Cultivate the Inner Life of Prayer

The Lord wants to do something great in each one of us, but to do that, he needs our cooperation and he needs us to pray. And if we do, he will take care of the rest.
— Monsignor John Cihak

Key Takeaways

  • Repentance and turning toward God starts with confession and turning away from our sins, but in order to sustain that conversion, we must make prayer a habit in our daily lives.

  • St. Ignatius of Loyola can teach us a lot about how to pray. He successfully turned away from his sinful life, and went on to found the Jesuits because he learned to pray. Prayer initiated and sustained his conversion, and now Ignatius has been teaching us to pray for 500 years.

  • There are several practical steps for cultivating the inner life of prayer:

    • Create a time and a place for prayer that is quiet

    • Be consistent (even if that means praying for just 1 minute a day)

    • Pray with honesty

    • Read and imagine the gospels. Go to the scene in the first person.

    • Ask yourself: where is my heart stirred? Then stay with that and reflect on what the Lord is saying to you.

  • This contemplation, as Ignatius called it, becomes the material of our discernment of discovering what the Lord is saying to us in our prayer.

  • By reading the gospels as if you’re there and reflecting on that, you can use your imagination to facilitate an encounter with the Lord Jesus.

Full Audio Transcript

00:02                                 When walking on the, uh, the Camino Santiago on the French road at first day, climbs up over the Pyrenees and down into Spain. And on the third day one arrives at the city of Pamplona, which is the first major city to, to arrive to on, on the, on the pilgrim road. And it's so, it's a walled city. It still has its old city walls around it.

00:25                                 And it, it's, the Pamplona is the capital of the, of the province of Navarre. And this province, which is, it's a very beautiful, uh, reminded me a lot of Yamhill county across, across the way that it was fought over often by Spain and France. And in the year 1521, the Habs Habsburg Spain and the Kingdom of France fought over this, this, uh, the city. And in this particular battle, the, the townspeople of Pamplona actually sided with the French and wanted to drive out this, the Spanish garrison, the Spanish governor wanted to surrender immediately. But Ignatius of Loyola, 30 year old Basque soldier with over a decade of military experience, uh, opposed this, arguing that the garrison should attempt to hold out.

01:20                                 The Spanish retreated into the citadel of the fortress and the Franco navaasse force began to besiege that position. And on May 20th, 1521 after a six hour bombardment, the cannon ball hit Ignatius of Loyola. It pass through his legs, wounding one and shattered the other. And shortly after the defenders surrendered in Pamplona was lost.

01:49                                 Now in the annals of history, this little battle seems like not much right as a tiny little skirmish on the border between two nations. But this, this event actually ended up changing the course of the world. Ignatius was allowed to return home to, to Loyola to recover from his wounds, and he had to convalesce for months.

02:12                                 And you could imagine a passionate Basque soldier having to stay confined to a bed for months. Why his while his legs healed. While he was convalescing, he began to think and to think about his life. To think about the disordered life he had lived up to that point. He had always been a Catholic, just not a very good one.

02:43                                 And Ignatius is a great model for us today because he had many of the emotional and intellectual and psychological complexes that many people today suffer from. He came from a dysfunctional family. He had compulsive appetites. He had an addictive personality. He was narcissistic. He was sexually self-indulgent. He was greedy and quick to violence. Not the type of person you would think to become a saint and to change the course of the world. But while he was convalescing in the quiet of that castle, he didn't have Netflix. He didn't have any internet. He had two books, a life of Christ and a collection of lives of the saints. And he began to read those books and to think about what he read.

03:37                                 Today we are given a warning from Saint Paul. In fact, he even explicitly says it's a warning, and from the lips of our Lord Jesus himself, repent, repent, or you will all perish as they did. Jesus uses Pilate's desecration of the Galileans to drive home the point. If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.

04:05                                 And think about it, you heard that that same line twice in the span of a couple verses of scripture, I was thinking about this. If, if God, the word is giving us his word and he's saying the same thing twice in a short amount of time, we should probably pay attention to that because he doesn't want us to be trapped in sin and in darkness because he made us for himself. He made us for divine intimacy. He made us for the light and to have life, but he also made us free.

04:39                                 And so whether we remain in our sins or not is up to us. It's our choice because the Lord foot forces no one to follow him. And so what that also means is that heaven is not something automatic.

