Saturday, November 14, 2009

St. Gertrude (1256?-1302)

Gertrude, a Benedictine nun in Helfta (Saxony), was one of the great mystics of the 13th century. Together with her friend and teacher St. Mechtild, she practiced a spirituality called "nuptial mysticism," that is, she came to see herself as the bride of Christ. Her spiritual life was a deeply personal union with Jesus and his Sacred Heart, leading her into the very life of the Trinity. But this was no individualistic piety. Gertrude lived the rhythm of the liturgy, where she found Christ. In the liturgy and Scripture, she found the themes and images to enrich and express her piety. There was no clash between her personal prayer life and the liturgy.

"Lord, you have granted me your secret friendship by opening the sacred ark of your divinity, your deified heart, to me in so many ways as to be the source of all my happiness; sometimes imparting it freely, sometimes as a special mark of our mutual friendship. You have so often melted my soul with your loving caresses that, if I did not know the abyss of your overflowing condescensions, I should be amazed were I told that even your Blessed Mother had been chosen to receive such extraordinary marks of tenderness and affection" (Adapted from The Life and Revelations of Saint Gertrude). (

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (18.1-8)

Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Prayer of Petition
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

From time immemorial man has engaged with the unseen powers who are understood to control, to a greater or lesser extent, the course of the world. For thousands of years the Australian Aborigines performed ceremonies invoking mythic beings, and by this means gained access to the spiritual powers of the Dreaming. The ceremonies enabled participants to enter into the ongoing renewal of the Dreaming on which life and the world depended. So it has been across the teeming ocean of human life. Prayer and ritual is characteristically a feature of human society. Man has been convinced that the course of the world depended on higher powers and that these same powers could be brought over to his side. They could be placated and made friendly by the ceremonies - though often they were friendly in the first place. The secular student typically regards this image of the deity as a mere projection by religious man of his inner desires or experience of life. But it could be viewed more profoundly as a dim perception by man of something of the real and objective Other. When he addressed the Australian Aborigines at Alice Springs in 1986, Pope John Paul II said that “for thousands of years” they had fashioned their culture, and that “during all this time, the Spirit of God has been with you.” The Pope said that “Your "Dreaming", which influences your lives so strongly that, no matter what happens, you remain for ever people of your culture, is your own way of touching the mystery of God’s Spirit in you and in creation. You must keep your striving for God and hold on to it in your lives.” The point here is that man is a being of prayer and religion, even though this can deform and degenerate into magic and religious manipulation. Now, God, who created man with a religious instinct for him, has intervened in history and revealed his plan for man. What does he - made man in Christ - say to us about our prayer? Our Gospel today is very clear about one point.

Our Lord encourages us to pray for all that we need. Apart from anything, this sets a divine seal on the fact that in all places and at all times man has prayed. Christ in effect says, it is very good that you have prayed. It is what you ought be doing. But of course God has now revealed himself in person, and so we have all the more reason to pray with all our heart. We can pray with real light, all the while following divine instructions. In our Gospel passage today, our Lord tells us another thing about prayer. It is that we should pray persistently for what we need. Our Lord gives an illustration drawn from everyday life. It is the picture of the unjust judge who is badgered by the poor widow to grant her rights. She wore him down, and he granted her request. Even if a person is not loving and thoughtful, even if he is unjust, sheer persistence will make him get up and grant a petition - if only to be rid of the importunate petitioner. We see ongoing prayer in human societies and in fallen man - well then, how much more ought we pray in ongoing fashion to our loving and all-powerful Father in heaven! Our Lord is inviting us to be importunate with God. “And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18: 1-8). The teaching of Christ about the prayer of petition as expressed in this passage is that we should persist in asking for what we need. But all too often we simply lack the faith to persist in prayer. We give up on God because he delays or seems not to be answering our prayer. We think he does not care, or that he cannot give what we are asking for, or it may even become clear that we doubt the reality of God anyway. If we truly believe that God is God, then we shall believe that the one to whom we are praying is all-loving, all-powerful and all-wise. If our prayer is not answered in the precise way we wish, it must be because God is answering it in a better way. We must not give up on God.

If there is something important to pray for, and if in the presence of God we genuinely think our asking for it would not displease him, then we ought pray for it. If it continues to seem to be the will of God that we ask him for this favour, then we ought continue to ask for it. We ought humbly persist. If nothing results, we ought persist in faith, unless it becomes manifest that it is not according to the will of God that we pray for it. We ought pray persistently and not lose heart. If in the event the favour is not granted, we may be sure that it is in our best interest that we not receive that favour, and that God will answer our prayer in a much better way.

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