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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

ABBOT ANDRE LOUF ON PRAYER OF THE HEART



The main reason why prayer (and talking about prayer) seems so difficult nowadays is that we simply do not know what we are to pray with. Where in our body are we to locate the organ of prayer? Our lips and our mouth recite prayers, our intellect practises re¬flection and meditation, our heart and mind are lifted up to God. With this language we are familiar; but what is it we intend to con¬vey by these concepts? Lips, mouth, intellect, heart and soul? What do we actually pray with?

The organ of prayer: our heart
Each person has been given by the creator an organ primarily designed to get him praying. In the creation story we read how God made man by breathing into him his living spirit (Gen. 2:7) and¬St. Paul goes on-man became a living soul (I Cor. 15:45). Adam was the prefiguration of Him who should come : Jesus, the second Adam, after whose image the first man had been created. This means that being in relation with the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a fundamental part of our nature. The living spirit of God is the fount of prayer in us.
In the course of the centuries this organ has acquired very diverse names in various cultures and languages; but in fact they all signify the same thing. Let us agree to call it by the oldest name it has ever had-a name that in the Bible occupies a central place : the heart. In the Old Testament the heart denotes the inward man. The New Testament builds on this notion and perfects it.
The Lord it is who probes the heart and loins (Jer. 11:20), nothing is hidden from Him : Lord ‘you examine me and know me, you know if I am standing or sitting ... God, examine me and know my heart, probe me and know my thoughts’ (Ps. 139). The heart is what we yearn with : God grants the desire of the heart (Ps. 20:4). According to the Bible even a man’s character is local¬ized in this centre : out of the heart proceed thoughts, sins, good and bad inclinations : envy and malice, joy, peace and pity. The heart may also express the whole person, for instance, in Joshua’s injunc¬tion to the Israelites regarding the occupation of the promised land ‘... take great care to practise the commandments and the Law which Moses the servant of Yahweh gave you : love Yahweh your God, follow his paths always, keep his commandments, be loyal to him and serve him with all your heart and soul’ (Josh. 22:5).
But a part of the chosen people do not heed this call and turn their heart away from the Lord : ‘... this people approaches me only in words, honours me only with lip-service while its heart is far from me’ (Isa. 29:13). The Israelites have hardened their hearts (Ezek. 2:14). Time after time God raises up prophets who will per¬sist in speaking of this apostasy : ‘But now, now-it is Yahweh who speaks-come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn’ (Joel 2:12), for the Lord cannot countenance such disloyalty. He loves Israel with an everlasting love, is a jealous God. And the prophets show us how even the heart of God is turned and his mercy (heart’s compassion) is aroused (cf. Hosea 11: 8). Never will His love desert His people : ‘I did forsake you for a brief moment, but with great love will I take you back. In excess of anger, for a moment I hid my face from you. But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you, says Yahweh, your redeemer!’ (Isa. 54: 7-8).
At the very moment when the Jewish people are in deepest misery-the Babylonian exile-the prophet Ezekiel announces a new covenant : ‘I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you ...’ (Ezek. 36:25-27).
Only a heart of flesh can really beat, can give life to the whole body. Only into such a heart can the Spirit make his entry; and the heart, at one time closed to the superabundance of grace, opens up again to His loving design : his Will, the Word, the Spirit.
He of whom Moses wrote in the Law-and the prophets also¬Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth, brought us this New Covenant. God Himself has intervened to open up the human heart and make it once more receptive to His Word (Acts 16:14). Ascended now into heaven, He has sent us another Paraclete (‘Advocate’: John 14:16), who consoles, strengthens and encourages, the Anointing who teaches us everything (I John 2:27), the Holy Spirit who will remind us of all that Jesus has said to us (John 14: 26). ‘If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved’ (Rom. 10:9). Heart and lips, inward surrender and outward confession, beat here to one and the same rhythm. And here, eventually, prayer is born.
The beatitudes sum up in a few sentences the spiritual Law of the New Covenant : ‘How happy are the poor in spirit; ... happy those who mourn; ... happy the pure in heart : they shall see God’ (Matt. 5:3-12). When nothing any longer clouds and darkens the heart, it can be wholly opened to the Light; for God is Love and God is Light.
It will perhaps be clear by now that the heart, in the ancient sense of the word, is not the discursive intelligence with which we reason, nor the ‘feelings’ with which we respond to another person, nor yet the superficial emotion we call sentimentality. The heart is something that lies much deeper within us, the innermost core of our being, the root of our existence or, conversely, our summit, what the French mystics call ‘the very peak of the soul’ (‘la fine pointe de fame’ or ‘la cime de 1’esprit’). In our everyday life our heart is usually concealed. It hardly reaches the surface of our consciousness. We much prefer to stay put in our outward senses, in our impressions and feelings, in all that attracts -or repels us. And should we opt to live at a deeper level of our personal being, then we usually land up in abstraction : we reflect, we combine, we compare, we draw logical conclusions. But all this time our heart will be asleep-not beating yet to the rhythm of the Spirit.
Jesus was often reprimanding us: our hearts are blind, obdurate and closed (Mark 8:17). They are sluggish and slow (Luke 24:25), full of darkness, weighed down with pleasure and sorrows (Matt. 13:15). Our hearts must be circumcised. ‘Circumcise your heart then, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and your soul’ (Deut. 10: 12-22). Then love of God and of our neighbour will be the fruit, for a sound heart produces good fruit (Matt. 7:17). It is a main enterprise for every individual to find the way back to his heart. He is an explorer, moving into that unknown, inner region. He is a pilgrim in search of his heart, of his deepest being. Everyone carries within him-to repeat the marvellous ex¬pression used by St. Peter in his first letter-’the hidden man of the heart’ (3:4). That ‘man’ is our deepest and most real being : he is who and what we are. There God meets us; and it is only from there that we in our turn can encounter people. There God addresses us; and from there we too are able to address people. There we receive from Him a new and as yet unfamiliar name, which He alone knows and which will be our name for ever in his Love; and only thence are we at length able to name another’s name, in the selfsame Love.
But so far we have not reached that point. We are only on the road towards our heart. Still, the marvellous world that awaits us there makes taking the greatest trouble worthwhile.

