by Catherine Doherty.
I often meditate on holy cards. Yesterday I came across one that spoke of prayer as fire and tears. Yes, prayer comes from the heart, the heart that is on fire, and full of tears.
If I really pray with fire and tears, I find that the two go together. The fire is the fire of God’s love, the tears of compunction or gratitude. They form a river within. Tears are the only river on which fire can burn.
To discover this type of prayer, we must be willing to look deeply into ourselves. We will get nowhere by loitering on the surface. We must somehow reach that level of our heart where prayer and surrender go hand in hand.
The prayer of fire and tears takes place in silence. Like all things of the heart, it happens very quietly. We speak to God in our funny little way that must seem to him as awkward as baby talk, trying to tell him that we love him, that we are on fire with love for him, and that we weep in gratitude that he has come down to us.
God listens and listens. He listens to us as no one else ever could. He listens with his whole being, because he loves us so.
Sometimes our prayer doesn’t reach him. It falls short because it is not rooted in reality. God created reality. He really is, and the kind of prayer he desires from us is real prayer. We can beg him for this and that, but if our prayer in not grounded in truth, that is, in reality, he cannot hear it.
Archbishop Bloom puts it well in his book, Beginning to Pray. "The moment we try to be what we are not, there is nothing left to say or have. We become a fictitious personality, an unreal presence, and this unreal presence cannot be approached by God."
Truth is love. We pray, but we fail to love one another. We fail to love our neighbor. We don’t even love ourselves. We don’t love our enemies, and we certainly are not about to hand over our lives as martyrs.
"Greater love hath no man than to give his life for his brethren" (Jn 15:13), said Jesus. We talk and talk about these things, but we don’t do them, and so our prayers, though they may be wet with tears and blazing with fire, fall short of God as if blocked by a brick wall.
In order for our prayer to be rooted in love, we must be willing to face conflicts openly. I can think of many examples. In Madonna House, when people are angry with each other, they have to come together and talk it out.
They must be willing to say, "Look, I am angry. This is why, and this is what is really in my heart." They also have to be willing to take the consequences of such openness.
Here it may be the other person shooting the truth back to them: "You’re angry because you want attention and no one could possibly fill the need you have!"
But in other circumstances, outside of Madonna House or outside a family, the consequences might be much more drastic, and then we are called to say what we have to say without fear. Being human, we might well be afraid. But we will speak the truth regardless. If we do, people will not only believe us, but they will believe in us.
Throughout our lives, we will have to face things squarely. We will have to do it with our husbands or wives, with our friends, with our co-workers. We will achieve nothing by trying to hide our anger.
As long as we fail to confront situations as they are, acknowledging our fault when the fault is ours, or asking the other about it if he or she is in the wrong, there will be a world of confusion and lack of truth between us and God.
We can hurt each other terribly, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would God tell us to love our enemies? Our worst enemy may not be the communist or the terrorist. It might be someone we live with or work with. We might feel like strangling the person at times.
This sort of thing is always going on. We are called to truth, and we are called to forgiveness, but we are also called to become the cross on which the other is crucified. We have to be honest about this.
"People who trust are the robbers of God’s grace," reads another holy card. We have to trust each other, and we can’t go around muttering in corners. Such muttering is like a knife in somebody’s back, and it stops our prayer cold.
It is terrible to be truthful, and it is even more terrible to be trusting. But that is what we are called to do. We trust because God himself trusts the untrustworthy. That is obvious, because he trusts you and me.
Prayer is composed of fire and tears, and this is what we bring to God. We bring him the fire of our love and the river of our tears, those shed in the light of gratitude, and those shed in the darkness of sorrow.
If we live in truth, our hearts will be at peace. Now our prayers, purified in the fire of truth, and cleansed by tears that wash away the debris within us, will truly rise like incense before the face of God. We will be living and praying as Christ himself lived and prayed.
— Adapted from Soul of My Soul, pp. 41-44, MH Publications.
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