Praying for our loved ones with patience and perseverance becomes, over the years, a transformative exercise for us who are doing the praying. This is because we almost inevitably become sensitive to the ways in which we ourselves might hinder the very movements of the Spirit in our loved ones’ lives in our relationships with them, or simply by the day to day picture we are creating before their eyes by our being. The great convert of the 19th Century, John Henry Newman, has something challenging to say about this dynamic:
“The real love of man must depend on practice, and therefore, must begin by exercising itself on our friends around us, otherwise it will have no existence. By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our own hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.”
This quote by Newman is, in essence, what Elisabeth Leseur says in a multitude of ways in her Resolutions, which I have been slowly copying in my journal and pondering.
As I journal (which I hope many of you pray-ers do) and ponder, I feel as though the Lord is pouring into my mind and heart a single message lately, coming from a variety of sources; He is honoring my desire now, as I am approaching “three score and ten,” as Psalm 90 puts it, finally to love selflessly, wisely, without restraint, sacrificially and perseveringly, all those dear to me, and others He allows into my life on a daily basis. One cannot do this except day by day and hour by hour, in union with Him. And I mean a deep heart-to-heart union.
Because I am an idealistic and passionate person according to the temperament He has given me, if I do not deliberately practice loving in the way Newman describes it, I will die, like Alexander Pope, with “fierce indignation lacerating (my) heart.” There’s no doubt about it. And I believe there are many praying Christians with temperaments similar to mine. So this is why I believe it is of utmost importance not only to read what Newman says, but slowly to ponder each action he mentions and connect those actions with real life situations one is facing right now.
When we do this, and really practice loving in these difficult ways, the root of charity–of genuine love–deepens; and, at the same time, we begin to be more open to the powerful touches of God’s finger in our lives. A poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins affirms this in his own life:
Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost Thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel Thy finger and find Thee.