In a state of prayer
For our heart is already in a state of prayer. We received prayer along with grace, in our baptism. The state of grace, as we call it, at the level of the heart, actually signifies a state of prayer. From then on, in the profoundest depths of the self, we have a continuing contact with God. God’s Holy Spirit has taken us over, has assumed complete possession of us; he has become breath of our breath and Spirit of our spirit. He takes our heart in tow and turns it towards God. He is the Spirit, Paul says, who speaks without ceasing to our spirit and testifies to the fact that we are children of God. All the time, in fact, the Spirit is calling within us and He prays, Abba¬Father, with supplications and sighs that cannot be put into words but never for an instant cease within our hearts (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
This state of prayer within us is something we always carry about, like a hidden treasure of which we are not consciously aware-or hardly so. Somewhere our heart is going full pelt, but we do not feel it. We are deaf to our praying heart, love’s savour escapes us, we fail to see the light in which we live.
For our heart, our true heart, is asleep; and it has to be woken up, gradually-through the course of a whole lifetime. So it is not really hard to pray. It was given us long since. But very seldom are we conscious of our own prayer. Every technique of prayer is attuned to that purpose. We have to become conscious of what we have already received, must learn to feel, to distinguish it in the full and peaceful assurance of the Spirit, this prayer rooted and operative somewhere deep inside us. It must be brought to the sur¬face of our consciousness. Little by little it will saturate and cap¬tivate our faculties, mind and soul and body. Our psyche and even our body must learn to answer to the rhythm of this prayer, be stirred to prayer from within, be incited to prayer, as dry wood is set ablaze. One of the Fathers puts it as tersely as this : ‘The monk’s ascesis : to set wood ablaze.”
Prayer then, is nothing other than that unconscious state of prayer which in the course of time has become completely conscious. Prayer is the abundantia cordis, the abundance of the heart, as the saying goes in the Gospels : ‘For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart’ (Matt. 12:34; Luke 6:45). Prayer is a heart that overflows with joy, thanksgiving, gratitude and praise. It is the abundance of a heart that is truly awake.

