Questions addressed to Father Philippe about prayer...
What is prayer?
Prayer is first of all common to all men. We all belong to the same family, since we have the same Father who " makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good " (Mt. 5:45). As soon as they understand God a little bit, men adore Him and entrust Him with all their difficulties, desires, and their deepest callings, which are often inexpressible, like the groanings of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:26).
Jesus tells us: " Ask, and it will be given you ; search, and you will find ; knock, and the door will be opened for you " (Mt. 7:7). He wants us to have constant prayer in our hearts for everything that concerns our life. He wants us to offer everything to Him and to constantly ask for His help since He Himself has told us : " apart from me, you can do nothing " (Jn. 15:5). Prayer accompanies and envelops our Christian life to keep us in the presence of Jesus.
Jesus Himself helps makes this clear to us when His disciples ask Him how to pray: He takes the " Our Father ", which is a very powerful expression. Jesus doesn't reply : say " Father "; He says " Our Father " (Mt. 6:9). In other words, Jesus wants our look at God to immediately accompany His own. We cannot pray without Him, just as a small child cannot pray without the constant presence of his mother, who helps him to place himself in the presence of God. We live by this presence in intensity of faith and hope but especially in love.
The intention of the Community is that its liturgical prayer remain a monastic liturgy. However, due to the demands of apostolic life - and, in the houses of formation, due to the philosophical and theological study necessary in preparation for apostolic life - communal celebration of the liturgy is limited so that more time may be given to silent prayer in community.
The brothers' life of prayer is centered around the Eucharist " silent love of God who gives Himself to each and every one of us " (Rule of Life), which they wish to receive in faith burning with love.
The brothers strive for a sober and beautiful liturgy in which the simple and poor presence of Christ can be revealed among us.
All Christian prayer consists in lifting up our souls to Jesus, so that we may be attracted by Him. But this exercise may take extremely diverse forms, from the simple prayer of petition to the ardent desire for the love of Christ to take complete possession of our hearts.
I think that Christ's cry of thirst (Jn. 19:28) expresses very well this supreme prayer coming from the heart of a man who wishes to return to His Father, his source. As an extension of the prayer of petition, there is also the prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Then there is this entirely interior prayer of a friend who is reunited with his friend and entrusts to him his secrets, his sorrows, his difficulties. This absolute confidence leads him to accept everything and to expect everything from someone who is more than a friend, since He is the source of every friend. This interior prayer, this direct contact of the soul with Jesus, is called silent prayer.
St. Thomas Aquinas describes silent prayer as the wedding between the soul and Jesus. It's very close intimacy with the friend who has chosen us; we respond to his call, to his love. Then prayer becomes -in faith- a very simple exercise of the love and friendship that binds us to the heart of Christ. It's our heart wishing to live by the heart of Christ, by his love for the Father, for the Holy Spirit, for Mary, and for all those whom Providence has placed in our midst.
Where does the prayer of the consecrated religious belong?
The prayer of the religious monk, of someone totally consecrated to God, is deep, interior prayer. But this is not restricted to monks: there are Christians who live by silent prayer in the world, even more than some monks. Thus modalities of prayer do not depend upon the difference between the lay and religious state of live. Divine life in each of us - a life of faith, hope and love - makes us more and more interior as it develops, because it places us more and more in the presence of Jesus. And this presence of Jesus is essential for us: the true meaning of prayer is to rediscover the heart of Christ, and to remain close to Him in order to live by Him.
A religious community also lives by liturgical prayer, praise sung in the psalms regularly recited by the monks. Thus they carry all humanity to Jesus so that all men may come close to God, to their Father, and to their Savior and so that they may publicly acknowledge Him as God.
They strive to live the prayer of all those who ask St. John to be their father and who wish to persevere to the end in the fidelity of love that St. John shows us in his Gospel: during the Last Supper, Jesus draws John very close to Him (John 13:23). In this divine familiarity, John can rest his head near Jesus' heart with the greatest simplicity. .
The profound significance of this gesture is quite clear: intimacy with Christ who takes us a bit outside of time by enabling us to touch, in prayer, the everlasting love of the Son for the Father.