Editor’s note: This post concludes David Torkington’s series on prayer. We are grateful for his contributions and invite you to see his note at the end of the post.
When I was fifteen I fell in love for the first time. When I heard those magic words ‘I love you,’ I simply wanted to spend the rest of my life returning her love. It is the same when we first begin to realize that God loves us, and will continue to love us, not just here on earth, but to eternity in heaven. Christ experienced this love enveloping him at every moment of his life on earth, so he alone has the answer to what we must do to receive and return this love.
The Morning Offering
Although God’s love is infinite and infallible we can nevertheless receive it, as Christ is God’s go-between and our High Priest. He remained open at all times to the love that poured into him from the Father, and then he returned it in kind. The Morning Offering is the most important prayer that anyone can make because it commits us to making every action in the forthcoming day into an act of love. We make our Morning Offering before the day begins as the first Christians did when they were no longer able to attend Synagogue three times a day like Jesus and his disciples. Ever since this prayer has been the most important prayer that anyone can make. This is what is meant by the Primacy of Love, as it commits us to make every action in the forthcoming day into an act of love, offered to God. Whether we say our Morning Offering in bed, while kneeling at the bedside, while dressing or even on the way to work, it is actually being said in the New Temple which is Christ’s Mystical Body. Because it is offered in, with and through him, it has a power and potency that is infinitely beyond what we can offer alone.
The Anarchy Within
Nevertheless, there is a clear difference between the way Christ loves his Father and the way we do. Because there is no sin or selfishness in him there is nothing within him that can prevent him from contemplating and enjoying his Father’s love at all times. Because original sin has perverted our God-given impulses and drives they are in a state of perpetual anarchy. While we try to raise our heart’s deepest desire to love and to be loved by God, they relentlessly endeavor to prevent the pure and unalloyed contemplative love that was Christ’s greatest joy. Before our hearts can beat in union with his, we need to be purified through the repentance we practice each day, as we try to take up our daily cross to follow Christ. It is therefore of utmost importance that we understand the meaning of the word repentance, which was as totally unnecessary for Christ as it is necessary for us.
The Message that Never Fails to Move
If you think we are disadvantaged by never meeting Christ when he was on earth, then think again. He did not come primarily for everyone to meet him face-to-face like a supernatural celebrity, but for everyone to enter into him through ‘light inaccessible’ transformed into love accessible to all. Before, God was seen as the all-holy and unutterable Other who dwelt in light inaccessible. But Jesus taught that we have a Father who is accessible through love to those with hearts open to receive it. He used the word Abba, or Dad, with which to address God in the first prayer he gave his followers and the prayer that we still use today. Opening our hearts to receive this love makes it possible for every man and woman, in every age to the end of time, not just to be introduced to him, but to enter into him, making him closer to us than we are to ourselves. This is not the end, but the beginning of a mystical journey, in and with him. It will take us to the home where love without measure will fill us in an ever-greater measure, as the capacity of the heart to receive it expands, to receive it to eternity. Ultimate happiness then is not a state, but an ongoing and ever-more joyous journey into the light inaccessible, that we now know is accessible because it is love, the love of the One who wants to be known as our Divine Dad. This is the strong vibrant faith that we have all but forgotten, but which was given to the early Church by Christ himself. Yet, we can return to it now, and without delay by doing daily what St. Peter told us to do on the first Pentecost, when light inaccessible was unleashed, as love was made accessible to all, in, with and through Jesus Christ.
There is No Time like the Present
Begin at once, and I promise you that as long as you persist in turning, opening and offering your heart to God you will receive his love no matter how many times you fall, but you must rise and start again immediately. Christ’s love, his Holy Spirit, will bond you ever more deeply into him and will prepare and purify you ever more thoroughly to become perfect. You will be fitted into him, not for the journey of a lifetime, but to the end of time and beyond. The unending and ecstatic bliss of entering into love without measure to all eternity will therefore never end. If you have the humility to keep trying to practice the repentance that involves repeatedly turning, opening and offering your heart to God, he cannot fail you because he is God. His infinite loving will always triumph, even over our endless finite failures. It is only the pride and the pomposity of those who do not have the humility to keep getting up after falling, that can keep God out and prevent him leading us through the darkness of purification into the light of his love. The Devil is the personification of Pride and the only power that can thwart God’s plan permanently.
St. Teresa on Distractions and Temptations
This process of endlessly repenting is firstly learned by practicing it in prayer. No matter what form of prayer we may find helpful, you can be sure there will always be distractions and temptations preventing us from turning, opening and offering our hearts to God. St. Teresa of Avila said that you cannot really pray without distractions. Far from preventing us from practicing repentance, these temptations and distractions are where repentance is learned. If God gives you experiences of his pure love that so lift you out of yourself so that you no longer experience any temptations or distractions, then that is his gift of pure unalloyed mystical contemplation that you cannot attain by yourself. However, you can keep trying to prepare yourself to receive the love that leads to union, by continually trying to turn away from the distractions and temptations, and in so doing, you are practicing repentance. The more you do this, most especially when you are in the darkest moments of the Dark Night, then the love is learned that does not merit, but enables you to receive the gift of contemplation.
