians who from experience obviously know much more about prayer than he does. I spoke with someone on the phone today who said that they have spent the last two days praying for a particular intention. Then there are my friends who stay up praying late into the night in prayer vigils, and those who regularly fast seriously. So who am I to write a book on prayer? Perhaps my excuse is that I am in touch with many Christians who really are great prayers. So I can pass on to others the fruits of their experience.
I do have a very deep conviction about the great importance of prayer. I see the way in which many people's lives have been wonderfully transformed through prayer. I also meet Christians from many church backgrounds whose lives are very fruitful through prayer, who regularly experience beautiful answers to prayer, perhaps especially in healing.

In a way prayer unites two aspects of my own life: the monastic-priestly side and the Charismatic Renewal side. I have met over the years some very deeply prayerful priests and monastics. I have also met some equally prayerful Christians involved in the Charismatic renewal. (And I also of course know some wonderfully prayerful men and women who do not come into either of those categories).

In this country and in not a few others Christianity is facing a crisis of falling numbers, and especially the loss of so many of the younger generation. The Tablet recently published a series of articles on the subject, "Where have all the Catholics gone?" (starting 19th June 1999). Some other churches could have equally well published similar articles. The first article states that the only growing churches in our country are the 'Charismatic evangelicals'. I am not wanting to suggest that the only Christian groups which can grow are the charismatic ones. But I do think it is only the Christian groups which take prayer very seriously who will grow in our times.

On the international level it is in general in the Third World that Christianity is growing. Consider, for example, the very rapid increase of Christianity in South Korea and in China. In these countries the expanding Christianity is one in which there is much praying. One flourishing church in South Korea expects all its members to pray for an hour or two each day before work, and expects its pastors to pray for six hours daily. Surely that is the kind of ethos we see in the New Testament. As we return to the New Testament example of a deeply praying church we shall surely be moving towards the conversion of our world to Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit, help us to pray.

* * *

I have written three appendices: 'Mary the Saints and the Angels', 'Charismatic Renewal', and 'The Gift of Tongues'. I have put these three sections as appendices because I hope the rest of the book will be accessible for all Christians. Obviously very many wonderful Christians are not happy with asking Mary to pray for us. Equally, many wonderful Christians do not feel drawn to Charismatic spirituality and the gift of tongues. However some people may like to read these sections just for information, just to see how some of their fellow Christians pray.

Appendix One: Mary, The Saints, and The Angels

Now I have come to what is for me the most difficult section of this book to write, the part which deals with Mary, the saints and the angels. Indeed I have been tempted simply to drop this appendix, but I feel that would not really be honest I am hoping that this book will be read not only by Catholics, but also by other Christians, including some Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Up to now they will, I hope, have felt basically at home with all I have written That will no longer I fear, be the case with this appendix. However, I hope they will continue to read on, if only to see what Catholic minded Christians think on this subject. In an authentic ecumenism we must be willing to face up to our differences without pretending that they do not exist or fudging them.

Catholics ask Mary, the saints and the angels to pray forr them to Jesus, to God, so do all the historic Eastern churches, and so do many Anglicans and a number of other Christians. Evangelicals and Pentecostals do not. And why? Because they say that our religious beliefs and practices should be based on what is clearly written in the Bible, and there is nothing directly this subject in the Bible.

Catholics reply that alongside Scripture there is Tradition as a source of belief and practice, and that the Catholic attitude towards this and some other subjects is justified by appealing to Tradition.

It is, I hope, obvious to all Christians that there are many very wonderful Christians with very deep and powerful prayer lives who have never asked Mary, the saints, or angels to pray for them or for anyone else. So these practices are clearly not necessary in order to have a very profound life of Christian prayer, which of course has to be centred on Jesus. We also need to remember that "
there is only one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (I Timothy 2:5). Nobody is saved except through Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is the saviour of His mother, Mary.

However, it would appear evident to many of us that very many Christian's prayer lives, while clearly centred on Jesus, have been enriched by asking especially Mary to pray with them and for them. Indeed, I myself am convinced that praying to and with Mary helps my spiritual life. I am convinced that my praying to Mary helps me to love and serve Jesus more. So I would not want to give it up because that would, I feel sure, reduce my love for Jesus.

For a number of years I was not particularly interested in going to Lourdes where Mary appeared to St Bernadette in 1858. The reason for this lukewarmness was partly because I was much involved in ecumenical work with Christians linked with the Reformation, and I did not feel that visiting shrines of Our Lady went particularly well with such ecumenical work. However, I found myself leading a charismatic pilgrimage to Lourdes about fifteen years ago and have done so almost annually ever since. The point I want to make here is that our pilgrimages to Lourdes have, I am totally convinced, increased the place of Jesus in our lives, not diminished it. I also want to say here that I personally am convinced that Mary is appearing in our times in Medjugorje and in quite a number of other places, and that these apparitions are bearing much fruit for Jesus.

