By The Most Reverend Joseph C. McKinney

Athletes talk of being in the "zone". It's's that disposition that enables them to function at maximum potential, almost effortlessly. When one is "in the zone," everything goes right, there is a special joy because everything is going well and the ball bounces favorably in chance situations. One is without injury, in good health and has a general feeling of well being. In competition, being in the zone spells the difference between losing and winning. These are reflections on being in the "zone" for prayer. The right disposition is critical and it is available to all. It does not depend on health, or the life situation; it depends on the attitude of the heart.

I carried on a search for the prayer zone for two years. It all ended when I found these words in paragraph 2778 of the Catechism. "The power of the spirit ... is expressed ... by the beautiful ... expression parrhesia; i.e., straightforward simplicity, filial trust, joyous assurance, humble boldness & the certainty of being loved.

Straightforward simplicity is an invitation to put away all sophistication and find the child that remains in each of us. Complications about choice of words, our dress, a desire to make an impression can get in the way. Sometimes we can have the image of being in the magnificent court of the King instead of crawling up on our Father's lap. The image I have of straightforward simplicity is John F. Kennedy's son John-John wandering into the Oval Office during a high level meeting, the president smiles and opens his arms. Everything stops as John-John runs into his father’s arms with straightforward simplicity. There is a delightful smile on everyone's face as the president says, "This is my son, John-John. What can I do for you, son?" When we come into the presence of God he welcomes us as his beloved child, no sophistication needed.

Filial trust builds on that. God's children are the apples of his eye. He wants only what is good for us. Put aside all fear, just trust that God will do what is best. When I was John-John's age I asked my dad for a jackknife. "Not yet son, you can hurt yourself. We have to learn how to use it first." When I was five that was enough. We didn't need a long explanation and I trusted dad enough not to ask why. I used to play engineer and come to God to lay out my plans as if I was the engineer and God was the workman. Now I realize He's the engineer. It's important for me to know His plans. Joyous assurance comes from an Amen attitude. Mary had joyous assurance when she prayed, "He lifts up the lowly. I magnify His name." Prayer takes on a whole new flavor when we pray as if Mary were there showing us how to magnify the Lord.

There is clearly a special flavor of joy and peace especially when a trial or difficulty perplexes me. Joyous assurance produces steadfast endurance and that is an important aspect of being in the prayer zone. The most sacred moment I ever had in prayer was when I was resisting an appointment from my bishop and I heard Jesus say clearly, "You don't want to carry your cross, do you?" Eventually my anxiety gave way to joyful assurance.

Humble boldness could sound like a contradiction if one does not understand humility. The word humility has its origins in the word humus, which means earthy. We are of the earth, earthy and God has breathed into that earth a living soul, which gives a whole new outlook on our being. It is not added to the earth like another layer, it is breathed into the earth. Some theologians have coined the phrase "embodied spirit" and that brings us into the real of humility. Our soul is not separated but it is in flesh. One of the finest talks I ever heard on humility was summarized with the phrase, "You need to go to worm school." We are not angels; we are attached. I like the line in the hymn that summarizes God's power to refine with the phrase, "Until this earthly part of me glows with your fire divine." We can act like worms or we can be a cocoon worm destined to spring Resurrection wings. Our boldness comes from the Holy Spirit who so inhabits our soul that he not only transforms us but empowers us to transform. Our prayer needs the boldness of a St. Francis. His prayer for peace is a perfect example of humble boldness.

Confidence of being loved strikes me as the hallmark of the prayer zone. If you do not accept the fact that God loves you just the way you are without reservations, then you will never enter the prayer zone. When I went to make a 30-day retreat according to the method of St. Ignatius, they had a few days of reflection to get the 20th Century out of us. One day was spent in absorbing what it means to know, "There is nothing you can do to make God stop loving you!"

As a do-it-yourself American, I had to make a total adjustment. God's love is not earned, it is accepted and we play a lot of games with our "yes buts." There are no buts. It's all yes. There is no better self-esteem cure than so accepting God's love that we are confident that nothing can change that. God is love and he wants us to live in love. The Prayer Zone is a love zone. Moreover, God's glory is man feeling alive and that happens only after we accept His love.

The Catechism begins with the sentence about parrhesia with the words, "The Life of Man—To Know and Love God." He invites us to become, "in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life." St. Augustine describes the Holy Spirit as the "perfect ineffable love" between the Father and the Son. The love of fathers for sons, and sons for fathers is so vibrant that it is another person. That Holy Spirit can be described as God's love poured into our hearts. Five aspects of the healthy heart animated by the Holy Spirit are the qualities of parrhesia. When these things are clicking and working together as one unit, we are in the prayer zone and living in God's love.

Bishop Joseph C. McKinney, Diocese of Grand Rapids, is the former Chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the October 1998 edition of the San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.