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going
The more you keep trying to turn and open yourself to God in the darkness, then the more you will enable the Holy Spirit to keep emptying you of all that prevents you from receiving the experience of his loving presence. You may not feel his presence in these darkest moments but this dark and dry contemplation which we experience is the consequence of the inner emptying that finally enables us to surrender our true self, freed from the demons within. It is this utter and complete surrendering of ourselves that finally enables the Holy Spirit, who has been guiding us throughout, to draw us up ever more fully into the Mystical Body of Christ. The more we are purified, the more deeply we are fitted into Christ’s Mystical Body, and into his mystical action with which he at all times contemplates the Glory of God. This is the contemplation to which we are all called, as to our final destiny. It is here, and only here, in, with and through Christ our Risen Lord, that we first begin to glimpse something of the infinite glory of God.
The Primacy of Love
For us then, the primacy of love means that this is the prime objective of every moment of every day of our lives. That is why we begin each day with the Morning Offering and the very next thing we do is the first of many acts that enable us to learn selfless loving. In this way, the whole of our lives becomes the Mass, the place where we continually offer ourselves in, with and through Christ to the Father. St. Angela of Foligno who was a wife and a mother before ending her days in a convent, called prayer ‘the school where love is learned.’ Sometimes in a quarter of an hour of personal mental prayer, you can make more acts of love, turning away from what your wayward self would prefer to indulge in, than in many days when you forget the spiritual dimension of your action. The repeated attempts to practice acts of selflessness in formal prayer enable you to develop the habit of selflessness that not only enables you to love God inside of prayer but everyone else outside of prayer too. Prayer is for a Christian what a gymnasium is for an athlete: the place where you exercise not just the muscles of your body but the muscles of your heart. Athletes know that this concentrated period of physical exercise will give greater ease and facility to whatever they do. The same is true for the spiritual athlete. It is not only they, but others too, who will benefit from the love generated in prayer where the muscles of the heart are developed more quickly and more fully than anywhere else.
The Sacrament of the Present Moment
There is no time like the present. This journey can begin now in ‘the sacrament of the present moment’ where alone time can touch eternity. Never be deceived into believing that our continual failures will disqualify us from this journey. God judges us by how best we try no matter how many times we fall, for only he knows the power of our personal demons and how best we have tried to overcome them. The very essence of this journey is in endlessly getting up no matter how many times we fall. It is in this, more than anything else, that the real quality of our love is measured. Even if we do not have a pure and humble heart to begin with, a pure and humble heart will be God’s gift for those who persevere in following their heart’s desire, come what may. The most pernicious stumbling block to our spiritual advancement is the pride that follows our fall, which induces us to pack up and run away from God rather than face the truth of our sinfulness. The difference between the saint and the sinner is not that they never fail and we do, but the speed with which they seek forgiveness and begin again immediately no matter how many times they fall. This takes great humility and is how true humility is learned.
‘When you stop falling then you are in heaven, but when you stop getting up then you are in hell. In the trying is the dying, and in the dying is the rising that draws us up into the mystical body of Christ and into his mystical loving of the Father’ (Peter Calvay).
But all has not been said, for in contemplating the profound mystical loving that endlessly revolves between the Father and the Son, we are not alone. We are at one with all the living and the dead who have chosen to enter into this ecstatic joy. They are not just living with us in Christ now, but in the next life they are traveling with us into eternity. It is here that our own personal joy and satisfaction is enhanced beyond our wildest dreams when we meet our own families, knowing and loving them as never before. Even in this life and in the best of families, the pernicious cancer of sin and selfishness prevented us loving each other as fully as we would have wished. But now that the cancer has been ‘spirited’ away and we have been transfused with pure love, there is nothing to prevent us from becoming the genuine loving families that we desired on earth.
Together we will, not just experience the fullness of ecstatic joy, but will experience what St Gregory of Nyssa called epecstasy, the ongoing ecstasy of infinitely going beyond what was once our capacity for love. As this journey unfolds, that capacity never stops expanding as we travel without any further let or hindrance, as infinite love draws us on to the destiny designed for us by God from all eternity. At last the final stage of his plan, the Mysterion is in its ultimate stage of completion. And we, together with all whom we love and hold dear are bonded ever closer together, as we draw ever nearer to the blissful union with the pure unadulterated and infinite loving and goodness, that resides in Our Father who is in heaven.
Te Deum laudamus te Dominum confitemur
Te aeternum Patrem omnis terra veneratur
David Torkington is the author of Wisdom from the Western Isles, Wisdom from the Christian Mystics and Wisdom from Franciscan Italy which complement this series. Readers will find more articles and podcasts on prayer on David Torkington’s website and more will be published there in the months and years ahead.
This course will be published in book form shortly. It would be helpful if readers could give their reaction to what they have read in two or three sentences. This is a great help for publishers who are always looking for endorsements.
This article first appeared on SpiritualDirection.com and appears here with kind permission.