I know of course that there are sometimes false apparitions and exaggerations in Marian devotion, and papal documents have warned Catholics against such exaggerations. I myself am not entirely happy with pictorial representations which appear to put Mary on the same level as Jesus. Nor am I happy with writings which say much about God the Father and Mary, while saving practically nothing about Jesus. We Catholics would sometimes seem to go out of our way to make it
more difficult for evangelicals and Pentecostals and many other Christians to understand the true Catholic attitude towards Mary. Moreover, Mary herself is not pleased when we exaggerate her role. She wants the focus to be on Jesus not on herself, Mary always points us to her Son.

We Catholics ask Mary, the saints and the angels to to pray with us and for us. What we are doing is basically the same as when we ask another living person to pray
for us. The difference between us and the Evangelicals is that we believe that we can still ask someone to pray for us after their death and Evangelicals do not. The blessings and graces received after such prayer come from Jesus, God, not from the human person who prayed, living or departed. (In Medjugorje Mary once said to
one of the visionaries that it was Jesus who healed, not her).

Having clarified, I hope, the basic position, I must add that I think it should be normal for a Catholic to have a very real devotion to Mary. The Holy Spirit will inspire some Catholics to go further in that direction than others. However, I think there is something missing in a Catholic's life of prayer if Mary is neglected. Mary, my heavenly mother, has a very important place in my life of prayer, but definitely secondary to Jesus, who is my only Saviour. And I think my devotion to Mary leads to Jesus, of course everything is summed up in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Some Catholics may think that in this section I have gone too far in seeking to avoid upsetting Evangelicals and Pentecostals. May I remind those Catholics that Pope John Paul II has made Christian unity one of the great intentions of the Millennium. Since Vatican II Christian unity and ecumenical dialogue have been officially a major concern of the Catholic Church. Obviously Catholics cannot sacrifice their essential beliefs for the sake of unity, any more than other Christians can.

Clearly the different attitudes of Christians towards Mary are an important cause of division among Christians. Let us pray for the day when Christians are united in their attitude towards Mary, the mother of Jesus. And let us try to help and not hinder the ecumenical dialogue on Mary. For those interested in this dialogue there is The Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (address: 11 Belmont Road, Wallington, Surrey SM6 8TE, England).

Catholic minded Christians not only pray with and to Mary, they also pray with and to the saints and angels, who are united with us in the Communion of Saints. When we think of the saints we are not only thinking of that almost infinitely small proportion of the saints who have been canonised. We are thinking of the multitude mentioned in Revelation chapter 7: "
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lord, robed in white with palm branches in their hands.They called out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lord!"

Many Catholics will pray particularly with and to a canonised saint on their liturgical feast day, for example St. Benedict on the 11th July, St Teresa of Lisieux on 1st October. It is fairly normal that a Catholic will have a devotion to this or that saint as the Holy Spirit guides them, and this may lead them to pray daily to that saint. In a way I think All Saints Day, November 1st, is by far the most important Saints' day, because it covers the vast multitude of saints who have not been canonised, and that will include good Christians whom have known and who have now passed to the fuller life.

Indeed, in our devotion to the saints we should surely include the holy people we have known or with whom are specially connected, like a saintly grandmother, whom we may never have met. She will, in my opinion, probably be doing far more praying for you than will a third century martyr from a distant land. I think the patterns of human relationship in this life are likely to be continued in a transformed way in the next one. So I ask for the prayers of the departed members of my family, as also of my monastic family and other departed people with some of whom I worked in a common ministry.

Catholics, or course, not only pray to the departed but also for the repose of their souls. The Administrator of Westminster Cathedral rightly wrote in the Westminster Record (August 1999) that people visit the tomb of the recently departed Cardinal Hume "and pray for the Cardinal and to the Cardinal". As to how much one prays for and how much to, I think we have to be led by the Holy Spirit. I personally normally pray daily for the repose of the souls of the departed members of my family, and I ask them to pray for me and for the other living members of my family. I feel that this really strengthens our bonds in the Communion of Saints.

I have also stuck on the wall above my bed pictures of departed people, a few of them canonised saints, some of them members of my family and of my monastic family, others of the holy people whom I knew and often worked with. I feel that in a general way I am united with them in prayer, until by the grace of God I am called to join them.

