The Three Ways of Praying
February 17, 1991 — Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent
It was at the Chapel of the Visitation in Nice that Monsignor Lefebvre celebrated on February 17, the first Sunday of Lent, his last Solemn Mass and delivered his last homily.
It is with great joy, great satisfaction that I find myself today in the midst of you in this admirable church of St. Claire, filled with so many memories. It so happens that Providence has chosen the first Sunday of Lent for me to be among you. So you will allow me to give you some advice to practice this Lent well, which is none other than the preparation for the beautiful feast of Easter. Make us participate in the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but first we must also participate in His Passion, His Redemption, His Sacrifice.
It is true that Lent is a time of penance and therefore we must make some effort to deprive ourselves of the usual pleasures, of eating, drinking and others, which it is good to deprive ourselves of from time to time to attach ourselves more to spiritual goods, forgetting a little the temporal goods to raise us towards the eternal goods. But even more than these penances, it pleases God that we practice his commandments. God created us to join Him one day. This path that leads us to Him through the few years that we spend here below is directed towards Him by His Law. His law is ultimately none other than the milestones that Our Lord laid down along our earthly path to reach Heaven, to arrive at heavenly happiness.
What are these commandments of God? Our Lord Himself took care to remind us of them and Saint Paul also repeats it to us. They consist simply of loving God and loving one’s neighbor. All of God’s commandments boil down to this. And insofar as we love God and our neighbor and we manifest it in our daily life, in our daily actions, we are moving peacefully towards the happiness of Heaven.
How can we show our love for the Good Lord in a particular way? I think the deepest, most essential way to show our love to God is to pray. We have all learned how to pray in our catechism, the small catechism of yesteryear, because unfortunately today’s catechisms have distorted everything and no longer define anything. But we, we keep the good definition of the time of yesteryear: “Prayer is an elevation of the soul towards God.”
It’s simple, it’s a small thing, but it’s a lot. Raising our souls to God. I think that if we practiced this definition of prayer more, “raising our souls to the Good God,” we would be less attached precisely to the goods of this earth and we would be more attached to God Himself and to heavenly goods.
Therefore, let us make an effort during this Lent, to pray better and to pray more.
And what are the ways of praying? What are the different kinds of prayers?
Well, there is vocal prayer: the one that you do here, during this Holy Mass, during the exercises that you do in common: the rosary that you were reciting just now. These are the vocal prayers by which you express your love to the Good God and by which you raise your soul to the Good God. It is therefore a prayer that we must greatly esteem and practice: particularly assistance at Mass and also when we can, recite our Rosary, pray to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, unite ourselves to Her, and all the practices of vocal prayer, all the devotions approved by the Church and which are those that all devout souls have done during their life, those souls who, having preceded us to Heaven, now sing the praises of the Good God in Heaven, particularly the Saints and the Saints.
The other way of praying is mental prayer. Mental prayer consists in raising one’s spirit towards the Good Lord by reflecting on the greatness of God, on his perfections, but without pronouncing external words. It is another form of prayer. And he who comes during the day to recollect himself near the Blessed Sacrament, near Our Lord, and who, without needing to utter a word, raises his soul to the Good God, submits to Him, thinks of Him, spends some time with Him, thus separating oneself from the cares of this world, from daily worries, to elevate one’s soul to the Good God, performs mental prayer. It is of course advised by the spiritual directors, by all the saints, by all those who have founded Orders. You know well that the good Poor Clares who were here before, behind these railings practice mental prayer for long periods of time. This is the case in all the Carmels, in all the religious congregations; and even the regulations of the clergy ask priests, men and women religious, to practice mental prayer. So it is good for the faithful also to imitate those who are particularly consecrated to the Good God and to practice this mental prayer. You can do it not only in a church, in a chapel, you can do it at home, in front of a statue of the Virgin, in front of a Crucifix, a small chapel that you set up in your house. We can very well pray to Our Lord and unite ourselves with the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, in His spirit.
There is a third kind of prayer, which is the essential, which is the most important: vocal prayer, mental prayer—the prayer of the heart.
What is the prayer of the heart? It is the one that interiorly expresses the love we have for the Good God, without even having any particular thoughts on such a subject, such a perfection of the Good God, such a manifestation of God’s charity towards us. But quite simply to love God, to express our love to the Good Lord. It looks a bit like a child in his mother’s arms, to what he can have in his heart for his mother and for his father. He is happy. He is in the arms of his father, of his mother. He doesn’t think of anything else. He thinks only of loving his parents. Well, we too should have this natural, deep, constant love for the Good Lord. And this prayer is most pleasing to the Good Lord, because it places us at his disposal. We offer ourselves by the same token, entirely to God. We offer our body, we offer our will, we offer our time and all that we are, to Him who created us, to Him who awaits us, to give us this heavenly happiness that He has prepared for us. And this is the best way not to sin anymore, at least not to sin anymore seriously. The one who really loves the Good God, somehow gives his being and all that he is during the day and all the time. This prayer of the heart can exist always, without stopping. Just as a child who loves his parents always loves them, with perfect continuity, we too should love the Good Lord in this way. And loving Him in this way, sin will no longer frighten us, because we will feel that disobedience to the Good Lord distances us from Him. So, if we really love Him, how can we want to both love Him with all our heart and at the same time displease Him and disobey Him? There is a case of contradiction. This is why the prayer of the heart is so important.
I ask you a lot during this Lent to put yourselves in the hands of God, to forget the things of this world a little, to attach yourselves to God. This is the first piece of advice I will give you about this realization of the Law of the Good God who asks us to love Him. The first table of the Law of Moses bore these three commandments for the Good Lord. The second table was the one that indicated the law of love of neighbor. How could we show our love for our neighbor? Certainly through the services we render to our neighbor in our families, in our profession, in our daily life, but we could also ask ourselves how we most frequently fail to love our neighbor.
For this, we must consult Saint James who, in the letter he wrote and which is recorded in Sacred Scripture, speaks to us of this little member that the Good Lord has given us and which is called the tongue. And he tells us: “It is with the tongue that we sing the praises of the Good God, but it is also with the tongue that we light the fire of iniquity and the fire of division.” And that is true.
So let us make a small effort to practice charity of speech and, by the same token, charity of thought. Thus, let us avoid rash judgments, slander, calumnies which are so easy and so tempting sometimes in conversations. Unfortunately, we like to criticize this, that; divide instead of unite, instead of practicing charity. Let us make an effort to manifest the love of our neighbor during this Lent by trying to avoid backbiting and slander, all these sins of the tongue. Here, my very dear brothers, is the advice that it seems good to me to give at the beginning of this Lent.
Let us ask the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the Child Jesus, that we may live as they lived in Nazareth. You have to think that the example that Our Lord has given us is absolutely remarkable. God Himself (for it is God who came down among us), what did he do during the thirty-three years of His life? Of these thirty-three years that He spent here below before ascending to Heaven, He remained thirty years in family life, except when, leaving his parents, He stayed behind in Jerusalem to teach the doctors of the Law. This is the only event that we know of during his childhood, of his adolescence. Until the age of thirty He practiced charity in the family. It is an admirable example that Our Lord has given us.
He therefore does not ask absolutely impossible things of us, only the practice of charity, the practice of charity towards God, towards our neighbor, as He Himself did in the family of Nazareth.
Let us ask the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph to help us practice this charity so that, with the grace of God, with the grace of the sacraments that we receive, we may move slowly towards the goal for which we are here below: one day share the happiness of Heaven with all those we love and who have left us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.