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Mother Teresa on Our Life of Prayer and Contemplation
The following passages are taken from the book, “Contemplative at the Heart of the World,” selected by Brother Angelo Devananda and published in 1985.
Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)
Jesus has drawn us to be souls of prayer.
1. Jesus is our prayer, and He is also the answer to all our prayer. He has chosen to be Himself in us the living song of love, praise, adoration, thanksgiving, intercession and reparation to the Father in the name of the whole creation, especially the poorest of the poor and those who do not pray, who do not know how to pray, who do not dare and do not want to pray. (93)
2. Every Missionary of Charity will pray with absolute trust in God’s loving care for us. Our prayer will be the prayer of little children, one of tender devotion, deep reverence, humility, serenity, and simplicity. (93)
3. By daily feeding on the scriptures, particularly the New Testament we shall grow in a deeper and more personal knowledge and love of Jesus Christ and his teachings, so as to be able to feed his children with his divine word.
We shall be painstaking and diligent in studying and memorizing selected passages, daily reading and meditating on the scriptures—--to be able to know and love God personally. (93)
4. One with the Church in her celebration of the mystery of our redemption, we also promote devotion in accordance with the liturgy and liturgical seasons.
—Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is closely linked with the Eucharist and has a special place in our society. We renew each year the Consecration of our Communities on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Every First Friday of the month will be preceded by a novena.
—In gratitude to Jesus for his great love during his Passion which is being continued today in his suffering poor, we shall make the Stations of the Cross every Friday as a community. Other days it will be left to the choice of each Sister. (94)
5. Singing is an important part of our life of prayer. We shall keep our singing simple and use a minimum of musical instruments when necessary. (94)
6. We are called to be contemplatives in the heart of the world by:
—seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time, and his hand in every happening, and especially,
—seeing and adoring the Presence of Jesus in the lowly appearance of Bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor, by praying the work that is, by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, and to Jesus. (94)
7. Our life of contemplation shall retain the following characteristics:
—missionary: by going out physically or in spirit in search of souls all over the universe.
—contemplative: by gathering the whole universe at the very center of our hearts where the Lord of the universe abides, and allowing the pure water of divine grace to flow plentifully and unceasingly from the source itself, on the whole of his creation.
—universal: by praying and contemplating with all and for all, especially with and for the spiritually poorest of the poor. (94)
8. Jesus Christ has told us that we ought “always to pray and not to faint.” St. Paul says, “pray without ceasing.” God calls all men and women to this disposition of heart—--to pray always. Let the love of God once take entire and absolute possession of a heart; let it become to that heart like a second nature; let that heart suffer nothing contrary to enter: let it apply itself continually to increase this love of God by seeking to please Him in all things and refusing Him nothing; let it accept as from His hand everything that happens to it; let it have a firm determination never to commit any fault deliberately and knowingly or, if it should fail, to be humbled and to rise up again at once, and such a heart will pray continually. (95)
9. People today speak much about the poor, but they do not know or talk to the poor. So, too, we can talk much about prayer and yet not know how to pray.
We have to feed ourselves. We can die from spiritual starvation. We must be filled continually, like a machine. When one little thing in the machine is not working, then the whole machine is not working properly.
We need oil for the lamp.
Our lives must be connected with the living Christ in us. If we do not live in the presence of God, we cannot go on. (95)
10. Does your mind and your heart go to Jesus as soon as you get up in the morning? This is prayer, that you turn your mind and heart to God. In your times of difficulties, in sorrows, in sufferings, in temptations, and in all things, where did your mind and heart turn first of all? How did you pray? Did you take the trouble to turn to Jesus and pray, or did you seek other consolations?
Has your faith grown? If you do not pray, your faith will leave you. All those priests and religious, who left, first stopped praying and then lacked faith to go on.
Ask the Holy Spirit to pray in you. Learn to pray, love to pray, and pray often. Feel the need to pray and to want to pray.
