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from issue no. 07 - 2003


«I’m no mystic»

In the January of 1965, Albino Luciani, then Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, gave a course of spiritual exercises for priests of various dioceses in the Venice area. The text of the talks, inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan, were then transcribed and later published. Below we print a passage on prayer

by Albino Luciani

John Paul I

John Paul I

The Lord has given us so much instruction, in the Gospel, on prayer. Insistence. It’s not enough to ask once. It’s not like playing the piano: press the key, out comes the sound. «Lord, grant me this grace». Ready, served up! Like the rattle of a drum. It’s not like that. The Lord himself has told us it’s not like that. I want you to ask. He told the parable as well. There was an unjust judge in a city. He cared nothing for God nor for poor mortals. A widow went to him every day: «Give me justice, give me justice!» «Away, away! I haven’t time, I haven’t time». But the widow came back. Finally one day the judge said to himself: «Even if I don’t fear God and have no regard for man, since this widow comes all the time to harass me and won’t leave me in peace, I mean to give her justice and get her from under my feet». Jesus Christ’s conclusion: that is what an unjust judge does and for a selfish motive, and your Father, when you insist in demanding he do you justice, your Father in heaven, who loves you, won’t he do it for you? And we have already heard it from the Council: we must pray always: pray without interruption.
Our first duty is to teach people to pray, because when we’ve given them this powerful means, they too manage to obtain the graces of the Lord. I can’t give you a treatise on prayer, not least because you maybe know more about it than me. I’ll only suggest something. Perhaps we come down a lot on the prayer of petition: «Lord, remember me; Lord, forgive me!» Very fine! But when Jesus taught us the Pater noster, he told us: «Pray in this way», and he divided his prayer into two parts. The first part: «Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done». This is the part dealing with our relationship with God. Only after we move to the second: «Give us our daily bread, etc.» So even in our own prayers we must follow this method: first make a prayer of adoration, of praise, of thanks; and only after, the one of asking. In the epistles of Saint Paul: «Gratias agamus, Deo gratias, Deo autem gratias...». These expressions, it wasn’t me who counted them, occur more than a hundred and fifty times. Saint Paul makes thanks continually. But look at the other prayers also: «Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you». After the question comes: «Pray for us sinners». Before one pays a fine compliment to Our Lady. One has to be diplomatic: one gives praise, and then one asks. Even the old oremus, not the modern ones, all have praise, compliment as the beginning. «Deus qui corda fidelium Sancti Spiritus illustratione docuisti...», and the beautiful praise given: «da nobis quaesumus...», the asking comes. Whereas: «Concede nobis, famulis tuis...», that’s a modern oremus; it starts immediately with asking something. He didn’t understand a thing, he didn’t understand a thing, whoever composed it. And the litanies of Our Lady also: «Mater purissima», the praise,«ora pro nobis», the asking; all like that. We must use this method in our prayers. Worry a bit as well... The Lord doesn’t need our concerns, but it certainly pleases him that we spend a bit of time on him. There’s a very beautiful book by Father Faber: All for Jesus; it’s not “lofty”, humble things; and precisely says that we should concern ourselves with God’s interests before our own interests. I said: adoration: «Your are up there, O immense almighty, and I’m here, tiny, tiny», this sense of adoration of amazement in front of God. «I owe you everything, Lord!» The thanking. The always feeling small, wretched, in front of God. One has to help them, the faithful, to adore, to thank the Lord. Nobody is big in front of God. In front of God even Our Lady felt looked at, small. It’s tremendously important to feel looked at by God. To feel ourselves the object of the love that God bears us. Saint Bernard, when he was very small, on a Christmas night, fell asleep in church and dreamed. He dreamed he was seeing the child Jesus who said, pointing at him: «There he is, my little Bernard, my great friend». He woke up, but the impression of that night never faded and had an enormous influence on his life. Let us feel small, because we are small. If we don’t feel small, faith is impossible. The self-important, the boastful, don’t have trust in God. You are very great, Lord, I, in front of you, very tiny. I’m not ashamed of saying so. And I’ll gladly do what you ask me. All the more since you don’t ask to take, but to give, you don’t ask to your own advantage, but in my interest! Manzoni says: «Man is never greater than when he kneels before God». In the prayers we make there’s always a lack of what the feeling of adoration is. Whereas it’s one of the fundamental attitudes of all Christian religion.
«Contemplation isn’t my forte. I stick with simple prayer, the humble kind, that of simple souls. Certain poor people haven’t learned to meditate, but they say their prayers well, from the heart, spoken prayers. Saint Bernadette became a saint in just that way. She said the Rosary well, she obeyed her mother»
