A reflection included on pages 28-31 in Seeking the One Whom We Love: How RSCJs Pray
by Suzanne Cooke, RSCJ
Years ago I learned that Saint Madeleine Sophie spoke of prayer in terms of a conversation. She spoke and God listened, and then God spoke and she listened. I believe prayer is essentially a relationship, and like all relationships, prayer begins in the silence of one’s heart.
Consider any relationship. Its beginning is a spark or an attraction to the other, first experienced in the silence of our mind and heart. This instinct urges us to seek out the other, to come to know the other. This relationship can only grow into a friendship if this initial attraction or intuition is attended to or nurtured. One listens in silence. One spends time with the other, listening and learning. This listening engages one’s heart and mind, one’s entire being or soul. Eventually the listening blossoms into dialogue. One becomes so engaged by the other that listening and dialogue become effortless. The mutual engagement of hearts and minds of the two involved in the relationship leads to intimacy, to genuine love. Such love is communion. The communion is dynamic; therefore, silence is constant if one is to continue to learn about and from the other. Prayer is an affair of the heart; it is an act of friendship.
Mother Stuart encouraged RSCJs to live absorbed in God’s interests. She described prayer as breathing. “Prayer is the aspiration, the breathing of the soul,” she wrote. “It is our unexpressed desire for union. It is any turning of the mind and heart to God.” She saw our lives as RSCJs as the “inward spirit of consecration which has two movements, like the vital act of breathing, and the outward and inward movements are each incomplete without the other. The deep intake of breath is given back again as the sound of a voice, carrying its gift from God.”
The longer I am a Religious of the Sacred Heart, the more deeply I believe that silence is the essential context for prayer. At the 2008 General Chapter,* we said:
In the secret place of the heart the Spirit gradually
transforms our feelings and responses, and draws us into
an intimate relationship with God. The Spirit attunes
us to the heartbeat of our people to discover the presence
and love of God in everyday life. When we contemplate
the Heart of Christ we enter into the movement of the
Spirit who develops in us a listening heart.
How do we develop listening hearts? I think it is essential to view time as the opportunity to know Christ. If our action is to be permeated with the presence of God, then we must find time to listen to the Spirit dwelling within our hearts. It is Christ’s Spirit that urges and beckons us forward. The only way to satisfy this internal urgency to know Christ is to decide to spend time with him, to take time to read and listen to the Scriptures, and to use time to learn of Jesus from others. Such investment of self in listening leads to knowledge of Christ. To come to know Christ is to discover the Father. One grows in knowledge of Christ by trusting the Spirit within. In other words, the Spirit leads us to Christ who points us to God. Living in communion with the fullness of God is the ultimate fruit of our friendship with Christ.
Each of us uses time differently. We have a great richness in our tradition as RSCJs. Practices like centering prayer, lectio divina, and the examen help us to refine our attentiveness and listening so that we can find Christ in all things. Praying with the
Constitutions and chapter documents strengthens our cor unum and inspires us to realize Saint Madeleine Sophie’s vision by engaging fully in the Society’s mission.
Time engaged in prayer, both meditation and contemplation, bears fruit in our action as it is our expression of loving compassion. Participation in the sacraments nourishes our spirit so we can better identify the ultimate source of our hope.
I once heard Barbara Bowe, RSCJ, explain that reality for the RSCJ means both our interior life where God’s transforming love dwells and the outer world around us where God’s daily revelation and mysterious presence in people and events summons us to apostolic zeal. Breathing in and breathing out – that is who we are.
In the end I think of prayer as time with God. Location is immaterial, but the quality of the silence and listening is essential if my friendship with Christ is to deepen. The deeper the silence, the more acute the listening and, in time, the stronger the communion.