If you have learned how to pray, then I am not afraid for you. If you know how to pray, then you will love prayer—--and if you love to pray, then you will pray. Knowledge will lead to love and love to service. (95)
11. Where can I learn to pray? Jesus taught us: “Pray like this: Our Father.... Thy will be done.... Forgive us as we forgive.” It is so simple yet so beautiful. If we pray the “Our Father” and live it, we will be holy. Everything is there: God, myself, my neighbor. If I forgive, then I can be holy and can pray... All this comes from a humble heart, and if we have this we will know how to love God, to love self and neighbor.
This is not complicated, and yet we complicate our lives so much, by so many additions. Just one thing counts: to be humble, to pray. The more you pray, the better you will pray. How do you pray? You should go to God like a little child. A child has no difficulty expressing his little mind in simple words which say so much. Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Become as a little child.” If we pray the gospel, we will allow Christ to grow in us.
One thing is necessary for us—--confession. Confession is nothing but humility in action. We called it penance, but really it is a sacrament of love, a sacrament of forgiveness. That is why confession should not be a place in which to talk for long hours about our difficulties. It is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys. When there is a gap between me and Christ, when my love is divided, anything can come to fill the gap. We should be very simple and childlike in confession. “Here I am as a child going to her Father.” If a child is not yet spoiled and has not learned to tell lies, he will tell everything. This is what I mean by being childlike. Confession is a beautiful act of great love. Only in confession can we go as sinners with sin and come out as sinners without sin. (96)
12. If you don’t pray, your presence will have no power, your words will have no power. If you pray, you will be able to overcome all the tricks of the devil. Don’t believe all the thoughts that he puts into your mind. (97)
13. Motherhouse October 1978
“Blessed are those who suffer persecution”: We do not suffer much persecution, except the persecution caused by the devil against chastity, poverty, obedience, and wholehearted free service. To resist this persecution we need continual refilling of prayer and sacrifice—--of the Bread of Life, of the Living Water, of my Sisters in community, and of the poor. We need Our Lady, Our Mother, to be with us always, to protect us and keep us only for Jesus. (97)
14. Motherhouse February 18,1967
Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own.
15. Mary’s Example
“Behold your Mother” (John 19:27).
Immaculate Heart of Mary, cause of our joy, bless your own Missionaries of Charity.
16. The Magnificat is Our Lady’s prayer of thanks. She can help us to love Jesus best; she is the one who can show us the shortest way to Jesus. Mary was the one who forced Jesus to work the first miracle. “They have no wine,” she said to Jesus. “Do whatever He tells you,” she said to the servants. We take the part of the servants. Let us go to her with great love and trust. We are serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. (97)
17. Through all the work we do for Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus, we will ask Him to deepen our love for his Mother, to make it more personal and intimate, so as to:
-love her as He loved her
-be a cause of joy to her as He was
-keep close to her as He kept close
-share with her everything, even the Cross, as He did when she stood near Him on Calvary.
“Behold, I will allure her and will lead her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart” (Hosea 2:16,18).
Souls of prayer are souls of great silence. (98)
19. Each one of us will take it as our serious and sacred duty to collaborate with one another in our common effort to promote and maintain an atmosphere of deep silence and recollection in our own lives, conducive to the constant awareness of the Divine Presence everywhere and in everyone, especially in our own hearts and in the hearts of our Sisters with whom we live in the poorest of the poor. (98)
20. To make possible true interior silence, we shall practice:
—Silence of the eyes, by seeking always the beauty and goodness of God everywhere, closing it to the faults of others and to all that is sinful and disturbing to the soul.
—Silence of the ears, by listening always to the voice of God and to the cry of the poor and the needy, closing it to all the other voices that come from the evil one or from fallen human nature, e.g. gossip, tale-bearing and uncharitable words.
—Silence of the tongue, by praising God and speaking the life-giving Word of God that is the Truth that enlightens and inspires, brings peace, hope, and joy and by refraining from self-defense and every word that causes darkness, turmoil, pain, and death.
—Silence of the mind, by opening it to the truth and knowledge of God in prayer and contemplation, like Mary who ponder the marvel of the Lord in her heart, and by closing it to all untruths, distraction, destructive thoughts, rash judgment, false suspicions of others, revengeful thoughts and desires.
