Why does God, who is love, keep us waiting? Because He is love, and seeks love. Love that does not know how to wait is not love. To love is to give ourselves. Not only for a fraction of a lifetime, nor with a part of its strength: love is, and seeks, the total gift of self.
Love is based on esteem. We love only what we value and admire. We love only the “good.” What is too easily and too quickly come by does not attract deep souls. It becomes a superficial good, which cannot satisfy the rich capacity of their nature. And they are right. The relations between beings are governed by laws, which they guess at but cannot always define. It is a law that real treasures are deeply buried and carefully hidden; that serious acquisitions call for proportionate efforts. What exceptions there are do not weaken the argument.
God is the treasure beyond price. Were He to give Himself too easily, even the best would turn their backs upon Him. St. John Climacus gives a similar reason, but with an interesting difference. “Prayer,” he says, “is an activity that develops and enriches enormously. It is a source of merit and satisfaction, and of spiritual progress of every kind.” God imposes repetitions and a certain persistence in prayer in order to increase our merit. Delays in union are not time lost; far from it. God sees very far ahead; He makes wonderful use of what we call evil — of our wanderings, our hesitations and detours, although He does not love them or want them. It is at these moments, above all, that we need confidence and perseverance. The prayer, whether for ourselves or for others, that is not discouraged, which persists and besieges Heaven, touches God’s heart; and that is why He tells us to persevere.
Pray with persistence
God is love. He loves and wants to be loved; it is the basic law of His being. To realize this is to find the solution to all our problems.
A soul that tends toward Him cannot tire Him. It always delights Him, and the soul should know this. Its persistence displeases Him only when it is for something it wants inordinately. For example, I want good health, and I insist. Such a request could displease Him, because I must want — at all costs, that is — only what He wills; and health is not in His eyes essential. He is saddened, not by my persistence, but because an irregular wish such as this separates me from Him.
When it is a question of the real good, of such things as He always wills and for which we can ask Him without being separated from Him, our persistence pleases Him. It is what our Lord Himself commended in a few delightful parables: the child asking his father for bread; the friend knocking repeatedly at his friend’s door for the same reason; and the widow who persevered in asking a judge (a wicked one at that) for justice, until she obtained it.
God is a Father, a friend, and a judge. But he is a Father whose love is boundless, and whose power is as great as His love. He is a friend whose friendship knows no change, and is at the mercy of all our needs. He is a judge, but always just, always moved by our appeals and quick to answer them. He loves our persistence; He wants us to appeal to Him, to ask of Him, so that He can be sure of our love, and taste the joy of having a proof of it, even if it be a selfish one.
Ponder God’s greatness
The greatness of God, the nothingness of man: all religion is governed by this double reality, of which it makes a single whole, knit together and ruled by love. God is; man is not. God and being are one thing: man is only if God communicates being to him. Religion is born of that communication, and prayer, which is only religion in act, is the movement of the soul recognizing that it is receiving something and that it has only what it receives. To acknowledge this is essentially prayer, and it is humility.
That is why the Our Father is the perfect prayer, and the perfect summary of the religious life. The Father is undoubtedly He who gives all, but He is also HE WHO IS. He gives only because He is, and He gives what He is. All the splendors of creation are gathered up in this word love, and we should see them there when we pronounce it. With a rapid glance, we should picture to ourselves these innumerable created beings of whom we know so little: beings that enchant and dazzle us, and represent so much wisdom and power.
We should adore these perfections in Him who, in the depths of our being, gives Himself, forms us, and communicates to us all that we have of being and of life. Then we should remain in His presence, prostrate at His feet, conscious only of our nothingness. This is humility.
God wants this attitude and cannot but want it. It is the point of departure of all He does in us, the foundation of the edifice He wants to build. He looks for that attitude and brings it about; and He must do this before He can commence His work; it is this which turns us toward Him. Hitherto we have been turned toward ourselves. Humility is implicit in faith, in the respectful and adoring submission of the soul at prayer.
I am afraid I am going to repeat myself. Formerly I should not have dared to do so; I would have thought it was to speak to no purpose. Now I find immense advantages and sweetness in doing so.
We speak expressly of what we love and to the One we love. I love, then, to repeat that God is great; that He is Lord as well as Father; that all excellence is in Him; that all the perfections gathered together and prolonged infinitely cannot express the unique and full richness of His being. Even a life spent in contemplating this mystery and in meditating on it, in going deeper into it, in seeing in the work of God images that can give us some idea of it, leaves us far, very far, infinitely far, from the reality. This reality is always beyond, very far beyond, all we can express or conceive.
That is why we must be humble. Before this immensity, overflowing all times, all beings, all their characteristics and perfections, the tiny minute I have to live, the small space I fill, the limits of my being and of my activity that I touch at every moment; the knowledge of my weakness, of my nothingness — all this is revealed and made obvious. It puts me in my place, and makes me feel quite tiny in that nothingness, to which God gives existence. If to that I add the thought of my sins; if I see this “nothingness” opposed to HIM WHO IS, daring to rebel against Him or, what is perhaps worse, become indifferent to Him, treating Him as if He were not, then I feel myself in an abyss.
Editor’s Note: this has been adapted from Dom Augustin Guillerand’s The Prayer of the Presence of God, which is available from Sophia Press.