This is what prayer really is—being in silent inward communion with God. It requires nourishment, and that is why we need articulated prayer in words, images, or thoughts. The more God is present in us, the more we will really be able to be present to him when we utter the words of our prayers. But the converse is also true: Praying actualizes and deepens our communion of being with God. Our praying can and should arise above all from our heart, from our needs, our hopes, our joys, our sufferings, from our shame over sin, and our gratitude for the good. It can and should be a wholly personal prayer. But we also constantly need to make use of those prayers that express in words the encounter with God experienced both by the Church as a whole and by individual members of the Church. For without these aids to prayer, our own praying and our image of God become subjective and end up reflecting ourselves more than the living God. In the formulaic prayers that arose first from the faith of Israel and then from the faith of praying members of the Church, we get to know God and ourselves as well. They are a “school of prayer” that transforms and opens up our life.
In his Rule, Saint Benedict coined the formula
—our mind must be in accord with our voice (Rule, 19,7). Normally, thought precedes word; it seeks and formulates the word. But praying the Psalms and liturgical prayer in general is exactly the other way round: The word, the voice, goes ahead of us, and our mind must adapt to it. For on our own we human beings do not “know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26)—we are too far removed from God, he is too mysterious and too great for us. And so God has come to our aid: He himself provides the words for our prayer and teaches us to pray. Through the prayers that come from him, he enables us to set out toward him: by praying together with the brothers and sisters he has given us, we gradually come to know him and draw closer to him.
In Saint Benedict’s writings, the phrase cited just now refers directly to the Psalms, the great prayer book of the People of God of the Old and New Covenant. The Psalms are words that the Holy Spirit has given to men; they are God’s Spirit become word. We thus pray “in the Spirit,” with the Holy Spirit. This applies even more, of course, to the Our Father. When we pray the Our Father, we are praying to God with words given by God, as St. Cyprian says. And he adds that when we pray the Our Father, Jesus’ promise regarding the true worshipers, those who adore the Father “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23), is fulfilled in us. Christ, who is the truth, has given us these words, and in them he gives us the Holy Spirit (De dominica oratione 2; CSEL III, 1, pp. 267f.). This also reveals something of the specificity of Christian mysticism. It is not in the first instance immersion in the depths of oneself, but encounter with the Spirit of God in the word that goes ahead of us. It is encounter with the Son and the Holy Spirit and thus a becoming-one with the living God who is always both in and above us.
Jesus of Nazareth chapter 5
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