Day 32 – Prayer
It is not possible to synthesize all that Augustine thinks of prayer in just a few paragraphs. Augustine’s concept of prayer does not substantially differ from the one which Catholic doctrine teaches us. However, Augustine does say certain things about prayer which need to be pointed out. For Augustine, prayer is not an imposed ritual “to be carried out daily from a sense of obligation. Rather, it is the breath of the soul, the spontaneous expression of his faith, hope and love in which he shakes off the limits placed on him by time and duties to enjoy the liberating embrace of the God who dwells in the most intimate core of his being.” Prayer, therefore, is not some kind of extra duty imposed upon a person; rather, it is as natural and necessary as breathing. Its necessity derives from the fact that man is indigens Deo, a being-in-need-of-God. Or to put it bluntly: to be human is to pray. Hence, the Apostle himself urges the disciples to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Augustine explains it this way: Your desire is your prayer; if your desire is continuous, so too is your prayer. For the Apostle did not speak in vain when he said: Pray without interruption. Is it that we should always be genuflecting, always prostrating, always raising up our hands to fulfill the command to pray without interruption? If this is what we understand praying to be, I do not believe that we can pray without interruption. There is however another prayer, an interior prayer that knows no interruption, and that prayer is your desire. Whatever you are doing, if you desire that Sabbath, you never cease to pray. If you do not wish ever to interrupt your prayer, never cease to desire. Your continuous desire will be your continuous voice. It will grow silent if you cease to love.
“Your prayer is your desire.” Desire, of course, is that rightly ordered love. Augustine is deeply convinced of what the Apostle teaches: We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit Himself pleads on our behalf with groans that are inexpressible in words. Indeed, when we truly pray, it is the Spirit who moves us in prayer: “The Holy Spirit, then” Augustine writes, “urges the saints to pray with sighs too deep for words inspiring in them the desire for a good so great that it is as yet unknown but for which we wait on in hope. It is the same Spirit whom God has poured into our hearts, empowering us to love rightly and to delight in God: He has given us Himself as the object to be loved, and He has given us the resources for loving Him. Hear from the Apostle Paul in a more explicit way what God has given us so as to empower us to love Him: The love of God is poured into our hearts. How does this happen? Relying perhaps on our own resources? No! How then? Through the action of the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.37 Prayer then is like breathing, a groaning from the depths of one’s being; Augustine also describes it as a cry: “Prayer is a cry that one raises to the Lord.” (Sermon 29, 1)