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bring them to perfection. Teach us, therefore, the . right means, point out to us the method and way by which we should begin.'
Thus must have thought that disciple who once drew near to the Lord and Teacher of mankind, and said, “Lord, teach us how to pray. (Luke xi.) We for thousands of years have in many ways endeavoured to pray, with words and gestures, with hymns and songs, with sacrifices and dances, with joy and with self-invented sufferings; and yet all our prayer has, for the greater part, been a fruitless labour, and without profit. Thou alone canst truly teach us how to pray; from Thee alone do we expect the right teaching." What was the occasion of this great and important petition ? The disciple had seen his Master whilst in prayer in distant solitude, and his spirit had been raised to high astonishment. What could he have seen that could have awakened so pleasing a wonder within him? How did he recognise in his Master the master also of prayer ?
What a view was that, full of enrapturing power, which called forth from his heart so wise and so pure a desire, which drew from him that suppliant petition, “Lord, teach us how to pray!”
In the history of Christian antiquity, it is told how once the blessed Francis, named the Seraphic, was upon Mount Alverno, and how his disciple Leo, the only one who dared to intrude upon his solitude, saw him standing before his cell during the moon-bright night with his eyes turned towards the heavens, and heard him frequently repeating these words : “Who art Thou, O Lord, my God; and who am I, Thy needy and lowly servant !
And when Leo had for a long time gazed, it appeared to him as if he saw a flaming light descending upon Francis, towards which the holy man thrice raised his hand. Fixed with astonishment, the disciple stood, and, as if afraid of further intrusion, wished to retire in silence; when Francis called to him, and said, "Leo, what dost thou wish ? dost thou come to listen to me?' He then approached nearer, praying for an explanation of the things which he had seen : Francis shewed himself willing to grant his prayer. When,' said he, thou didst hear me exclaim, “Who art Thou, O Lord, and who am I! I found myself surrounded with light ineffable, in which I beheld the fathomless depth of the goodness of God, and of my own poverty. Therefore did I exclaim, “Who art Thou, O Lord, the most wise, that in Thy power and in Thy mercy Thou shouldst visit me, a creature of this earth, without strength and without power r! Then there spoke to me a voice, which commanded me to make an offering to the Lord. And I answered, “Lord, I am wholly Thine; I possess nothing but this habit, and the cord by which it is girded ; even these are Thine : what, then, have I to give Thee? The heavens and the earth, fire and water, all things are Thine.' The voice then repeated, “Put thy hand into thy bosom, and what thou shalt find there bring forth.' I found there a golden coin of inexpressible splendour ; this I raised in my hand and offered. This was repeated three times. I understood that these three pieces of gold which were shewn to me emblemed humility, poverty, and purity of heart, which the Lord had given to me to preserve, that His holy name might be honoured.'
were the words which the blessed Francis daily addressed to God,—the breathings, the pulsations of this thinking, seeking, loving soul. For what is prayer but the sighing and longing of the created to the uncreated Being, in whom alone man can find his aim, his peace, and his glory, in whom alone he can find himself! In prayer such as this Francis lived and breathed; in this holy desire his whole life was glorified, for he had dedicated himself to humility, to poverty, and to purity, which virtues he most carefully guarded; and to whom shall it appear extraordinary or strange that these virtues were figured to him under the emblems of splendid pieces of gold ? for in the kingdom of the world gold is considered the most precious of metals, and is taken in exchange for every earthly possession ; and in the same manner an incomparably higher value is attributed to these virtues in the kingdom of grace. The humility of the mind of man, a clear and willing acknowledgment of his dependence, insures and preserves for him an intercourse with the Divine power and dignity; purity of heart opens to him the fulness of light and of truth ; poverty of spirit, or an elevation above the seeming goods of life, makes him capable of possessing a heavenly and eternal kingdom. And thus was Francis little and great, hidden and yet noble, needy and yet abounding.
But what is the servant when compared with his lord, and what is the disciple when compared with his Master, the only one to whom this name properly belongs ?
“ You call Me," said He to His disciples, Lord and Master; and you do well, for so I am.” He was a heavenly model, and the Mediator between God and men ; and whilst full of love towards them, He walked amongst men, to heal them, to teach them, and to form them; still was His intercourse most intimate and uninterrupted with God, whom even as man He called His Father, to whom, in every moment of time, He offered His whole being; that in humility the most profound, in entire poverty, and in continued selfdenial, He might perfect the great work of redemption. Although His life upon earth was, in this manner, an uninterrupted prayer, still did He learn to retire into the calmness of solitude, on the summits of mountains, to commune with His heavenly Father; and if any thing extraordinary was observed in Francis during the moments of his prayer, what must we think of Him who united in Himself an earthly and a celestial, a divine and human existence! It may, then, be easily understood why the disciple approached to Him with this earnest petition : “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Had he not seen Him perform many other acts far more splendid, and which might appear more worthy of imitation? Why did he not say, “Teach us to rule the elements, teach us to heal the sick and the infirm, teach us to walk upon the waves of the sea ?” Probably because he well knew that of all employments and operations which have been assigned to mortal men, there was none more exalted and dignified, none more necessary and more precious, than the exercise of prayer. Who will not stand astonished,' exclaims St. John Chrysostom; 'who will not admire the mild condescension of God, who permits us, even commands us, to speak to Him, and to lay open our desires before Him! He who does not seek, who does not love this discourse with God, is void of true life and of sound understanding. This is the most evident proof of a want of understanding, that man will not acknowledge the greatness of this honour, and that the neglect of prayer is the death of the soul.'
What does this golden-mouthed orator understand by true life? Certainly that intercourse of the created spirit with its Creator; for from the commerce of love all its beatitude flows. And what understanding is that which he calls sound ? That knowledge which the created spirit has acquired of its finitude and dependence, in which alone it can find the holy perfection of its being. But to the sacred orator there are opposed foolish men, who will not convince themselves of the high dignity and signification of prayer; and who place in this very fact the proof which they deem the most evident of their superior understanding. Of the objections and attacks with which they assail this ancient truth, which is grounded in the very soul of man, who is ignorant? "The eternal Father,' they say, is not like to the great ones of this earth, of whom the proverb tells, that we must pray to them. He does not, like to them, stand in need of our petitions and narrations, by which we, senselessly enough, would assist His omniscience, as with a Pro memoria.'
Do not these objections seem full of strength ? So let it be. Little as the Lord of the universe may be compared with the lords of the earth, He is still not only a great Lord, but a Lord to whom we must pray. Thus, at least, His apostle teaches : “Pray without ceasing; for this is the will of God in you all.” (1 Thess.
But if human logic would persuade us that the