Monday October 15, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 8:14-17, 26-27) Gospel (St. John 7:14-18, 37-39a)
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks of this "living water": If anyone is thirsty, they are to come to Him and He will give them to drink. And what He is going to give us to drink is the Holy Spirit - the Holy Spirit, who (Saint Paul says in the first reading) makes us cry out "Abba, Father!", and the same Holy Spirit who prays within our hearts when we do not know how to pray.
That point of prayer is something that we need to consider today because today we celebrate the Church's feast of Her Master of Prayer: Saint Teresa of Avila, the greatest of all the prayers in the Church (next to Our Blessed Lady, of course). She is the one who has given to us the doctrine of prayer and the fastest, clearest way to grow in holiness. You can get Saint Teresa's books still. Probably the most famous one is Interior Castle, but that is not the place to start; that deals with the two highest areas of prayer. Start with her Autobiography, then read The Way of Perfection, and then read Interior Castle because it goes in a certain order. You do not start at the top and work your way down, but work it the other way.
But anyway, we consider this point of Saint Paul telling us that sometimes we do not know how to pray; we do not know the words. That is a problem that a lot of people face in prayer. They think that there is something wrong because they go to prayer and there is nothing. They are looking, oftentimes, for consolation. They think that there should be this easy flow of words because, after all, when you sit down with God shouldn't everything come easy? Well, that is not usually what happens. Once in a while that happens and it is a rather wonderful thing, but most of the time prayer is going to be difficult and it is going to be dry. The temptation is that we think we must be doing something wrong. Or we think that God does not like us: "Why isn't He hearing my prayer? Why isn't this working right?"
It is working just fine. The fact that things are dry and the fact that it is difficult and painful sometimes does not mean you are doing anything wrong. It does not mean that God has abandoned you. But, in fact, just the opposite: It means that God loves you so much that He is purifying your prayer. Now, if you have decided to go out and start committing mortal sins and doing foolish things, that would be another reason why your prayer life might seem pretty dry and nothing is happening. But, assuming you are trying to live a good Christian life and you are living a life of virtue, the fact that your prayer life seems to dry up is a sign that God is purifying that prayer because what He wants is for us to go to prayer for His sake.
As Jesus taught in the Gospel reading that we heard, if somebody comes preaching a doctrine that is not his own, then he is interested in the glory of God. But if somebody comes preaching a doctrine that is his own, then he is interested in his own glory, trying to find honor for himself. Most of us, when we begin the prayer life, are looking for ourselves; we want something. It may be something very noble: We want to be holy; we want to grow in perfection; or whatever it may be. But, ultimately, what the prayer life is about is loving God. So what the Lord does is He purifies that. That is why the prayer gets very dry and difficult and painful and so on because what needs to happen is all the self has to get stripped out.
Most of us go to prayer hoping that we get some consolation, hoping that things will be wonderful, kind of easy, and that we get filled up with joy and all these other things. Then we are in it for ourselves. We are looking for our own honor. While we definitely want to honor God, we are looking, really, for ourselves. And so, God, who is always there for us, simply says, "I want you to be perfect in your love. Therefore, I am going to take away the consolation so that you will be there, not for yourself, but for Me - to love Me perfectly and only." Not looking for consolation, not looking for ease, not looking for all these wonderful sugar-coated things on the inside, but rather, just looking to love the Lord.
And that happens only in pain and the dryness. That is why it is happening. That is why it is not a bad sign when things like that occur. It does not mean your prayer is going backwards, but it means that God is moving it forward very quickly. It seems like absolutely nothing is happening and what we do is we tend to go backwards then. We think we need to go back to the way we used to pray. That is wrong. Just stay in the darkness.
If that is where God is leading your prayer, do not run away from it. Just let the Holy Spirit work within. He is praying deep within your soul, even though it is imperceptible to you at the time. Do not worry about that. What you are doing is honoring and glorifying God by just sitting there being silent and remaining in the darkness, if that is where God has put you. So just be at peace with that and continue to come to prayer. Begin to look, not for your own honor, not for consolation for yourself, not to see if God loves you -because that is a foregone conclusion - but rather, go to prayer just to love God. That is what it is all about. Growth in holiness is simply loving God more perfectly.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.