04:55                                 It's a choice. It's a choice to follow him. And that choice begins with repentance. And so what does repentance, but it means to turn around. It means to do an about face. The parable of the prodigal son. The younger son shows us that very well, that at a certain point when his life bottoms out and he's feeding pigs, that he comes to his senses. And what does he do? He stops the path that he was walking on. He remembers his father's goodness and mercy and he turns and he starts walking the other way back home. That's what repentance is to stop, to recognize sin for what it is to turn away from it and to turn toward the Lord.

05:49                                 And so how do I, how do I repent? Well, we've, we've talked a little bit about that and we've talked about the need for confession, right? Without, without facing the sin of my life and confessing it, I won't repent that repentance will just kind of be a kind of a vague ideal that I have in my mind. So we need a good examination of conscience to get down deep into the corners of my soul, to bring it all out into the light. And it was kind of beautiful yesterday, yesterday, and it was just a, our expanded confession times on Saturday. I started at 3:05 and it was solid until 5:28 when I finished with the last person and ran into the sacristy to put the vestments on for mass. Nice, beautiful. It means things are happening, but how do I go about the uh, on the ongoing road of repentance even after I've confessed my sin?

06:41                                 How do I seek the Lord and to begin to receive his love, which deepens that repentance and builds the Lord's life in us? This is where Ignatius can help us. Ignatius helps us to cultivate the inner life of prayer and it's, and it started in his life when his life went terribly wrong, he thought, but being confined to bed for months without much to do, Ignatius began to pray it in his heart, begin to be open and he began to become aware of this inner life and inner life.

07:20                                 And he started to notice the movements of what was from the Lord and what was not from the Lord and actually from the, from the evil one, to begin to distinguish between those two things and learning how to agree with what the Lord was doing. And to reject what the evil spirit was doing. And this is where he developed the discernment of Spirits, which is, which is offered for every Christian, if we're willing to be taught by, by Ignatius. But it began with his prayer because prayer is the way we deepen our repentance. In fact, uh, the Dominican father, Bernard Bro, he wrote this, he was a good, a great spiritual writer back in the 60s. He said, prayer means accepting this conversion, this about face of ourselves for the sake of another. That prayer changes us.

08:17                                 In fact, the, the, the great French novelist, George Bernanos whose it was. It was a very deep, deeply a committed Catholic. He's, he, he wrote this, he said, it's amazing how my ideas change when I pray over them.

08:32                                 So prayer initiates and sustains conversion because prayer is Saint Padre Pio explains is the oxygen of the soul is how our soul breathes.

08:43                                 And so without prayer we can't breathe. And after that initial repentance and conversion can result in like that seed that falls on the thin soil that springs up. But because of lack of roots, withers when the sun comes out. Now we don't have enough time right here to get deeply into it. But here's how Ignatius shows us how to cultivate a life of prayer.

09:08                                 First is a time and a place, a time and a place that I go to, to pray that I want to be intentional about and I want to be consistent about. Because if I'm intentional and consistent, then it becomes a habit. And once I form the habit, it's actually a lot easier to do. So we want to find a place that we will go to that could be in our house, but a place that's electronics free that I go to, to pray. And I, and I, and I carve out the time for it. And, uh, although the, what's recommended to us is that we do this kind of prayer for 15 minutes a day. Uh, we start kind of where I start. When I first started to pray with priest was teaching me how to pray. He says, start with this one minute. And I remember when I first went to pray to begin to meditate. For one minute. I still have 25 seconds. Right? That's how it, that's, that's how it starts. But then if we, if we are consistent with it and, and, and are intentional about it, pretty soon we're praying, we look, it was a minute and a half.

10:20                                 Well it was three minutes and it grows because whatever we give to the Lord, whatever we are able to give, he makes grow because he desperately wants, he deeply desires the, the intimacy with us in our hearts, in prayer. And so we have a time and a space for that. Even if it starts with one minute,

10:45                                 then in that, in that time we went to quiet down the noise, right? We really need to push back on the noise. We live in a world that is the noisiest it has ever been in the history of the world. It's right. It's a downside of our technological advances. So we really do need to push back on that noise and to create a time and a space that is quiet. And I think of think of Ignatius in the, in that, um, in the, in the bed and in Loyola, right? It's probably a lot of quiet that he was, that he was contending with or you think of Moses, you know, tending to the flocks when he ate, when he encounters the Lord and the burning burning bush and she was in a place of solitude and quiet. Wait, where'd that happen?

11:29                                 Then we want to pray with honesty. That is when I go to pray. I pray as my life is right now in this place with these thoughts and these feelings that I have. We know that from, from any loving relationship, right? If I'm not honest and that relationship, that relationship first of all probably doesn't go anywhere and worse, it probably begins to suffer, right? Love requires honesty and truth. And so if I'm, if I'm having a good day, great, I'm praying. I pray like that. If I'm having a bad day, I pray like that.