Waking up
One condition is therefore that our heart comes awake; for as long as it remains asleep, our search for the organ of prayer in ourselves will be in vain. We can try to come at it in various ways; but the result will often be disconcerting. Some will put most re¬liance on their imagination; but there is a considerable risk of their ending up distracted and full of daydreams. Others may try through their religious feeling, but soon get bogged down in sentimentality. Yet others resort more to their intellect and try to arrive at clearer insights; but their prayer remains arid and cold and eventually ends up outside the sphere of their concrete living. Imagination, feeling and intellect are not of the Evil One. But they can only bear fruit when, much deeper within us, our heart comes to awakening and they, fed by the flame of this spiritual fire, themselves begin to glow.
Each and every method of prayer has but one objective : to find the heart and alert it. It must be a form of interior alertness, watch¬fulness. Jesus himself set ‘being awake’ and ‘praying’ side by side. The phrase ‘be awake and pray’ certainly comes from Jesus in per¬son (Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33). Only profound and quiet concen¬tration can put us on the track of our heart and of the prayer within it.
All the time watchful and alert, therefore, we must first recover the way to our heart in order to free it and divest it of everything in which we have incapsulated it. With this in view we must mend our ways, come to our senses, get back to the true centre of our being as ‘person’, redire ad cor (Isa. 46:8), return to the heart, as people in ‘the Middle Ages liked to say. In the heart, mind and body meet, it is the central point of our being. Once back at that central point, we live at a deeper level, where we are at peace, in harmony with everything and everybody, and first and foremost with our own self. This ‘reversion’ is also ‘intro-version’, a turning inward to the self. It engenders a state of recollection and interiority. It pierces through to our deepest ‘I’, to the image of God in us. To that ontological centre where we are constantly springing from God’s creative hand and flowing back into His bosom. Praying teaches us to live from within, from the life within us. As was said of St. Bruno, every man of prayer has a cor profundum, a bottomless heart.’ The parable of the prodigal son has been interpreted by several of the Fathers in that sense (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son demands his share of the estate and leaves for a distant country, where he squanders his money on a life of debauchery. ‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine and now he began to feel the pinch ... Then he came to his senses (literally : he turned in to his self) and said : “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want.”‘ Pope Gregory the Great applies the passage to St. Benedict, the father of western monasticism, whose life as a monk he thus describes : ‘Had the prodigal son been with himself, whence then should he have returned to himself? Conversely, I might say of this venerable man (Benedict) that he dwelt with him¬self (habitare secum), for watching constantly over himself, he remained always in the presence of his Creator. He examined him¬self incessantly and did not allow his heart to divert its gaze to out¬ward things.” The passage shows us where St. Benedict’s tranquillity came from. He does not seek to escape in an activity that will keep him away from his true work, but keeps on turning to his heart.
There lies his true work : the battle with everything that would distract him from his sole Good. A twelfth-century Carthusian monk could say, therefore : Nothing makes the monk wearier than not working (Nihil laboriosius est quam non laborare)4 and so continuing always free for prayer, finding his rest in Jesus and in his Word. Again, the same Carthusian says : in this way he comes to be quietus Christo, still and tranquil before Christ. This was Benedict’s sole care also : to keep his heart free beneath the gaze of Him who offers both support and love.