In general while Catholic-minded Christians pray for the departed, especially for departed members of the their families, Evangelical, Pentecostal and very liberal Christians do not. Catholics believe that they have a biblical backing for praying that the departed may rest in peace. In 2 Maccabees 12: 44-45: we read "For if he (Judas Maccabeus) were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin". For Catholics the books of Maccabees are part of the Old Testament, whereas for Protestants they are not - the Catholic Old Testament is larger than the Protestant one. (Some bibles include the book of Maccabees with a few other books under the title the Apocrypha). So Protestants unlike Catholics do not think that praying for the departed to rest in peace has a biblical basis.

Before I became a Catholic in 1945 I had never prayed for the repose of the departed. This has been for me a very beautiful and consoling practice ever since. After someone has died we can still help them with our prayers. We can also increase our union with them in Jesus through prayer. There is in addition the encouraging thought that when I depart I shall be accompanied by the prayers of others.

Following the pioneering lead of Dr Kenneth McAll, an Anglican Psychiatrist, I have for about 15 years been regularly celebrating Masses for the Healing of the Family Tree, sometimes referred to as Ancestral Masses. These are basically requiem Masses for deceased members of one's family and for other departed people with whom one has been linked. An increasing number of people seem to be finding these celebrations really helpful. Indeed, I myself am sometimes surprised at how helpful some people are finding them. And more and more priests are celebrating these Masses. I think that this area of the healing ministry will become more and more important in the years to come, especially in those countries where traditionally people have had a special concern for ancestors. For those interested, may I recommend Kenneth McAll's Healing of the Family Tree, Sheldon Press; Intergenerational Healing, by a Catholic priest, Robert de Grandis SSJ with Linda Schubert; From Generation to Generation, by Patricia A Smith, Jehovah Rapha Press ('highly' recommended by Francis MacNutt); Requiem Healing, by two Anglican Evangelical priests, Michael Mitton and Russ Parker, Darton, Longman and Todd. A Catholic Priest, John J Hampsch CMF, has a centre in the USA from which he distributes literature and tapes on the Healing of the Family Tree ministry, (Claritian Tape Ministry, P 0 Box 19100, Los Angeles CA 90019).

Catholic-minded Christians also ask the angels to help and protect them and others. Or they may prefer to ask God or Jesus to send angels to help and protect them.
In our liturgical calendar September 29th is the feast day of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, October 2nd is the feast day of our Guardian Angels. The Opening Prayer of the Mass of the Guardian Angels reads: "
God our Father, in your loving providence you send your holy angels to watch over us. Hear our prayers, defend us always by their protection and let us share your life with them forever".

I do not want to repeat here things I wrote in my last book, I Saw Satan Fall, The Ways of Spiritual Warfare, in Appendix I 'Some Official Texts of the Catholic
arch on Angels and Demons', and in Appendix III, The Saints and Angels'. I felt rather sad when last week a television researcher or producer consulted me on the phone concerning a programme they were preparing on angels, which will obviously from what she said contain much on The New Age approach to angels. When I said the Catholic Church believed in angels she seemed to doubt it, and said that she had been brought up a Catholic and that in her local church they had cut off all the angels wings with a saw! Christians should not hand over belief in angels to the New Age Movement, which exaggerates on this subject.

My belief in angels means more and more to me, and quite often I celebrate a votive Mass of the Guardian Angels. The thought that there is always at my side one of Jesus' angels, sent by Him to protect me, is a real source of comfort. My angel protects me spiritually, emotionally and physically. How many sins I might have committed, how many illness and accidents I might have had without angelic protection? Like many or most people I can remember a number of near misses in my life. Once when rock climbing on my own I had a very frightening and dangerous moment, once a very large bolder rolling down a hill missed the back of my head by inches, and more than once there have been close shaves with cars. Has my protection been just a matter of 'luck'. I do not think so. I think that often Jesus has been using his angels to keep me safe. That being so, it is surely right that I thank my guardian angel - or the angels in general - for all their help and protection. It is also right to ask the angels to protect us - and we can ask them also to protect other people, which is what Padre Pio did so frequently. I find myself chatting with my Guardian Angel at times, being grateful that he is there, and asking him to protect me, protect us, during this journey, this celebration, this ministry session, this difficult situation.

A friend of mine, who lives a very fruitful life for the Lord, has a seriously bad back problem, which has at times caused her leg to give-way unexpectedly, and this has resulted in some serious falls. Now whenever she leaves her home she calls on the angels to protect her in a special way. She also asks the angels to help her carry her shopping. This practice not only gives her more confidence, but, she is convinced has led to less falls and less serious falls. Perhaps her example and other things written here about angels may nudge or inspire some readers to think and pray more about angels. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in this matter.

If you prefer in prayer just to go direct to Jesus, or the heavenly Father, fine! It is all glory to Jesus or to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the end.

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Copyright © 2000 Benedict M. Heron OSB

This Version: 27th October 2001


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