The first rule for prayer, the most important first step, is not about how to do it, but to just do it; not to perfect and complete it but to begin it. Once the car is moving, it's easy to steer it in the right direction, but it's much harder to start it up when it's stalled. And prayer is stalled in our world.
Now suppose both death and hell were utterly defeated. Suppose the fight was fixed. Suppose God took you on a crystal ball trip into your future and you saw with indubitable certainty that despite everything "" your sin, your smallness, your stupidity "" you could have free for the asking your whole crazy heart's deepest desire: heaven, eternal joy. Would you not return fearless and singing? What can earth do to you, if you are guaranteed heaven? To fear the worst earthly loss would be like a millionaire fearing the loss of a penny "" less, a scratch on a penny.
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Remembering the facts of death and Heaven gives us an even more pressing reason to learn to pray: We do not have an infinite amount of time. We are one day nearer Home today than we ever were before. I guarantee you that after you die you will not say 'I spent too much time praying; I wish I had watched more TV instead.'
Prayer is essentially the practice of the presence of God, and that is the road to Heaven. There is no alternative. God is the only game in town. All other roads are dead ends. Since we must give our all to the one true God, we must not give any part to idols, to the many false gods that now bite away at our lives.
Americans' deepest religion is often equality. The notion that Christ alone is God-superior, authoritative, supernatural-and that Christ's teaching and person is far greater than Buddha's, or Muhammad's, or Moses's, no matter how much great and good wisdom may be contained in those others, is scandalous.
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I think nobody alive today is a more powerful agent of conversion than someone like Mother Teresa. You can refute arguments but not her life. When she came to the National Prayer Breakfast and lectured President Clinton about abortion, he had nothing to say to her. He can't argue with a saint. It's too bad there isn't an easier way, because becoming a saint is not the easiest thing in the world. It's much easier to become an apologist or a philosopher or a theologian.
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No books is more fascinating than the Bible. And no books are less fascinating than most of our commentaries on the Bible. Nothing is more formidable and unconquerable than the Church Militant. But nothing is more sleepy and sheepish than the Church Mumbling. Christ's words roused His enemies to murder and His friends to martyrdom. Our words reassure both sides and send them to sleep. He put the world in a daze. We put it in a doze.
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If Christianity is true, this changes EVERYTHING. Christ's very last words to us in scripture were: "Behold, I make all things new." (Rev. 21:5) I hope you remember that most moving line in the most moving movie ever made, The Passion Of The Christ, when Christ turns to His mother on the way to Calvary, explaining the need for the Cross and the blood and the agony: "See, Mother, I make all things new." I hope you remember that line with your tear ducts, which connect to the heart, as well as with your ears, which connect to the brain. Christ changed every human being he ever met. In fact, He changed history, splitting it open like a coconut and inserting eternity into the split between B.C. and A.D. If anyone claims to have met Him without being changed, he has not met Him at all. When you touch Him, you touch lightning.
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No story is more beautiful than the Gospel, even though it is a story full of pain and nails and hate and blood and sin and murder and betrayal and forsakenness and unimaginable agony and death. It is the story of what happens to the most beautiful thing, Perfect Love, when it enters our world: it comes to a Cross, to the crossroad between good and evil. All our most beautiful stories are like the Gospel: they are tragedies first, and then comedies; they are crosses and then crowns. They are crosses because they are conflicts between good and evil. That is the fundamental plot of every great story. To say "that story is beautiful" means "that story resembles the Gospel." If you are bored by the Gospel, that puts no black eye on the Gospel, but on you. Most likely, it means you have never listened to it. You must have heard it, but hearing is far from the same thing as listening...
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Not all who listen, believe. If you call the Gospel a crazy fairy tale, a far-too-good-to-be-true myth, an insane extension of wishful thinking, or even a blasphemous lie, I will respect you and argue with you. But if you call it a platitude, I can only pity you, for that means you have never listened to it.