To this ascesis-and especially the practice of keeping vigil-as a technique of prayer we shall return later on. Here we shall content ourselves with emphasizing that prayer has already been given us in our heart, albeit in a secret way. One cannot help but recall here the image of the treasure in the field. The application of it to prayer has indeed been made. A twelfth-century Cistercian, Guerric d’Igny, compares the heart to a field. The field of the heart must be dug over : ‘O what precious store of good works, what a wealth of spiritual fruits are hidden in the field of a man’s body and how much more, even, in his heart, if he will but dig and delve it. In so saying I do not mean to affirm with Plato that prior to its dwelling in this body, the soul already had knowledge which having been utterly forgotten and covered beneath a weight of sins is then laid bare by spiritual study (disciplina) and ascesis (labor). But I mean that reason and intelligence, which are peculiar to man, can when as¬sisted by grace become the source of all good works. If thus you will turn in your heart, keeping your body under control, do not despair of finding therein treasures of sufficient worth’ (Sermon 1 for Epi¬phany). There is a treasure, then, hidden in the field of our heart; and like the merchant of the gospel story we must sell all that we have in order to possess that field and extract the treasure from it. From time to time God allows us a glimpse of that treasure. Much effort will be needed to till the field. Our business here is not with exploiting the earth, entrusted by the Creator to the first man-a mandate that is certainly still in force. But still the sweat of our brow is required for exploiting the inner man and cultivating this fallow soil. Yet our toil will be rewarded-and more than that this spiritual labour is itself a joy and gives us true peace.
Anyone whose heart has thus been freed will be able to listen in to it: the heart is at prayer, even without our knowing it. We can surprise our heart, as it were, in the very act of prayer. The spirit of Jesus anticipates us, is stammering our prayer before us. To give ourselves over to this prayer we have to yield ourselves and stop throwing up a barrier between our heart and our ‘I’. We are not our ‘persona’, the image that we take so much trouble to create. Only when we have dropped this mask in the presence of God will we go on to uncover our real ‘I’. And we shall stare in astonishment then; for could we ever have suspected what we were really like and what God had chosen for us? How fine, how beautiful, our true likeness is, which God carries with Him all the time and which He so much longs to show us ! Out of love He has had respect for what we willed and has chosen to wait. This likeness can only be the likeness to his Son, who in advance of us lived out a true son¬ship and was obedient to the Father’s will, right up to death on the cross. From His prayer, from His striving, living and dying, we learn how to pray.
Little by little we must advance on the road to prayer. The tech¬nique is always the same. To rid our heart of its surrounding dross; to listen to it where it is already at prayer; to yield ourselves to that prayer until the Spirit’s prayer becomes our own.
As a, monk of the Byzantine period once taught : ‘Anyone who attends carefully to his heart, letting no other notions and fantasies get in, will soon observe how in the nature of things his heart engenders light. Just as coals are set ablaze and the candle is kindled by the fire, so God sets our heart aflame for contemplation, He who since our baptism has made our heart His dwelling-place.”
Another monk of that period used a different metaphor to say the same thing. He was to an extraordinary degree a man of prayer, someone absolutely carried away by prayer, which was his constant occupation. He was asked how he had reached that state. He replied that he found it hard to explain. ‘Looking back,’ he said, ‘my im¬pression is that for many, many years I was carrying prayer within my heart, but did not know it at the time. It was like a spring, but one covered by a stone. Then at a certain moment Jesus took the stone away. At that the spring began to flow and has been flowing ever since.’



