July 30, 2012
This is the fifteenth in a series of previously unpublished reflections from the 1854 spiritual notebook of Paulist Founder, Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker. The reflection series is being made pubic in conjunction with Father Hecker’s cause for canonization. Father Paul Robichaud, CSP, Paulist historian and postulator for Father Hecker’s cause for sainthood, offers a response to Father Hecker’s reflection.
Not Yet Angels
“He who does not pray to God and who does not desire to talk with God is dead and lacks both life and sense.”
– St. John Chrysostom
We cannot live on sugar alone however agreeable it might be to the taste, and so it is with the human heart, which cannot long sustain so pure a communication with God. We are not yet angels; and unless God condescends at times to our weaknesses, we should die with languor and desire.
If I pray for what God wills, I am sure to pray for what God wishes for me; if I pray for what I think God wishes for me; I am not sure I pray for what God wills for me.
A Response from Paul Robichaud, CSP
God is the author of natural life, and we are a part of that creation. God has also created in each of us a soul and fills us with supernatural life beginning with our Baptism. As Christians we experience both forms of life, and while our natural life comes to an end, our supernatural life can last forever. Today Father Hecker takes a quote from a sermon of St. John Chrysostom on the necessity of prayer. When we don’t pray, when we don’t speak to God, we can become spiritually dead. Prayer is a principal way to feed our souls, and if we don’t feed our souls, the supernatural life that God grants us, begins to die within us.
Father Hecker adds some interesting insight. We are not yet angels, so while prayer feeds the soul, it takes time to build up deep intimacy with God. Prayer does not happen simply in one direction. We move towards God in prayer and we hope that God moves toward us. We can hope in this because Jesus teaches us that God is moving towards us. When we fail, God moves towards us in forgiveness. When we are weak and tired, God moves towards us with strength and hope. God takes us where we are and brings us to where God is. Not only is prayer a vehicle for us to talk to God, it is the movement of God towards us in faith, hope and love.
Prayer is transformative. One of my seminary professors once said, “just pray, begin anywhere, for God is so happy to hear from you, God will do the rest.” Here in Father Hecker’s last sentence, he reminds us about just what we pray about. Father Hecker speaks about the difference between what we hope God wants for us and what God actually wills for us. “If I pray for what God wills for me,” says Father Hecker, then I know I am asking God to bring about his plan for my life. “If I pray for what I think God wishes for me,” – for what I want God to give me – then I may not be asking for God’s plan for me.
With Father Hecker’s caution about our will and God’s will are not always the same, I pass on the advice of my seminary professor. Just pray, begin anywhere! Prayer is transformative. We grow in prayer when God moves towards us. In time our wishes will bend to God’s will, our intimacy with God will deepen and while we may not yet become angels, we may come a few steps closer.
About Father Isaac Hecker’s 1854 Spiritual Notebook:
Servant of God, Father Isaac Hecker wrote these spiritual notes as a young Redemptorist priest about 1854 and they have never been published. Hecker was 34 years old at the time, and had been ordained a priest for five years. He loved his work as a Catholic evangelist. The Redemptorist mission band had expanded out of the New York state area to the south and west, and the band’s national reputation grew. Hecker had begun to focus his attention on Protestants who came out to hear them. To this purpose Hecker began to write in 1854 his invitation to Protestant America to consider the Catholic Church, “Questions of the Soul” which would make him a national figure in the American church.
Hecker collected and organized these notes that include writings and stories from St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Jesuit spiritual writer Louis Lallemant and his disciple Jean Surin, the German mystic John Tauler, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jane de Chantal among others. These notes were a resource for retreat work and spiritual direction and show Hecker’s growing proficiency in traditional Catholic spirituality some ten years after his conversion to the Catholic faith. They are composed of short thematic reflections.