When we pray, instead of trying to produce love in our souls toward God, we should be basking in God's love for us. How foolish to stay indoors in the cold, dark little room off the self, trying to turn on the light and turn up the heat, when we can just go outside into God's glorious Sonlight and receive his rays! How silly to fuss with artificial tanning salons and lotions and lights when the Son is out!
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To invoke Jesus' name is to place yourself in his presence, to open yourself to his power, his energy. The prayer of Jesus' name actually brings God closer, making him more present. He is always present in some way, since he knows and loves each one of us at every moment; but he is not present to those who do not pray as intimately as he is present to those who do. Prayers a difference; 'prayer changes things.' It may or may not change our external circumstances. (It does if God sees that that change is good for us; it does not if God sees that it is not.) but it always changes our relationship to God, which is infinitely more important than external circumstances, however pressing they may seem, because it is eternal but they are temporary, and because it is our very self but they are not.
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If one Egyptian tailor hadn't cheated on the threads of Joseph's mantle, Potiphar's wife would never have been able to tear it, present it as evidence to Potiphar that Joseph attacked her, gotten him thrown in prison, and let him be in a position to interpret Pharaoh's dream, win his confidence, advise him to store seven years of grain, and save his family, the seventy original Jews from whom Jesus came. We owe our salvation to a cheap Egyptian tailor.
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City of God interprets all of the human story, from Creation to the Last Judgment, as the drama of divine providence and human free choice, especially the choice between the two most fundamental options of membership in one or the other of the "two cities." The City of God is the invisible community of all who love God; the City of the World is all those who love the world and themselves as their God.
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Reading a book about something can be an obstacle to doing it because it gives you the impression that you are doing what you are only thinking about doing. It is tempting to remain in the comfortable theater of our imagination instead of the real world, to fall in love with the idea of becoming a saint and loving God and neighbor instead of doing the actual work, because the idea makes no demands on you. It is like a book on a shelf. But, as Dostoyevsky says, 'love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams' (The Brothers Karamazov).
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Our conversation with God should be utterly free and familiar, because God is the only person who will never, ever misunderstand us and never, ever reject us (hate us, ignore us, or be indifferent to us). These are the tow reasons we hid from other people, even our friends, even our parents, and the tow reasons we should never hide from God.
Trusting God's grace means trusting God's love for us rather than our love for God. [... ] Therefore our prayers should consist mainly of rousing our awareness of God's love for us rather than trying to rouse God's awareness of our love for him, like the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:26-29).
It's the most essential thing of all just because it's not a matter of how you do it at all, but of whether you do it. Like being born, or cooking: how you do it is less important than whether you do it. You can find thousands of books on prayer that give you methods of praying, hundreds of "hows"; but they do you no good at all unless you actually pray. Otherwise it's like reading a cookbook instead of cooking. You can't eat a cookbook!
Three reasons God commands us to pray correlate to our three deepest needs, the fundamental needs of the three powers of our soul: prayer gives truth to our mind, goodness to our will, and beauty to our heart. 'The true, the good, and the beautiful' are the three things we need and love the most, because they are the three attributes of God.
Brother Lawrence says, in The Practice of the Presence of God, 'There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it' (Letter 5). No one who has ever tried it has ever given it a lesser rating than that. For even though our prayer-contact with God may be almost infinitely poor, the God we thus contact is infinitely rich! Therefore, 'we are to be pitied who content ourselves with so little. God has infinite treasure to bestow' (Letter 4). What is that? 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, not the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him' (1 Cor 2:9).
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How do we listen to his voice? With the ear of our heart. With love. Love has ears, as love has eyes. Just be there, and love him, and let him love you." (35). Easier said than done. "What will happen then? What will we hear? Let God take care of that. Seek only him, do not use him as a means to seek any other end. He is not your Santa, he is your Savior. I cannot tell you what he will give you, except for one thing: he will give you himself. He will give you more of himself the more you want him, that is, the more you love him. He wants to pour infinite riches into your soul; prayer is a way of opening up your soul so more of God can enter.
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Perhaps even atheism versus theism is an example of this principle that an apparent either/or can really be a both/and. For I suspect that the God you insist does not exist is probably a God I also insist does not exist; and perhaps the God I maintain does exist is a God you have never denied.