my source: A Vow of Conversation

This is my report of a public lecture given by Dom André Louf in Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Parish, Ghent, as part of the colloquium on the Syrian Fathers. Please note my earlier disclaimer on the accuracy of my reporting and translations, something that may particularly apply to my reporting of this talk as I was tired and my note taking somewhat uneven! I also have the impression that Dom André skipped over some sections due to time constraints. Once the text is published I may consider doing an English translation for publication somewhere.

Dom André Louf, ocso is abbot emeritus of the abbey of Mont des Cats in France and author of several books, including Teach us to Pray, The Cistercian Way and Grace can do more. He is now a hermit and translates Syrian texts. He was responsible for the French translation of the second series of St Isaac’s homilies.

The phrase “liturgy of the heart” is not found in Scripture but it finds its roots in the reference in 1 Peter 3, 4 in which Peter speaks of the “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” (“interior disposition of the heart”, NJB, or “inner self”, NRSV), literally the hidden human being of the heart.

This interior human heart is viewed by Scripture in rather ambiguous terms. It may be orientated to wicked schemes (Gen. 6, 5), it may be hard and even turned to stone (Ex. 7, 3) but it may also be softened and humbled (2 K 22, 19) and especially contrite (Ps 50, 17) and to be healed by God (Ps 147, 3). God reproaches the uncircumcised heart (Lv 26,41; Dt 10, 16; 30, 6; Jer. 9, 26). It is on the tablets of the heart that God will write a new law (Pr. 3,3; 7, 3). With the prophet Ezekiel God promises to change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (11, 19; 36, 26). Solomon will plead for such a heart at the beginning of his reign (1 K. 3, 9) and advises his son David to watch over his heart, for from the heart come the wellsprings of life. (Pr. 4, 23)

Jesus’ teaching on interiority lies within this tradition. He calls the pure of heart blessed, and contrasts them with closed hearts and hearts which bring forth evil (Mt. 15, 18). “Good people draw what is good from the store of goodness in their hearts; bad people draw what is bad from the store of badness. For the words of the mouth flow out of what fills the heart.” (Lk 6, 45) It is in the heart that one can ponder the Word as Mary did (Lk 2, 19) for as Paul reminds us (quoting Deuteronomy) “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” (Rm 10, 8) It is likewise the hearts that burned within when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Lk 24, 32) The heart is also the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6, 19), a temple in which an interior liturgy is celebrated (Ep. 5, 19).

Such are the biblical illusions that are summed up in the phrase “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” of 1 Peter 3, 4.

Paul contrasts this “inner nature” with our “outer nature” that is decaying. (2 Cor. 4, 16-18).

Could it be that this most interior reality is frightening for our contemporaries? We can even ask why the text from Ephesians 5, 19 “sing and praise in your hearts” is often translated today as “with all your heart”. While this might be linguistically defensible, no single Church Father interpreted in this way, for they understood it as alluding to the interior liturgy of the heart, which runs as a thread through the entire patristic tradition.

This liturgy of the heart is something which the Holy Spirit is constantly praying in every baptised person, whether we are aware of it or not. “…the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words” (Rm 8, 26). This prayer is something which all Christians carry in their hearts, whether they are aware of it or not. In the deepest part of our being we find grace and prayer, and even if we are unaware of it the Spirit is praying “Abba, Father” in us.

If this is true, then the purpose of prayer is simply to bring us into contact with this prayer that is already being prayed in us. Any “methods” or “techniques” of prayer, or the disciplines of turning inwards and quieting the heart, only exist to help this unconscious prayer to become conscious. This is, moreover, an unconsciousness that is much deeper than the psychological unconscious which is becoming better known today. This is an unconscious that touches the very roots of our being. It is metaphysical and meta-psychological, for it is concerned with that place where our being is immersed in God and repeatedly springs up from God. This is the place where prayer does not stop, the domus interior or templum interius as it was called in the Middle Ages.

Most of the time we are not conscious of the prayer taking place in this inner temple. We can only believe in it with a growing certainty, and trust that God will lift the veil and allow a little of this unconscious prayer to emerge to consciousness. Sometimes this is merely a sudden illumination, a passing light which clarifies aspects of our existence and which never leaves us even in the midst of new periods of dryness. More often, though, it involves a slow and patient process in which something emerges towards the surface, awakening a new sensitivity or what Ruusbroec called a “feeling above all feelings”.

While it is certainly true that some circumstances are more conducive to this process than others, and thus silence, simplicity and asceticism can be important preparations for prayer, Christian prayer is never determined by such preparations. God allows prayer to arise in us “when He wills, as He wills and where He wills” as Ruusbroec says. For God is always greater than our heart and remains the only Master of our prayer. Prayer is totally gratuitous although we need to persevere in times of trial.

In persevering in times of dryness and crisis, in seeing all of our efforts ending in dead ends, and in being confronted with our own weakness that we receive the grace of recognising ourselves for the sinners who we really are. It is precisely in encountering ourselves as sinners that we also encounter the grace of God. John Cassian tells us: 

Let us in this way learn in all that we do to perceive both our own weakness and the grace of God at the same time, so that we are able to proclaim every day with the saints: “They have pushed me down to make me fall, but the Lord has supported me.”

What is our task as human beings in this process? It has only one name, and that is humility. Cassian describes this as “every day humbly following the grace of God that draws us.” Learning humility, even, or perhaps especially, through failure, is the greatest lesson that we can learn. As one of the Fathers said: “I would rather choose a defeat humbly accepted than a victory achieved with pride.”