12:08                                 Really because who are we? If we, if we pretend to be something else, if I pray, if I'm having a hard time and I'd come go before the Lord is like, oh, everything's fine. Well first of all, who are we fooling ourselves, right? Lord is the Lord. He knows, he already knows. But there's something about when we open ourselves up to him in honesty, it opens our hearts so that he can do more in us. So we pray with honesty.

12:35                                 And then, and this is where Ignatius, who kind of gets specific about what to do. We go to the gospels, we go to a passage, it could be the gospel of the Sunday, it could be a just open up the gospels and put my finger down and there it is. It could be a gospel passage that we're drawn to. And he says to do this in that quiet time, we open ourselves up in prayer and honesty and we begin to read that Gospel passage and we begin to imagine it.

13:07                                 And he said, it's not as like a movie because the movie is like I'm third person watching the screen going on. It needs to be first person. I need to go into that scene as one of the people as myself because in the, this is the written word of God and he, the Lord gave it, gave his word to us to encounter him, right? This isn't some sort of head trip. It's actually the encounter with the Lord Jesus in his word and, and using our imaginations to facilitate that encounter. So I want to enter into the, what do I see? What do I smell? What do I hear? What words are being spoken? What's the weather like? What, what are the buildings look like? What does Jesus look like? What is he wearing?

13:55                                 The person that he's encountering, what does that person look like? Right? And maybe I find myself in that in that person's place. I was, I was doing this in the mission at St Patrick and we actually did a practice round with it, with the, with the story of Zacchaeus. And then afterwards we prayed with it and then people shared like, what? What'd you see? And the person is, one of the persons said, you know what? I was, I was Zacchaeus, I like. I like ran up that tree and I could see the branches, you know, and I was looking down and then he looked up at me and then that was the beginning of the encounter of prayer. And so this is a great insight of Ignatius. He calls it the composition of place. So we go into that, into the scriptures in the first person and then in our prayer, that can always be that temptation did.

14:39                                 I could begin to step out of it and to kind of see it third person. Anytime that happens, we want to step right back into the end of that first person perspective and I want to stick with it until the end of the prayer time. When I'm done with that prayer time, then I want to think about what happened, think about what stirred in my heart if it did and where in that, in that that contemplation as Ignatius calls it, where in that contemplation did that happen? Because that's the place I want to go back to. And if I, if my heart gets stirred while it's while I'm praying, we stay with it. We don't worry about the rest of the story of how it unfolds is we stay right there with the Lord because he's doing something and after the prayer, if I think about it often helpful, just write a couple of, jot a couple of lines of what happened or didn't happen.

15:30                                 And if you do that consistently every day and two weeks to three weeks time, you're going to see trend. You're going to start to recognize a pattern in your prayer. And then this is this. What is what becomes the material of our discernment of discovering what the Lord is saying to us in our prayer. But it starts with the prayer itself, it starts with putting ourselves in the scriptures and to, and to encounter the Lord there.

15:59                                 This is, this was the game changer for Saint Ignatius. For the first 30 years of his life as a man, his true identity as a man, profoundly dedicated to the service of God. It was, it was masked by his sinful addictions and selfishness and vanity. And even though it seemed like it was over when his, when his leg was shattered, that conversion happened and his prayer sustained him.

16:31                                 And now for the last 500 years he has been teaching us how to pray and went on to found the Jesuit, the society of Jesus, the Jesuits, and through that society converted most of the world, right? Those, those of us who come from the Americas, North and South America or from Asia, chances are the reason our families became Catholic were because of the Jesuits. And, and so this is what the Lord did in this soldier's life. He wants to do something great in each one of us, but to do that, he needs our cooperation and he needs us to pray. And if we do, he will take care of the rest. It doesn't matter what we suffered, it doesn't matter what we're up against. It doesn't matter how weak we are. It doesn't matter for our sins. Is that when we turn in repentance and to open ourselves up to him, he makes something beautiful because he made us for himself. He made us for life and for the light. You know that parable that we, that we heard that we heard, we are the fig tree and Jesus is the gardener and he did that. He gave us that parable to provoke our hearts. How are we to bear fruit?

17:53                                 Jesus, the divine gardener, he steps in to cultivate the soil of our soul by plowing it with his cross and watering and fertilizing it with his own blood.

18:09                                 That is what he wants to do in us. That we will bear fruit and join him in helping to save the world.

Ashley Micciche