Relevance of Prayer
Before venturing into writing this article for Dhyana magazine, I would like to quote David Van Biema, who wrote a beautiful article in TIME magazine on Mother Teresa of Calcutta, titled Her Agony: "A decade after Mother Teresa's death, her secret letters show that she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God in her life. What does her experience teach us about the value of doubt?". With this introduction, I practically shudder to write this article. Mother Teresa, a woman who served God so authentically and deeply has to say this, then who am I to write an article on the relevance of prayer to Religious life today? Yet, I want to confess that this article is going to be a collection of thoughts that may inspire those who can relate it to personal experience of prayer in their life.
Religious life or consecrated life, as defined by the Catholic Church spells out its significance as perennial act of total dedicated service to God's kingdom. If this dedication lacks its vitality and tempo, religious life itself cannot find its significance to the individual in his/her personal life and in the larger and wider sense in the universal church.
The word 'Religious' is derived from the Latin 'Religare' signifies 'to bind', 'to tie' etc. This could be interpreted as reuniting, reunion, rebinding. The task of a religious is to get united with the Lord, constantly in his/her daily tasks.
The title of this article - Relevance of Prayer to Religious life of today largely speaks of prayer in our daily life. Today more than ever people of all walks of life resort to prayer as a way out of their daily tensions and problems. They try their best to find ways and means of attaining peace, harmony, regain health, and get aligned with the demands that the modern society puts them. St. John of the Cross affirms that, "whoever flees prayer flees all that is good" (Other Counsels no. 11). It is true that prayer has become part of many a big business man in this fast moving and hectic world.
Religious life is a vocation known and respected in the church from its beginnings in the Egyptian desert to the present moment when we find large concentrations of priests, sisters and brothers in urban deserts. The same call of Jesus to "come and follow me" grasps a person's whole being so that one leaves whatever would hinder a positive response.
Since Vatican II, the term consecrated life has been used for this call to give oneself totally to God and His people because it embraces all forms of this vocation, and its rootedness in the very life of God throug prayer and contemplative experience.
Besides enclosed congregations of contemplative religious and institutes of men and women engaged in active apostolates, consecrated life also includes members of secular institutes, consecrated virgins living in the world, hermits, widows and widowers.
Religious life cannot be sustained without a deep life of prayer, individual, communal, and liturgical. The religious who embraces concretely a life of total consecration is called to know the risen Lord by a warm, personal knowledge, and to know him as one with whom he or she is personally in communion: "This is eternal life: to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent" (Jn 17:3). Knowledge of him in faith brings love: "You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described" (I Pet 1:8). This joy of love and knowledge is brought about in many ways, but fundamentally, and as an essential and necessary means, through individual and community encounter with God in prayer. This is where the religious finds the concentration of the heart on God, which unifies the whole of life and mission.
As with Jesus for whom prayer as a distinct act held a large and essential place in life, the religious needs to pray as a deepening of union with God (cf. Lk 5:16). Prayer is also a necessary condition for proclaiming the Gospel (cf. Mk 1:35-38). It is the context of all important decisions and events (cf. Lk 6:12-13). As with Jesus, too, the habit of prayer is necessary if the religious is to have that contemplative vision of things by which God is revealed in faith in the ordinary events of life. This is the contemplative dimension which the Church and the world have the right to expect of religious by the fact of their consecration. It must be strengthened by prolonged moments of time apart for exclusive adoration of the Father, love of him and listening in silence before him. For this reason, Paul VI insisted: "Faithfulness to daily prayer always remains for each religious a basic necessity. Prayer must have a primary place in your constitutions and in your lives".
By saying "in your constitutions," Paul VI gave a reminder that for the religious prayer is not only a personal turning in love to God but also a community response of adoration, intercession, praise, and thanksgiving that needs to be provided for in a stable way. This does not happen by chance. Concrete provisions at the level of each institute and of each province and local community are necessary if prayer is to deepen and thrive in religious life individually and communally. Yet only through prayer is the religious ultimately able to respond to his or her consecration. Community prayer has an important role in giving this necessary spiritual support. Each religious has a right to be assisted by the presence and example of other members of the community at prayer. Each has the privilege and duty of praying with the others and of participating with them in the liturgy which is the unifying center of their life. Such mutual help encourages the effort to live the life of union with the Lord to which religious are called. People have to feel that through you someone else is at work. To the extent that religious live their total consecration to the Lord, and communicate something of him and, ultimately, it is for him alone they have made their dedication.