This is the heart of the process, the point at which it is possible for a new sensitivity to be born, and it can be characterised by confusion and doubt. The old Christian literature referred to this with the imagery of “diatribe tès kardias” or “contritio cordis” or “contrition mentis”. It would be good to try and recapture something of the jolting language which has been lost in later translations, for this is not simply about “contrition” as we have come to understand it in recent spiritual literature but rather about a “broken” and “pulverised” heart that has literally been shattered. In this we are reminded of the utter poverty of the Christian. Isaac of Nineveh writes:

Believe me, my brother, you have not yet understood the power of temptation, nor the subtlety of its guiles. One day the experience will teach it to you and you will see yourself as a child who no longer knows where to look. All your knowledge will be nothing more than confusion, like that of a little child. Your spirit which appeared to be so firmly anchored in God, your precise knowledge, your balanced thought world, they will all be submerged in an ocean of doubt. Only one thing will be able to help you and will conquer them, namely, humility. Once you have grasped this, their power will disappear.

And, as Saint Basil tells us, “Often it is humility that saves someone who has sinned frequently and heavily.”

This is a painful pedagogy. Instead of fleeing from it, we are called to follow its trajectory and to make it our own, not out of masochism, but because one senses that it is the secret source of the only true life. In biblical language we can say that it is here that the heart of stone becomes broken so that may be made into a heart of flesh.

If such temptation does lead to sin then this is not due to a lack of generosity, but rather to a lack of humility. And sin offers us the chance to discover the narrow and low gate that leads to the Kingdom. Indeed, it could be that the most dangerous temptation is not the temptation that leads to sin, but rather the temptation that follows sin, namely the temptation of despair. It is only through eventually learning humility that we can escape this. And through this we learn the gift of mercy. Isaac of Nineveh writes: 

Who can still be brought into confusion by the memory of his own sins…? Will God forgive me these things whose memory so torments me? Things that I have an aversion to but which I nevertheless slip towards. And when I have done them their memory torments me more than a scorpion’s bite. I detest them and yet I find myself in their midst, and when I feel pain and sorrow over them I continue to seek them our – oh unhappy person that I am! … This is how many God fearing people think, people who desire virtue but whose weakness forces them to take into account their own frailty: they live continually imprisoned between sin and remorse. … Nevertheless, do not doubt your salvation … His mercy is much greater than you can imagine, and His grace is greater than you can dare to ask for. He looks only for the slightest sorrow …

How does this transition occur? We cannot predict when or how we will be brought into this interiority, but when it happens we know that we are not in control. We become aware of a new sensitivity and of a peace that cannot deceive us, of a centeredness and of a prayer that emerges of its own accord. There are certain times or places in our lives at which we find ourselves closer to this breakthrough, times or places where one is closer to its becoming a reality.

One of these privileged places is always the listening to the Word of God in Scripture. Scripture has the power to shake our heart awake, to drill through it, batter it open, so that prayer can spring up. Likewise, sickness, the death of someone close to us, and great temptations are favourable moments in which our longing for God means that we are more open to Him.

We find all these favourable moments brought together in the celebration of the Liturgy. The Church has instinctively sensed the mysterious affinity between the external Liturgy celebrated in churches of stone and the Liturgy celebrated in the deepest depth of each baptised Christian. The Church has learnt through experience how to harmonise these two liturgies of the praying Christian.

In our contemporary world we find conflicting desires that make such interiority difficult. On the one hand there is a desire for such interiority, but, on the other hand, there is much that makes it difficult for us to surrender to it. We cannot blame this on God, who desires to give Himself to us. But the children of the Church are also the children of their culture and find themselves in a cultural transition. It may be that there are elements in our culture, both of yesterday and of today, that make it more difficult to find real interiority. Or it may be that there are elements that at first sight make it easier to enter into such interiority – such as the reactions to the dangers below found in some youth movements which are orientated to religious experience – but which are really illusory.

