You say you have no time to pray! Have you time to breathe? Prayer is to the life of the soul as breathing is to the life of the body. It is absurd to say you do not have the time to pray, as it would be to say that you have no time to breathe. Pray when you rise and dress, pray when you are on the way to work, or to your place of business, or on your return home or before you go to bed. Lift up your hearts to God at intervals during the day. These short aspirations of the soul are like swift arrows which pierce the clouds and penetrate to the very throne of God. Believe me if you practice recollection and mortification to the degree you are able, in a short time, no exercise will be as easy as prayer.
How can you practice recollection? You cannot go into solitude as you have a family to see after and a business to attend and other obligations to fulfill. Make a desert where you are. Avoid to the extent you are able unnecessary distractions. Attend Church and in this way you will keep God’s presence in your heart. When the parents of Saint Catherine of Sienna sought to prevent her from following her religious vocation, she made a place in her heart where she prayed and meditated and dwelt with God in peace. While her hands were occupied with external things, her heart was her oratory.
You must practice mortification. It is a great lesson to learn how little of material support is necessary for our physical life. They do not know how much of what they think is necessary is in fact superfluous. Remember what you deprive the body of, you give to the soul. Govern your appetite, be more temperate in your drinking, less indulgent in your sleeping and you will learn how much you deemed necessary as not indispensable. You will pray as easily as you breathe; for recollection and mortification lead to prayer and prayer aids in recollection and mortification.
Our tendency is to think of praying in terms of speaking words to God. But Fr. Hecker clearly has something much broader in mind than that in telling us to pray when we rise and dress, when we’re on our way to work, to pray during the business day and on our way home. He’s talking about what Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection called “practicing the presence of God.” He’s inviting us to live with an awakened heart.
“Spirituality” is an “in” word in our times, but what does it really mean? The essence of it is this: A growing intimacy with God experienced through the people, places, events, and things in our daily living. And that clearly is what Hecker is talking about with his language of “short aspirations to God” and “lifting up our hearts to God at intervals during the day.” His example of Catherine of Sienna makes clear that it’s not just about going to Church on Sunday. It is rather about letting your heart be your oratory every day of the week, and letting your prayer be as natural as breathing.
His language of recollection and mortification is less current today. Recollection might be described as those moments when we enter the oratory of our hearts and make conscious contact with the presence of God dwelling within. And mortification refers to dying to our sensory appetites or self-centered tendencies. It was considered a discipline of the spiritual life and had a penitential resonance to it. But when you get right down to it, what is discipline all about? It’s about liberation from the things that bind us so as to be freer to follow the deeper movements within our hearts. Discipline is for discipleship. When the appetites of our bodies, the movements of our hearts and the thoughts of our minds are subject to the directives of the Holy Spirit within, our prayer throughout the day will become as natural as breathing.
Paulist Father Thomas Ryan, CSP is Director of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations located at the Hecker Center in Washington, DC. He is the author of numerous articles and some fourteen books with a specialty in the area of spirituality.