There is no doubt that, in many areas of the world at the present time, religious institutes dedicated to apostolic works are facing difficult and delicate questions with respect to the apostolate. The reduced number of religious, the fewer young persons entering, the rising median age, the social pressures from contemporary movements are coinciding with an awareness of a wider range of needs, a more individual approach to personal development, and a higher level of awareness with regard to issues of justice, peace, and human promotion. There is a temptation to want to do everything. There is also a temptation to leave works which are stable and a genuine expression of the institute's charism for others which seem more immediately relevant to social needs but which are less expressive of the institute's identity. There is a third temptation to scatter the resources of an institute in a diversity of short-term activities only loosely connected with the founding gift. In all these instances, the effects are not immediate but, in the long run, what will suffer is the unity and identity of the institute itself, and this will be a loss to the Church and to its mission.
On the basis of extensive research, the Plenaria of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes of 4-7 March 1980 considered seriously the importance of contemplative dimension of religious life. The theme had been chosen at the Plenaria of 1978, which dealt with the specific role of religious in the Church's mission for integral human promotion, especially in its socio-political aspects. In highlighting at the time the fundamental importance of the spiritual in all forms of consecrated life, the Fathers of the Plenaria saw the need and the urgency to stress the absolute primacy of life in the Holy Spirit.
The choice of this theme was prompted by the modern life style which had become part and parcel of even the Consecrated life at large. The points that were put forward for this deliberation were as follows:
Ø The emergence of many forms of prayer and new forms of contemplative life among the People of God and in many religious communities, and
Ø The need to do away with the harmful dichotomy between interior life and activity in the personal and communal lives of religious in reaction to a certain period of down-grading of prayer and recollection, which has not yet completely disappeared.
It was not just a theoretical discussion, but a deeper intention and attempt at proposing concrete solutions to the emerging problems that would blow out of proportion in the long run. Hence the following points deserved deeper consideration:
Ø To encourage the integration of the interior life and activity in institutes of so-called active life and
Ø To promote vitality and renewal in the specifically contemplative institutes.
Conversation with God
Consecration is the basis of religious life. By insisting on this, the Church places the first emphasis on the initiative of God and on the transforming relation to him which religious life involves. Consecration is a divine action. God calls a person whom he sets apart for a particular dedication to himself. At the same time, he offers the grace to respond so that consecration is expressed on the human side by a profound and free self-surrender. The resulting relationship is pure gift. It is a covenant of mutual love and fidelity, of communion and mission, established for God's glory, the joy of the person consecrated, and the salvation of the world.
What is interior life? The interior life is precisely an elevation and a transformation of the intimate conversation that everyone has with himself as soon as it tends to become a conversation with God.
This progressive manifestation of God to the soul that seeks Him is not unaccompanied by a struggle; the soul must free itself from the bonds which are the results of sin, and gradually there disappears what St. Paul calls "the old man" and there takes shape "the new man."
The very nature of religious vocation involves a public witness to Christ and to the Church. Religious profession is made by vows which the Church receives as public. A stable form of community life in an institute canonically erected by the competent ecclesiastical authority manifests in a visible way the covenant and communion that religious life expresses. A certain separation from family and from professional life at the time a person enters the novitiate speaks powerfully of the absoluteness of God. At the same time, it is the beginning of a new and deeper bond in Christ with the family that one has left. This bond becomes firmer as detachment from otherwise legitimate relationships, occupations, and forms of relaxation continues to reflect God's absoluteness publicly throughout life. A further aspect of the public nature of religious consecration is that the apostolate of religious is in some sense always corporate. Religious presence is visible, affecting ways of acting, attire, and style of life.
What St. Paul calls "the inward man" is what is primary and most elevated in us: reason illumined by faith and the will, which should dominate the sensibility, common to man and animals.
Promoting Vitality and Renewal through .
