By Deacon Lou Malfara
Special to The CS&T
I recently gave a talk to St. William’s Sodality about praying the rosary as a contemplative method, citing the teaching of several saints. As I completed the homily, I remember being frozen in my shoes watching the faces of these venerable ladies, mostly all senior citizens, who have been faithful to prayer for an entire lifetime. Silently standing there, this thought shot through my mind, “How could you teach these ladies anything about prayer? They are living symbols, not only of faithfulness to the Blessed Mother, but also of prayer.”
They must have thought it a bit strange when I told them, “Forget everything that I just told you about prayer. Just continue doing what you’ve been doing. God listens to the prayer that comes from the depths of your heart. That is real prayer. You already do it. So just keep praying the way you pray.”
Their love and acceptance of me was like a burst of sunlight that warmed my heart. Their smiles were prayers that God immediately answered. I think that St. Paul would have told them the same thing because he knew that Christ was living in them.
Interspersed throughout St. Paul’s letters are valuable tidbits about prayer. In Timothy 1:4, he writes, “Everything God created is good; nothing is to be rejected when it is received in thanksgiving, for it is made holy by God’s word and by prayer.”
In Galatians 4:6, God “has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son crying Abba, Father.” And one could even view most of Romans 8 as a primer on prayer, especially where St. Paul writes, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
St. Paul could be considered an active contemplative, meaning that his ministry of evangelization took its power from his union with Christ. His passionate activity in establishing faith communities stemmed from his intimate relationship with Christ.
Sometimes parents preparing for the baptism of their children wonder if it is possible for ordinary people to pray as St. Paul advises. They view living in the world as incompatible with living a life in the Spirit. Even though I tell them that it is possible, sharing my own testimony, they will never really know until they experience it. I tell them that Christ living in them doesn’t create some sterile, dispassionate, false piety. I tell them that Christ living in them helps them to be real people who experience life in all its fullness.
It is at this critical juncture that I must trust that the Christ who is in me will touch their hearts in his own way and in his own time.
I marvel at how effortlessly St. Paul explains the workings of the Holy Spirit when one prays. Looking at the entirety of St. Paul’s writings, he makes clear the stages of prayer, from formal to contemplative. He even treats a common malady of prayer, dryness or an inability to pray, when he explains how the Holy Spirit prays in us, sometimes beyond words. He shows us that we, too, can pray no matter what our state in life is.
In this year of St. Paul, one can deepen one’s relationship with God by spending time in prayer every day. One can’t go wrong in reading and praying the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament, or by reading one of the many books now available about the life of St. Paul.
You too, like St. Paul, can uncover the presence of Christ who lives in you.
Permanent Deacon Louis Malfara is director of parish ministry at St. William Parish in Philadelphia.