In the eyes of the world, prayer is a useless activity. It doesn't make the economy work better, generate consumer buying or spur technological innovation. It won't end world hunger and no one is likely to get on the Tonight show because of the reverence of their prayer.
The world can understand the value of morality. If too many people are immoral, the economy and society will come to ruin. In an immoral society, you'll never know when something will be stolen, people will goof off at work and truth will be a rare commodity. Morally upright behavior has a clear material value.
But prayer? The world puts no value on prayer and has no desire to understand or foster it. Prayer is a supernatural activity and it is only the natural realm which has value for the worldly.
It shouldn't be surprising then that "the wellsprings of prayer," the places where we can drink of the Holy Spirit, are all also in the transcendent realm. It's true, of course, that grace builds on nature, that a person cannot live a holy life unless he or she is first a morally upright person. But if one wants to move from being a good person to being a holy person then he or she must touch the transcendent.
How does one do that? The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists four ways, four "wellsprings" -- Scripture, liturgy, the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the events of each day. In each of these, one can discern a call to touch God and be touched by God.
Take the events of the day, for example, the most non-supernatural of these four wellsprings. One can, of course, go through the day accepting events as they come, and questioning the motives and actions of people perhaps, but not probing to find their transcendent meaning.
But Christians believe God is in everything and that nothing is purely as it appears. If I have the eyes of faith, I will look for the action of the Holy Spirit in every event which stirs a positive or negative reaction in me. I will ask how God is trying to move my life through this event.
Perhaps the event will stir me to gratitude, perhaps even to yearn for a fuller union with God in heaven. Or perhaps it will show me my own impatience, my own willingness to judge others, my cowardice, my own twisted love of material things. Here I will find a call to repent and to detach myself from the idolatry which gives rise to such behavior. Or perhaps, I will be surprised by my own generosity in a situation when I am often not so generous. Then, I may have some consolation in knowing that not all is lost, that the Spirit does move through me.
The Catechism here quotes Psalm 95: "O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts" (no. 2569). This psalm points to a time when God's people turned away from God. They may have remembered how God acted in their past, but failed to examine how he was acting in their present lives. Their faith was dead and it showed. Remembering God's great actions of the past can spur praise and thanksgiving. But if faith is living and active, it will seek to know what God is doing with me right now. It will seek the supernatural amidst the natural.
In fact, Scripture says "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
If there was ever an injunction to read and pray over Scripture, this is it. The Bible is the source of doctrine, liturgy and the story of the fullness of God's revelation in Jesus. But it also touches the subjective side of faith. Words are able to come off the page and convict our hearts.
There is the story of St. Augustine, in turmoil over whether to accept the Catholic faith, hearing a child's voice repeating, "Take and read, take and read." He picked up the Bible, opened it randomly and found the Scripture passage which put an end to his final doubts (see Confessions, 8.12).
This practice of "cutting the Bible" is used by many to find a solution to particular difficulties. To be sure, this is far from being a foolproof method and needs to be used judiciously. It should not be a substitute for proper discernment and for more methodical study of Scripture. But the fact that people have sometimes found answers by randomly picking out a Scripture passage shows one way that the transcendent mysterious being who is God can speak to our individual needs.
The normal way of praying with Scripture need not rely on such measures. Scripture ought to flow into every part of my life. Reading and praying with the Bible ought to be done regularly and in some systematic way which takes the choice of which Scripture to read out of my hands and leaves the Bible free to convict parts of me which I may not want to face.
In such ways -- by being open to how the Spirit speaks through Scripture and through the events of life -- my prayer moves beyond being under my control and comes under God's control. Openness to these wellsprings changes prayer from a self-improvement project to a divinely-inspired renewal of the whole person.
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