—Silence of the heart, by loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and one another as God loves, desiring God alone and by avoiding all selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, and greed.
Our silence is a joyful and God-centered silence; it demands of us constant self-denial and plunges us into the deep silence of God where aloneness with God becomes a reality. (98)
21. To foster and maintain a prayerful atmosphere of exterior silence we shall:
-respect certain times and places of more strict silence,
—move about and work prayerfully, quietly and gently,
—avoid at all costs all unnecessary speaking and notice,
—speak when we have to, softly, gently, saying just what is necessary,
—look forward to profound silence as a holy and precious time, a withdrawal into the living silence of God. (99)
22. If we will only learn silence, we will learn two things: to pray and to be humble. You cannot love unless you have humility, and you cannot be humble if you do not love. From the silence of the heart God speaks. There is no silence if there are things that have got inside. (99)
23. Regarding purity Jesus said, “Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God.” If our hearts are filled with uncharitableness and jealousy, we cannot see God. I can spend hours in Church, but I will not see God if my heart is not pure. That is why we need silence. In the silence of the heart God speaks.
Silence of our eyes
Silence of our ears
Silence of our mouths
Silence of our minds
Silence of our hearts
For in the silence of the heart God will speak. Give Jesus these five silences as a token of your gratitude. You will never learn to pray until you keep silence.
The fruit of silence is faith
The fruit of faith is prayer
The fruit of prayer is love
The fruit of love is service
And the fruit of service is silence
The fourth vow is the fruit of silence. If you don’t pray you cannot be a Missionary of Charity—--you will be a social worker. (100)
24. Silence of the heart, not only of the mouth—--that too is necessary. Then you can hear God everywhere: in the closing of the door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, the animals—--that silence which is wonder and praise. Why? Because God is everywhere and you can see and hear Him. That crow is praising God. That stupid crow—--I can hear it well. We can see and hear God in that crow, but we cannot see and hear Him if our heart is not clean. (100)
25. December 27, 1963
He who spoke with authority now spends his earthly life in silence. Let us adore Jesus in the Eucharistic silence. We need to find God and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. See how nature, the trees, the flowers, and the grass grow in perfect silence. See the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. The Apostle said, “We will give ourselves continually at prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” For the more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say, but what God says to us.
26. Motherhouse July 3, 1978
If we are careful of silence it will be easy to pray and to pray fervently. There is so much talk, so much repetition, so much carrying of tales in words and in writing. Our prayer life must suffer so much because our hearts are not silent, for as you know “only in the silence of the heart, God speaks.” Only after we have listened can we speak from the fullness of our hearts. (100)
27. Motherhouse. January 31,1980
“God is the friend of silence. His language is silence.” Be still and know that I am God. He requires us to be silent to discover Him. In the silence of the heart, He speaks to us.
Jesus spent forty days before beginning his public life in silence. He often retired alone, spent the night on the mountain in silence and prayer. He who spoke with authority spent his early life in silence.
We need silence to be alone with God, to speak to Him, to listen to Him, to ponder his words deep in our hearts. We need to be alone with God in silence to be renewed and to be transformed. Silence gives us a new outlook on life. In it we are filled with the energy of God Himself which makes us do all things with joy.
28. Praying the Work
“I pray not only for these but for those who through their words will believe in Me” (John 17:20).