What prayers and with what method? You are teachers in Israel; you know that the most beautiful prayer, in itself, is the passive one where one abandons oneself to the action of grace. So it is with some souls who are captured by God, worked upon, dominated, sanctified. It’s what’s known as mystical prayer, the prayer of those who devote themselves to contemplation. And I can tell you nothing about that, because sincerely I’m no mystic. I’m sorry for it. I’ve even taught it in school, I’ve studied the various systems, the various tendencies, the Carmelites here, the Jesuits there... But Saint Teresa, who was a very experienced woman, says: «I have known saints, true saints, who were not contemplatives, and I have known contemplatives who had the grace of higher prayer, but who were not saints». Which means that, «salvo meliore iudicio», contemplation isn’t necessary for holiness. On contemplation therefore I can’t engage you, because sincerely it isn’t my forte, even if I have read a book or two. So I stick with simple prayer, the humble kind, that of simple souls. I usually explain myself by a very simple and practical example. Listen to it: there’s pop who’s celebrating his name-day: at home they’ve organized a bit of a party. The moment arrives: he already knows what’s going on, and he says: «Now we’ll see what a treat they prepared!» First comes the smallest of his children: they’ve taught it a poem off by heart. Poor little thing! And there in front of pop, he recites his poem. «Very good»,«Very good!» pop says, «I’m so pleased, you did yourself proud, darling.» Off by heart. Away goes the little one, and on comes the next, who already goes to middle school. Ah, he hasn’t deigned to learn a little poem off by heart; he’s prepared a speech, all his own stuff. It may be short, but he takes the platform like an orator. «I’d never have thought», says pop, «that you were so good at speechmaking.» Pop’s happy: just look at those fine thoughts!... It may not be a masterpiece, but... Third, the girl, the daughter. She’s simply made a bunch of red carnations. She says nothing. She stands in front of dad, not even a word: but she’s moved, she’s so flushed it’s hard to see who’s redder, she or the carnations. And pop says to her: «I can see you’re fond of me, you’re all flustered». But not a word. But he likes the flowers, especially because he sees she’s so touched and full of affection. Then there’s the mom, there’s the wife. She doesn’t gives anything. She looks at her husband and he looks at her: just a look. They know so many things. That look evokes a whole past, a whole life. The good, the bad, the joys, the troubles of the family. There’s no more. They’re the four types of prayer. The first is vocal prayer: when I say the Rosary with attention, when I say the Pater noster, the Ave Maria; then we become children. The second, the little speech, is contemplation. I compose and make my discourse to the Lord: fine thoughts and deep feelings, let’s be clear. The third, the bunch of carnations, is affective prayer. The little girl so flustered and so affectionate. Here you don’t need a lot of thoughts, it’s enough to let the heart speak. «I love you, my God». If all you do is just five minutes of affective prayer, it still works better than contemplation. Fourth, the wife, it’s the prayer of simplicity or of simple looking, as we say. I put myself in front of the Lord, and I say nothing. In some way I just look at him. It doesn’t seem worth much, this prayer, instead it can be superior to the others. Think a bit about each of these forms of prayer. The first as well. One says: he’s just a child, he’s hardly begun. But Saint Teresa writes: one can become a saint with the first prayer. Certain poor people haven’t learned to meditate, but say their prayers well, from the heart, the spoken prayers. Saint Bernadette became a saint just for that. She said the Rosary well, she obeyed her mom. She became a saint.
And now let me recommend devotion to Our Lady, since I must mention the Rosary, that is in part a spoken prayer. The Rosary is also the Bible of the poor. Never neglect the Rosary, and recite it well. I’m very worried about my faithful: there are still those who say prayers at home, but they don’t say the Rosary any longer. When the children of the family see the father praying, praying along with all the others, it has an effect on upbringing that our sermons will never have, you can be sure of that. So on my pastoral visits I also ask the question: «Do you say prayers aloud at home?» Unfortunately they don’t pray much. A pity! So I say it in church: «Do me a favor! You have to look the television, I understand that. But if you can’t say the Rosary, all five decades, say at least one, ten Hail Marys, just one mystery. I beg you for that, at least. And you, too, insist on devotion to Our Lady. One day I was even asked, they’re curious these good souls: «Which Our Lady do you like best. Our Lady of Carmel? Because, you see, I’m devoted to Our Lady of Carmel». They’re down to earth people, so I answered: «If you’ll allow me a piece of advice, I’d suggest Our Lady of the plates, of the bowls and soup». You see Our Lady became a saint without visions, without ecstasies, she became a saint through these small everyday jobs. I wanted to say: great devotion to Our Lady. Yes, to the Rosary, faith in her, but also the imitation of her virtues. So don’t get tired of encouraging devotion to Mary.

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