HECKER: A man who prays only while in Church or while on his knees, prays but little and not well.
Let pilgrims go to Assisi, let pilgrims go to the tombs of the Apostles, let pilgrims go to the Holy Sepulchre of Our Saviour, provided that is, that it leads them to a greater faithfulness to the invitations of divine grace by the Holy Spirit. If outward penitential practices and spiritual exercises do not have this for their aim then they are useless, dangerous and likely to be hurtful.
COMMENTARY: The Episcopalian theologian and Scripture scholar Albert T. Mollegen, who I had the privilege of studying with as a seminarian, used to say, “Just pray, start anywhere, God is delighted to hear from you.” Mollegen taught that once you began a dialogue with God, God would invite you to come deeper and your prayer would develop as your relationship with God developed.
Isaac Hecker would agree with Mollegen. Hecker’s caveat deals with the question of God’s invitation to come deeper. His concern is that you discover this invitation from the Holy Spirit. If you do not then you get stuck in stage one. The spiritual practices you use to get started in prayer - if they do not lead you to the discovery that God the Holy Spirit is within and inviting you to come deeper – then it is Hecker’s judgment that these practices are useless.
HECKER: The two greatest hindrances to perfection is to put off acting on a resolution until tomorrow and waiting for more favorable opportunities. Our motto should be, “Now or Never! Here or Nowhere!”
COMMENTARY: Hecker biographer, the historian David O’Brien noted that Hecker was highly organized, a man of detail, He ordinarily thought through his options and planned out his responses. Yet in the most important moments of his life Hecker acted spontaneously and with an immediacy that surprised many people. The decision to seek Catholic baptism, to join the Redemptorists, to go to Rome to see Father Mauron that led to his dismissal are examples of this. Here in his writing we find an explanation. It is “now or never, here or nowhere.” Don’t put off acting on a resolution when informed by the Holy Spirit, you know you what to do.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator osf the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.