We can name three negative influences in the religious culture of the last decades. The first is to reduce the Gospel to an ideology, which is more orientated to thought patterns than to life. The Second is to reduce the Gospel to activism, in which one loses contact with one’s inner life and reduces the Gospel to marketing. And the third is to reduce the Gospel to moralism in which a skewed moral vision which can hinder authentic interior experience.

[Dom André skipped over the first two points - I suspect due to time pressure - and concentrated on the third.]

The life of the Holy Spirit in us seeks ways to express itself in concrete circumstances, but if it is authentic this is, in the first place, expressed in spontaneity, freedom and deep joy. In a second moment we can describe Christian behaviour from without, such as Paul does in his teaching on the fruits of the Spirit. Such a moral pedagogy should help to bring us into contact with the inner experience and make us sensitive to the workings of the Spirit. However, it has not always been so simple. Influenced by cultural ethical schemas, morality has sometimes lost its way in abstract and absolutised studies of human behaviour which resulted in an idealised set of rules which one had to adhere to.

This is not to deny the need for ethical norms, but rather to recognise their pitfalls, and in particular the danger of separating interior disposition and exterior action. This can result in two dangers. Firstly, it can result in someone who is unable to live up to the expectations of the law becoming caught up in a spiral of guilt. The law accuses, but Jesus refuses to accuse and has come to free us from guilt. Secondly, it can result in a more subtle and dangerous danger, that of an easy conscience and apparent perfection in which one becomes cut off from the liberating action of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus avoided both of these dangers. He never drove sinners to despair and he confronted the conceit of the Pharisees. He did not come for the righteous, but for sinners.

To speak about sin and sinners is a problem in our contemporary world, which does not know how to deal with sin and sinners. Yet there is a link between sin and our access to the inner way. We may be desperate sinners who are burdened with guilt feelings. Or we may play the role of freed sinners who dream of a morality without sin. Or – and this is the worst – we may be the incurably righteous who look down on sinners. Insofar as we belong to one of these categories we are not able to access the inner way.

God longs for sinners as a Father longs for his lost son. For genuine sinners, who do not seek to gloss over or excuse their weakness, but who have become reconciled with their weakness and who rely on God’s mercy. At the moment that one receives God’s forgiveness, someone is opened up in one’s heart so that one’s heart can become transformed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Sin no longer drags one down and bruises one, but has rather become the door to the depths of our heart for it leads us to the knowledge of the merciful Father.



[Irenikon] Catholic Maronite Patriarch to visit Russian Orthodox Church before conclave


Card Boutros Rai arrives in Moscow for a series of meetings with representatives of the Russian Patriarchate and Russian political leaders. Next Friday, he will celebrate Mass in Moscow's Catholic cathedral.

2/26/2013
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Catholic-...lave-27239.html

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Card Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite patriarch of Antioch today, begins a visit in Moscow. He is in Russia before travelling to Rome for the conclave that will elect the new pope, Ria Novosti reported today citing Mgr Ivan Jurkovic, apostolic nuncio tothe Russian Federation. The patriarch is in Russia on the invitation of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Card Rai will leave Moscow on Friday. During his stay, he is scheduled to meet local religious and political leaders. The main issue he will discuss with his Russian hosts will be the situation of Christians in the Middle East, and the ongoing crisis in Syria where the Kremlin is trying to mediate a solution that would avoid external military interventions.

The Maronite primate's first stop will be a visit with the local Lebanese community. He will take part in the liturgy at St Maron Church where he is bringing as a gift a relic from the titular saint.

Tomorrow, he will meet Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate External Relations Department, followed by a meeting with
Patriarch Kirill. The latter visited Lebanon in November 2011 and visited the local Catholic Maronite Church.

Card Rai will also meet Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of Duma, the lower
house of the Russian parliament.

His visit will end with a final Mass in Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral where he will meet Mgr Paolo Pezzi, archbishop of Mother of God in Moscow.

Patriarch Boutros Rai recently celebrated his 73rd birthday and was elevated to the dignity of cardinal by Benedict XVI in the last consistory in November 2012. (N.A.)




ST ELIZABETH'S CONVENT IN MINSK
BUILD A CHURCH IN A CLINIC

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