Communion in community
Religious consecration establishes a particular communion between religious and God and, in him, between the members of the same institute. This is the basic element in the unity of an institute. A shared tradition, common works, well-considered structures, pooled resources, common constitutions, and a single spirit can all help to build up and strengthen unity. The foundation of unity, however, is the communion in Christ established by the one founding gift. This communion is rooted in religious consecration itself. It is animated by the Gospel spirit, nourished by prayer, distinguished by generous mortification, and characterized by the joy and hope which spring from the fruitfulness of the cross
For religious, communion in Christ is expressed in a stable and visible way through community life. So important is community living to religious consecration that every religious, whatever his or her apostolic work, is bound to it by the fact of profession and must normally live under the authority of a local superior in a community of the institute to which he or she belongs. Normally, too, community living entails a daily sharing of life according to specific structures and provisions established in the constitutions. Sharing of prayer, work, meals, leisure, common spirit, "relationships of friendship, cooperation in the same apostolate, and mutual support in community of life chosen for a better following of Christ, are so many valuable factors in daily progress". A community gathered as a true family in the Lord's name enjoys his presence (cf. Mt 18:25) through the love of God which is poured out by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rm 5:5). Its unity is a symbol of the coming of Christ and is a source of apostolic energy and power. In it the consecrated life can thrive in conditions which are proper to it and the ongoing formation of members can be assured. The capacity to live community life with its joys and restraints is a quality which distinguishes a religious vocation to a given institute and it is a key criterion of suitability in a candidate.
Living Deeply in a Superficial Culture
We often live in a fantasy world. The T.V. programmes leave us at times disappointed and dejected. Those individuals appear on the small screen present to us as life's real facts. We tend to forget all that is around us. At times watching all that stuff in the T.V. we begin to live a life that is not supposed to be lived.
The process of developing our human spirits may require us to separate ourselves in some ways from the on-rushing events of everyday life. A spiritual or personal journal might be a meaningful way for us to focus our spiritual dimension more carefully. We could read books by other persons of spirit on religion and prayer. And perhaps we could exchange letters with others, exploring the ups and downs of our spiritual lives and how one is strengthened through prayer experience. We might also explore our spiritual dynamics in study groups. Ultimately, we might find people who already know something about the life of the human spirit to be our spiritual guides.
Self-Transcendence, Self-Criticism, & Altruism
Prayer life empowers us to step outside of ourselves, to transcend any given situation in which we exist. And from this perspective, we can even judge ourselves. This ability of spirit to criticize who we have been, enables us to change ourselves for the better. Also, because we are not encapsulated in our egos, we are able to reach out to others in compassion and concern. Altruism may even be observed in children. A deeply convinced life of prayer enables us to live a life that can bring out our true power and help others on their journey.
Freedom: Transcending Enculturation and Choosing for Ourselves
Freedom is our capacity to rise above all circumstances in which we find ourselves and to make life-changing decisions. This freedom can be experienced in our daily prayer and then can be translated in our daily life situations. Nothing is more characteristic of the human spirit than freedom. Even though powerful socializing forces profoundly shape our lives, we always have the freedom to resist conformity and to define ourselves as persons who will pursue other purposes than the goals recommended and reinforced by our cultures. The more fully we understand the forces of enculturation -which would shape our lives if we did not transcend them- the better we will be able to resist those forces. The highest use of our personal freedom is to choose or invent our own purposes for living. As consecrated persons, we can always shape our innermost intentions with the power of prayer.
Creativity: Making Something Genuinely New
Frequently we dream up something entirely new. We do not fully understand how such creative moments emerge. But when we have flashes of insight and surprising new ideas, we know that something important has happened to us through the Spirit. And we might wish to capture and package such moments. We cannot force our spirits to be creative, but we can be ready for creative moments when they occur. Being creative in art, writing, and living our daily life includes being able to recognize creative flashes - and how to apply our new insights. A praying person always has such flashes of novelty, creativity and will never stagnate in his/her life situation.
The Disclosure of Existential Anxiety
Now we turn to the dark side of the human spirit. As wonderful as freedom, creativity, and love are, they come along with an awareness of anxiety, depression, and despair. As we become freer in all dimensions of our lives, we will also discover more angst (deep fear), more existential meaninglessness.
Existential anxiety differs from simple fear in 5 ways:
One has to overcome the deep existential fear. Many consecrated people today are victims of such fears. This entire sort can be gradually overcome through our efforts at prayer that silences the noise of the world and evokes within the serenity of the spirit. Prayer is so important especially when we are dedicated to this cause of being with God always; we cannot but resort to it again and day after day.
Glimpses of Joy and Fulfilment
angst is not the last word about human spirit.
Peace replaces existential anxiety when
Renewed attention to the Holy Spirit
The Word of God
Listening to and meditating on the Word of God is a daily encounter with "the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ". The Council forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful, especially those who live the religious life, to learn this sublime knowledge.
This personal and community commitment to foster the spiritual life more abundantly by giving more time to mental prayer will be effective, actual and even apostolic if the Word is heard not only in its objective richness, but also in the historical circumstances within which we live and in the light of the Church's teaching.