Pray and work daily that all may become followers of Christ. (101)
29. We shall pray our work but we may not substitute our prayer by work. Besides praying for the whole world especially for the spiritually poorest of the poor, each sister will be assigned a specific prayer mission on the level of the universal and local church, nations, our own society, the poor we serve all over the world, the families and individuals we visit locally (for the contemplative sisters). (101)
30. Faith in action is service. We try to be holy because we believe. In this room you see a big bulb and a big switch. But, if there is no connection with the main power house, then there can be no light. Faith and prayer is the connection with God, and when that is there, there is service. (101)
31. The only thing Jesus has asked us to be is meek and humble of heart, and to do this, He has taught us to pray. He has put “meek” first. From that one word comes gentleness, thoughtfulness, simplicity, generosity, truthfulness. For whom? For one another. Jesus put “humility” after meekness. We cannot love one another unless we hear the voice of God in our hearts. (102)
32. If only we could understand what it is “to pray the work.” If we could only deepen our faith. Prayer is not just time spent and words uttered. If only our faith were as big as a mustard seed, we would be able to tell this thing to move and it would move.... If our hearts are not pure we cannot see Jesus in others. (102)
33. If we neglect prayer and if the branch is not connected with the vine, it will die. That connecting of branch with vine is prayer. If that connection is there then love is there, then joy is there, and we will be the sunshine of God’s love, the hope of eternal happiness, the flame of burning love. Why? Because we are one with Jesus. If you sincerely want to learn to pray: keep silence. (102)
34. What have we to learn? To be meek and humble; if we are meek and humble we will learn to pray. If we learn to pray, we will belong to Jesus. If we belong to Jesus we will learn to believe, and if we believe we will learn to love, and if we love we will learn to serve.
35. Be sincere in your prayers. Do you pray your prayers? Do you know how to pray? Do you love to pray? Sincerity is nothing but humility and you acquire humility only by accepting humiliations. All that has been said about humility is not enough to teach you humility. All that you have read about humility is not enough to teach you humility. You learn humility only by accepting humiliations. And you will meet humiliation all through your lives. The greatest humiliation is to know that you are nothing. This you come to know when you face God in prayer. When you come face to face with God, you cannot but know that you are nothing, that you have nothing. In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then, only, you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.
When you become full of God, you will do all your work well, all of it wholeheartedly. We have our fourth vow of wholehearted service: it means to be full of God. And when you are full of God, you will do everything well. This you can do only if you pray, if you know how to pray, if you love prayer, and if you pray well. (102)
36. Your vows are nothing but worship of God. If you are sincere in your prayers, then your vows have meaning, otherwise, they will mean nothing. The taking of your vows is also a prayer because it is worship of God. Your vows are between you and God alone. There is no one in between. It is all between Jesus and you.
Spend your time in prayer. If you pray you will have faith, and if you have faith you will naturally want to serve. The one who prays cannot but have faith, and when you have faith you want to put it into action. Faith in action is service. Faith in action becomes a delight because it gives you the opportunity of putting your love for Christ into action—--it is meeting Christ, serving Christ. (103)
37. You need especially to pray, for in our society, the work is only the fruit of prayer.. . our love in action. If you are really in love with Christ, no matter how small the work, it will be done better; it will be wholehearted. If your work is slapdash, then your love for God is slapdash. Your work must prove your love.
Prayer is the very life of oneness, of being one with Christ... Therefore, prayer is as necessary as the air, as the blood in our body, as anything to keep us alive—--to keep us alive to the grace of God. (103)
38. July 21,1963
It is impossible to engage in the apostolate without being a soul of prayer, without a conscious awareness of and submission to the divine will. We must be aware of our oneness with Christ, as He was aware of his oneness with his Father. Our activity is truly apostolic only in so far as we permit Him to work in and through us—--with his power, his desire, his love. We must become holy, not because we want to feel holy but because Christ must be able to live His life fully in us.
Prayer must come from the heart and must be able to touch the heart of God. See how Jesus taught his disciples to pray: Call God your Father; praise and glorify his name; do his will as the saints do it in heaven; ask for daily bread, spiritual and temporal; ask for forgiveness of your own sins and for the grace to forgive others; ask for the grace to resist temptations and for the final grace to be delivered from the evil which is in you and around you. (104)
39. Motherhouse, November 30, 1967
These words of Jesus, “Love one another, even as I have loved you,” should be not only a light to us, but they should also be a flame consuming the selfishness which prevents our growth in holiness. Jesus loved us to the end, “to the very limit of love, to the Cross.” This love must come from within—--from our union with Christ. It must be an outpouring of our love for God. Loving must be as normal to us as living and breathing, day after day until our death. To understand this and practice it we need much prayer, the kind that unites us with God and overflows continually upon others. Our works of charity are nothing but the overflow of our love of God from within. Therefore, the one who is most united to Him loves her neighbor most. (104)
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