November 21, 2009

Prayer and Survival

For better or for worse--and I honestly don't know if it's one or the other or both--passages like this one from The Seven Storey Mountain have had a lasting and formative effect on me:

It was no longer possible to consider myself, abstractly, as being in a certain "state of life" which had certain technical relations to other "states of life. All that occupied me now was the immediate practical problem of getting up my hill with this terrific burden I had on my shoulders, step by step, begging God to drag me along and get me away from my enemies and from those who were trying to destroy me.

I did not even reflect how the Breviary, the Canonical Office, was the most powerful and effective prayer I could possibly have chosen, since it is the prayer of the whole Church, and concentrates in itself all the power of the Church's impetration, centered around the infinitely mighty Sacrifice of the Mass--the jewel of which the rest of the Liturgy is the setting: the soul which is the life of the whole Liturgy and of all the Sacramentals. All this was beyond me, although I grasped it at least obscurely. All I knew was that I needed to say the Breviary, and say it every day.

Buying those books at Benziger's that day was one of the best things I ever did in my life. The inspiration to do it was a very great grace. There are few things I remember that give me more joy. (329-330)


Jennifer said...

I know what you mean! I recently left a Poor Clare monastery (as a novice) and although I felt a void without praying the breviary anymore, I kept hemming and hawing about whether or not I should (Should I wait until the new translation comes out... do I really have time... should I really spend the money on it, etc.)

Then I got my answer... my confessor told me I should try to pray some of the hours, which was just the impetus I needed to buckle down and do it. I just got the one volume Pauline edition, but it exceeded my expectations for how complete and nice a volume it is. I was delighted with it!

It was mindboggling what a big difference it made in my life to start praying it again! Praying with the Church is truly the way to go no matter what one's vocation is.

Brother Charles said...


I left a novitiate too once. It was the most jarring, but also the most graced moment of my life. And I admit, this passage, which follows upon Merton's rejection by the Franciscans, played a lot into how I interpreted and managed my experience.

pennyante said...

I read The Seven Storey Mountain three times. Once as a college student; once maybe in my 30's and I think, in my 50's. Each time I got something different out of it. Maybe it's time to read it again... You and others have mentioned it several times..,. and have perked my interest again.

Many many years ago, I bought the one volume, Christian Prayer and tried to pray it. Unfortunately, I could never get the hang of it. Recently, I felt the urge to try again. I now understand how it works and I have been praying it every day since. You really CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

Thanks for your fine blog articles.

Lee Strong said...

Merton's book - along with the Confessions of St. Augustine - helped me out ouf a spiritual crisis back in the 1970s and got me back to church.

The process was continued thanks to the works of C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton (including his biography of St. Francis, of course!)

Brother Charles said...

Lee! Good to hear from you. My father once tried to blame my attempts at Christianity on himself, having made the error reading The Chronicles of Narnia to me as a little boy.