Devout participation in the celebration of the Eucharist, "the source and apex of all Christian life", is the irreplaceable center and animating force of the contemplative dimension of every religious community
Priest religious, therefore, will give a preeminent place to the daily celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
"The commitment to take part daily in the Eucharistic sacrifice will help religious to renew their self-offering to the Lord every day. Gathered in the Lord's name, religious communities have the Eucharist as their natural center. It is normal, therefore, that they should be visibly assembled in their chapel, in which the presence of the Blessed Sacrament expresses and realizes what must be the principal mission of every religious family"
The sacrament of reconciliation
The sacrament of reconciliation, which restores and revives the fundamental gift of conversion received in baptism, has a particularly important function for growth in the spiritual life. There can be no contemplative dimension without a personal and community experience of conversion. Conversion leads to communion and it is in fact the highest form of contemplation.
The Fathers of the Plenaria again appeal for:
Spiritual direction, in the strict sense, also deserves to be restored to its rightful place in the process of the spiritual and contemplative development of religious. Spiritual direction is a form of dialogue of spiritual matters, facilitating growth in spiritual and prayer life. It cannot in any way be replaced by psychological methods. Therefore that direction of conscience, for which Perfectae Caritatis 14 asks due liberty, should be fostered by the availability of competent and qualified persons.
Such availability should come especially from priests who, by reason of their specific pastoral mission, will promote appreciation for spiritual direction and its fruitful acceptance. Superiors and directors of formation, who are dedicated to the care of the religious entrusted to them, will also contribute, although in a different way, by guiding them in discernment and in fidelity to their vocation and mission.
The liturgy of the hour
"The divine office, in that it is the public prayer of the Church, is a source of devotion and nourishment for personal prayer". It is "designed to sanctify the whole course of the day".
The willingness with which religious communities have already responded to the Church's exhortation to celebrate the divine praises with the faithful shows how much they appreciate the importance of this more intimate participation in the Church's life.
The contemplative dimension of the lives of religious will find constant inspiration and nourishment in the measure that they dedicate themselves to the office with attention and fidelity. A greater appreciation of the spiritual riches in the office of readings could also help achieve this.
The Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary is a contemplative model for every consecrated person and for participation in the apostolic mission of the Church. This is particularly evident when we consider the spiritual attitudes which characterized her:
By reviving devotion to her, according to the teaching and tradition of the Church, religious will find the sure way to illuminate and strengthen the contemplative dimension of their lives.
"The contemplative life of religious would be incomplete if it were not directed in filial love towards her who is the Mother of the Church and of consecrated souls. This love for the Virgin will be manifested with the celebration of her feasts and, in particular, with daily prayer in her honor, especially the Rosary. The daily recitation of the Rosary is a centuries-old tradition for religious, and so it is not out of place to recall the suitability, beauty and efficacy of this prayer, which proposes for our meditation the mysteries of the Lord's life.
Personal and community asceticism
The discipline and silence necessary for prayer are a reminder that consecration by the vows of religion requires a certain asceticism of life "embracing the whole being" Christ's response of poverty, love, and obedience led him to the solitude of the desert, the pain of contradiction, and the abandonment of the cross. The consecration of religious enters into this way of his; it cannot be a reflection of his consecration if its expression in life does not hold an element of self-denial. Religious life itself is an ongoing, public, visible expression of Christian conversion. It calls for the leaving of all things and the taking up of one's cross to follow Christ throughout the whole of life. This involves the asceticism necessary to live in poverty of spirit and of fact; to love as Christ loves; to give up one's own will for God's sake to the will of another who represents him, however imperfectly. It calls for the self-giving without which it is not possible to live either a good community life or a fruitful mission. Jesus' statement that the grain of wheat needs to fall to the ground and die if it is to bear fruit has a particular application to religious because of the public nature of their profession. It is true that much of today's penance is to be found in the circumstances of life and should be accepted there. However, unless religious build into their lives "a joyful, well-balanced austerity" and deliberately determined renunciations, they risk losing the spiritual freedom necessary for living the counsels. Indeed, without such austerity and renunciation, their consecration itself can be affected. This is because there cannot be a public witness to Christ poor, chaste, and obedient without asceticism. Moreover, by professing the counsels by vows, religious undertake to do all that is necessary to deepen and foster what they have vowed, and this means a free choice of the cross, that it may be "as it was for Christ, proof of the greatest love" 
A generous asceticism is constantly needed for daily "conversion to the Gospel" (cf. Mk 1:15). It would, therefore, seem indispensable for the contemplative dimension of every religious life also.
