"Perfect prayer is all love, and
perfect love is all prayer."
The value of a prayer is measured by the love
that is in it. Perfect prayer is all love, and perfect love is all prayer. For most of us
our prayer is made up of so many elements, which are less than love, that not enough room
is left for prayer's highest act. Though self-interest will come into our prayer, as it
comes into everything else that we do, it must not be allowed to take first place. The
only way to prevent self-interest from unduly influencing our prayer is to focus attention
Once love becomes the primary expression, even though the prayer
lasts only a minute, the center of interest is no longer self but God. The love may be
imperfect, but since the object of that love is perfection itself the movement is away
from self: the source of love is eliciting love. To pray without love is not to pray at
all: it is merely to go through the motions. But even to go through the motions, provided
there is no deliberate hypocrisy, supposes some sort of good intention and therefore some
sort of love.
We may forget about the need to love when we pray, but the prayer
is not on that account wholly wasted. It is still material for love and can be improved
upon. Love is a generating, not a wasting, asset. Love can be invited to take over, and if
our prayer consists of nothing else than asking God to increase our charity we are making
good use of the grace of prayer.
When St. Augustine said, "Love God and do what you will," he might equally
have said, "Love God and ask as you like". Given love, the petitions that we
make will be according to God. It is true that someone who prays for a legacy is more
likely to be thinking of his own requirements than of the glory of God, but it is also
true that if he really loves God he will gladly sacrifice his petition if he thinks God's
glory will be better served thereby.
The objects prayed for are not of great significance: what really matters is the inward
impulse. Since we are human we are greedy; since we are greedy we are forever clamoring
for material satisfaction. But so long as we honestly desire God's glory more than our own
pleasure we are bound to be on the right line. Provided we are sincere when we insert the
clause 'if it be your will' we can surely ask of God whatever we want.
This is where the Our Father is such a great help. If the prayer
taught us by Christ allows us to ask for the satisfaction of human needs we cannot be
wrong in representing human needs. The more forcibly we represent them the better. We may
be wrong in believing the needs to be truly needs, but we cannot be wrong in expressing
them. If God in his wisdom judges these so-called needs to be unjustified-if in other
words we have deceived ourselves as to the importance of our petition -we may rest assured
that he knows what to do about them.
From Ideas for Prayer 1966, Templegate Publishers. Fr. van
Zeller, a monk of Downside Abbey, England, is the author of many books.