If you were to ask me what it was that I liked, enjoyed or appreciated most about the book Prayer for Beginners by Peter Kreeft, I would say that Peter (despite any superlatives or absolutes one may wish to highlight from the book) understates the value of prayer and thereby succeeds in making both the topic and its exercise more approachable. He sells prayer well, which is an essential component to include in any book out there for beginners. Why shouldn’t an author try and “sell” prayer on its benefits, just like you sell jogging, swimming or some other healthful activity or exercise? To make my point, let me quote from an early section of this little primer (for which I don’t have a page number as I read it on Kindle):
“Why pray? Because only prayer can save the world. Some say that prayer, and “the spiritual life”, or “the inner life”, or the soul’s private love affair with God, is an unaffordable luxury today, or an irresponsible withdrawal from the pressing public problems of our poor, hurting world. I say just the opposite: that nothing, nothing is more relevant and responsible; that nothing else can ever cure our sick world except saints, and saints are never made except by prayer. Nothing but saints can save our world because the deepest root of all the world’s diseases is sin, and saints are the antibodies that fight sin. Nothing but prayer can make saints because nothing but God can make saints, and we meet God in prayer. Prayer is the hospital for souls where we meet Doctor God.”
You may object that this definition of prayer and others throughout the book are not in the least understated, but rather high-flown and ambitious, like this one which comes later in the book:
“We must become in fact what we are by right: we must become wholly God’s. This is why prayer is so important: it sets us firmly on that road. Prayer is essentially the practice of the presence of God, and that is the road to Heaven. There is no alternative. God is the only game in town. All other roads are dead ends.”
Regardless of the “-issimos”, to my mind he still understates by comparison with the expectations from prayer to be found in the writings of some of the great mystics; he is less likely to scare you off than let’s say a treatise on interiority by St. Teresa of Avila or some awesome poem by St. John of the Cross.
Much of Peter’s little book refers to an old classic by Brother Lawrence. Perhaps he would have us read that book? I just may. In any case, I don’t regret having read this little tome and hope others profit by the read.
Although Peter Kreeft is far from alone in saying it, his shared statement bears repeating and in this case has given me new insight into the urgency with which some of my favorite “saints” give themselves to praying whenever they can: “…that nothing else can ever cure our sick world except saints, and saints are never made except by prayer.”
This summer watching the EWTN series Signs of Life, hosted by Mike Aquilina and featuring Dr. Scott Hahn, the two men shared an experience common to their first experience with receiving spiritual direction. Both were told they would be praying a lot more. Both were skeptical, but after the fact they both rejoice in the difference which just prayer alone (as much as you can quantify it without the complements of study and Scripture reading) has made in their personal lives and their sense of the presence of God.
I am still reading another Kreeft book: A Refutation of Moral Relativism. The “absolutist” in the dialogue holds out little hope for Western society, permeated as it is by Godless relativism. Perhaps as a philosophical exercise Kreeft’s book limits itself time and again to stating that the absolutist cultures have been the enduring ones: Mosaic, continuing in Christ, Moslem, and Buddhist. Relativists are self-destructive and do not endure. A person who prays, who lives in the presence of God, and hence a saintly person is ready to submit his heart to truth. Kreeft’s protagonist in the book puts it this way: “That’s the essence of all true religion: submission of the heart to truth, to God, to what God is: truth and moral goodness. That’s why I say that the honest and moral atheist is a religious man and the relativistic churchgoer is not.”
Our discourse on prayer, obviously Christian prayer, takes us much further. Yesterday’s memorial of the Korean martyrs reminded me that sanctity has never been a trait which necessarily attracts or wins others over.
“Saint Agatha Yi Kan-Nan, Widow and Martyr (1813-1846)
… Agatha’s father, however, angered by the conversion of his family, punished Agatha by ordering her to live with her deceased husband’s family. These relatives, touched by Agatha’s gentle disposition, came to admire her to the point that one sister-in-law also became a Catholic. Agatha ultimately bought a home of her own. She was known to be deeply devout, mortifying herself with frequent fasting. Her fellow Catholics revered her for her exceptional chastity, deeming her “as clear as a mirror and as pure as snow.” On July 10, 1846, Agatha was arrested for her faith by agents of Korea’s pagan regime...” (Magnificat, Monday, September 20th, 2010, page 292)
“Some say that prayer, and “the spiritual life”, or “the inner life”, or the soul’s private love affair with God, is an unaffordable luxury today, or an irresponsible withdrawal from the pressing public problems of our poor, hurting world. I say just the opposite: that nothing, nothing is more relevant and responsible; that nothing else can ever cure our sick world except saints, and saints are never made except by prayer.” (Prayer for Beginners by Peter Kreeft)