For this reason, religious communities must be manifestly praying and also penitential communities in the Church, remembering the conciliar guideline that penance "must not be internal and personal only, but also external and social".
In this way, religious will also bear witness to the "mysterious relationship between renunciation and joy, between sacrifice and greatness of heart, between discipline and spiritual liberty". In particular, growth in the contemplative dimension certainly cannot be reconciled, for example, with indiscriminate and sometimes imprudent use of the mass media; with an exaggerated and extroverted activism; with an atmosphere of dissipation which contradicts the deepest expectations of every religious life. "The search for intimacy with God involves the truly vital need of silence embracing the whole being, both for those who must find God in the midst of noise and confusion and for those who are dedicated to the contemplative life"
To achieve this, their entire being has need of silence, and this requires zones of effective silence and a personal discipline to favor contact with God.
All these means will be more effective and fruitful if they are accompanied by the personal and communal practice of evangelical discernment; by a periodic and serious evaluation of activities; by the uninterrupted practice of an ever more profound interpretation of the sacramental significance of everyday realities (events, persons, things), with the explicit aim of never allowing the activities of religious to be downgraded from their ecclesial level to a mere horizontal and temporal one.
The late Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic letter Fides et Ratio writes, "Driven by the desire to discover the ultimate truth of existence, human beings seek to acquire those universal elements of knowledge which enable them to understand themselves better and to advance in their own self-realization. These fundamental elements of knowledge spring from the wonder awakened in them by the contemplation of creation: human beings are astonished to discover themselves as part of the world, in a relationship with others like them, all sharing a common destiny. Here, begins then, the journey that will lead them to discover new frontiers of knowledge. Without wonder, men and women would lapse into deadening routine and little by little would become incapable of life which is genuinely personal" This attempt at knowledge by human beings is a desire to deepen the purpose of our existence through prayer and God experience. Therefore, prayer should not be just an isolated activity in our daily life but it ought to be integrative, continuous and contemplative.
There is so much more we could have talked about today on prayer. But hopefully by looking at St. Paul's practice of prayer we have been stimulated to work on our own prayer lives. If all we have done is gained more information about prayer we have wasted our time. We must move from here resolved to pray. So to that end, let me give you some suggestions.
What I desire most of all today is not that you feel guilty about your lack of a prayer life. I want you to feel hungry for a greater prayer life. I don't want to "beat you up", I want to "spur you on." I want you to come to see prayer not as a duty but as a privilege. I want you to pray not because of our battle with the Devil, or because of the pain of those around you. I want you to pray because of the calmness and serenity that comes from spending time with the Father, no matter what type of coldness, emptiness or darkness you feel within; the time spent in prayer some way renders at the time we need most and when we feel like lost in the ocean of indifference and pain.
Permit me to end this article with the very words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who wrote to her confessor: "God - please forgive me - When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven-there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. -I am told God loves me-and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the call of the Sacred Heart?" In spite of her nerve shattering experiences of darkness and coldness, she never gave up prayer, and was fully convinced that faithfulness to prayer had always a deep relevance to her daily life and her entire mission experience.
 David Van Biema, "Her Agony", TIME, September 3, 2007, pp. 26-27.
 Evangelica Testificatio 45
 cf. Evangelica Testificatio 43
 THE CONTEMPLATIVE DIMENSION OF RELIGIOUS LIFE (Plenaria of the Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, 4-7 March 1980)
 cf. Evangelica Testificatio 41.
 Evangelica Testificatio 39.
 cf. Perfectae Caritatis 15
cf. Evangelica Testificatio 38.
 Perfectae Caritatis, 6.
 Lumen Gentium, 11
 Cf. Perfectae Caritatis 6; Evangelica Testificatio 47-48.
 Sacrosanctum Concilium 55; cf. Evangelica Testificatio 47.
 Pope's message to the Plenaria, n. 2; cf. Evangelica Testificatio 48.
 cf. Lumen Gentium 11
the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium solemnly
 Evangelica Testificatio 56; Lumen Gentium 65
 Lumen Gentium, 63
 Lumen Gentium, 66, 67.
 Evangelica Testificatio 46.
 Evangelica Testificatio 30
 Evangelica Testificatio 29.
on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium solemnly
 Evangelica Testificatio 29
Evangelica Testificatio 46.
 Fides et Ratio n. 2.
 David Van Biema, "Her Agony", TIME, September 3, 2007, p. 30.
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