Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Eucharist and prayer on the Memorial of St. Augustine

"I thought I heard your voice from on high," writes St. Augustine, the great doctor of the Church, whose memorial is today, in his Confessions. What did Augustine hear this voice say? He thought he heard the words: "I am the food of grown men; grow then, and you will feed on me. Nor will you change me into yourself like bodily food, but you will be changed into me." Indeed, being changed into Christ, becoming alter Christus, other Christs, and together constituting the totus Christus, the total, or complete Christ, with Jesus as our head, animated by the Holy Spirit, is what God calls us to. When pouring the water into the wine during Mass the priest or deacon says, sotto voce: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share our humanity." Augustine understood and articulated all of this beautifully, logically, and clearly.

Prayer and Eucharist are indispensable to this becoming to which God calls us through the waters of Baptism. To pray, we must open a space for God in our lives. This is nothing more than setting aside a regular time and a place to be with God. For God, Richard Foster assures us, "rushes at us at the first hint of openness. He places within us such an insatiable God hunger that absolutely nothing satisfies us except the genuine whole-wheat Bread of Life" (Foster Prayer 70). In this he seems to be paraphrasing Augustine's great words, which get a bit overused at times: "You inspire us, O Lord, to delight in praising you, because you made us for yourself; our hearts are restless until they rest in you." One of my favorite contemporary Christian groups, Jars of Clay, also express this in their song Sing: "I walk through flame, I touch the fire you know that I still burn for you/flood water rain crash down soak the ground still I thirst for you."

Once we have determined how we can fit regular times of prayer into our lives, into our busy schedules, "we must firmly discipline ourselves to a regular pattern of prayer" (Foster 4). The sad truth of the matter is that time for prayer will not magically turn up - "we must make time". (Foster 74). In order to do this we must "be ruthless with our rationalizations" (Foster 74). One pseudo pious trap we can all too easily fall into is the "always living prayerfully" trap. This rationalization simply seeks to convince us that our whole life is a prayer. Such an approach creates many complications, like how muttering obscenties under our breath, or, worse yet, shouting them out loud, as we are driving can possibly count as prayer! We may well, by the grace of God, reach the point at which we always live prayerfully, but we cannot use it as an excuse not to pray now. On this score Foster quotes John Dalrymple: "The truth is that we only learn to pray all the time everywhere after we have resolutely set about praying some of the time somewhere" (Foster 74). To use an analogy, we can insist that every word we speak or write is poetry, even though we have never studied poetry, or sought to master its various forms. The truth of the matter is that we are not reciting poetry, we are just talking, or just writing. In order to write free verse well, one has to have mastered the forms. I think this is what Dalrymple is seeking to communicate.

St. Augustine writes prayerful poetry with these words: "I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

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