Argumentation is a human enterprise that is embedded in a larger social and psychological context. This context includes (1) the total psyches of the two persons engaged in dialogue, (2) the relationship between the two persons, (3) the immediate situation in which they find themselves and (4) the larger social, cultural and historical situation surrounding them.
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God wants us to worry about our sins before we sin; the devil wants us to worry after we sin. God wants us to feel free after we repent (for we really are free then); the devil is a deceiver). The devil tempts us to cavalier pride before we sin and worrisome despair afterward, since pride and despair both separate us from God, and anything that separates us from God is the devil's friend and our enemy, while anything that brings us close to God is the devil's enemy and our friend.
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Music is more powerful than reason in the soul. That is also why Plato made music the very first step in his long educational curriculum: good music was to create the harmony of soul that would be a ripe field for the higher harmony of reason to take root in later. And that is also why he said that the decay of the ideal state would begin with a decay in music. In fact, one of your obscure modern scholars has shown that social and political revolutions have usually been preceded by musical revolutions, and why another sage said, 'Let me write the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws.
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God is love, and music is the language of love; therefore, music is the language of God. Music is a language more profound than words. How often have you heard a great piece of music and felt that? Great music does not just make you feel good; great music suggests some profound truth or mysterious meaning that is objectively true but not translatable into words.
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Saint Thomas Aquinas says, wisely, that the only way to drive out a bad passion is by a stronger good passion. The same is true of thoughts as of passions. When your mind wanders, like a child, your will must bring it back, like a mother. [... ] The will-parent must discipline the mind-child, avoiding both the opposite extremes commonly made in disciplining either children or thoughts: tyranny or permissiveness.
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When I say "The good man gave his good dog a good meal, " I use "good" analogically, for there is at the same time a similarity and a difference between a good man, a good dog, and a good meal. All three are desirable, but a good man is wise and moral, a good dog is tame and affectionate, and a good meal is tasty and nourishing. But a good man is not tasty and nourishing, except to a cannibal; a good dog is not wise and moral, except in cartoons, and a good meal is not tame and affectionate, unless it's alive as you eat it.
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An argument in apologetics, when actually used in dialogue, is an extension of the arguer. The arguer's tone, sincerity, care, concern, listening, and respect matter as much as his or her logic - probably more. The world was won for Christ not by arguments but by sanctity: "What you are speaks so loud, I can hardly hear what you say.
If we rely on anything else besides faith to maintain the practice of the presence of God, we will certainly fail, whether this is our feelings, or experiences, or sincerity, or good intentions, or reasonings, or plans. The reason these things will fail while faith will not fail is that all these things depend on us, while faith depends on God. It is a gift of God.
What our Heavenly Father wants us to do about our spiritual failures is like what our earthly father wants us to do about our earthly failures. When we fall off the horse, or the bike, or the high road to Heaven, we must simply climb on again as soon as we are aware of the fact that we have fallen off, rather than sitting there stewing in self-pity or self-hatred.
But if he had come down from the Cross, he would have made it impossible for them to believe in him, for he would have substituted sight for faith. That is why he does not take us down from our crosses: so that we do not substitute feelings and experiences for faith. He wants the very best for us, the strongest and most precious gift, and that is faith.
Go back to Socrates: "Know thyself." For Socrates, there are only two kinds of people: the wise, who know they are fools; and fools, who think they are wise. Similarly, for Christ and all the prophets, there are only two kinds of people: saints, who know they are sinners; and sinners, who think they are saints. Which are you?
We are not free to love God insofar as we are enslaved to creatures. And we all are. We are addicted to whatever we cannot part with that is less than God, our true good. And that includes ourselves-especially ourselves and our own will. So we must renounce this too, this especially. God's world is not the problem; our attitude is. God does not want us to renounce the unspeakably beautiful world he gave us as creation, as gift, as it really is. He wants us to renounce it as creator, as our god, as it really is not. This wonderful world is our God-given house to live in and to live the love of God in. But God's bride must learn not to love her house as if it were her husband.
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