I recently moved from my former parish, St. Francis de Sales, Lake Geneva, to Milwaukee, in order to begin my new responsibilities as auxiliary bishop. I made the move with the aid of some truly wonderful parishioners, who helped me pack, carried boxes and furniture, and transported me to my new home.
Many of the boxes that were moved were filled with books that I have read over the years. Some were books that I studied as a student, some were books that I assigned as a teacher in the seminary, and others were books that I acquired out of interest for certain subjects. As I unpacked the boxes and placed the books on the shelves, I was reminded of how important many of these works were in my own development as a Christian and as a priest.
There are three books that were particularly important for my spiritual growth. The first book is entitled Patterns of Prayer (New York: Paulist Press, 2003), written by Eugene McCaffrey, O.C.D. Fr. McCaffrey is a Carmelite priest and an experienced retreat leader. Patterns of Prayer is a book that is written to encourage the reader to pray and to persevere in prayer. A theme that runs through the book is that our prayer is always a response to God who is constantly reaching out to us. It is God who takes the initiative, and offers his love to us. Our prayer, whether praise, thanks or petition, is always a response to God’s self communication. Fr. McCaffrey writes, “Prayer is simple, but it is not easy.” Prayer is simple because it is a response to God, who loves each individual in a personal and unique way, but it is not easy because we tend to complicate it until it becomes something it was never intended to be. Fr. McCaffrey’s approach is intended to help the reader experience prayer as a real, authentic, sincere response to God’s initiative.
The second book is Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer (Ligouri, Missouri: Triumph Books, 1996) by Michael Casey, O.C.S.O. Fr. Casey is a Cistercian monk and the author of many books on spirituality. Fr. Casey draws from the masters of the spiritual tradition of the early Western Church in order to present a guidebook for those who find themselves on a quest for God. Within this book, Fr. Casey writes about pondering on the Word of God through a slow reading of Sacred Scripture followed by meditation — a way of prayer called lectio divina. He writes about creating space within our lives for meditation, including a regular time for prayer, achieving a level of emotional equilibrium and finding a suitable place for prayer. Above all, Fr. Casey emphasizes that prayer is a participation in the life of Jesus Christ, and it is in our relationship with Christ that we come to a fuller understanding of God and of ourselves.
The third book is Prayer: A Practical Guide (Chicago: ACTA Publications, 2002) by Martin Pable, O.F.M. Cap. Fr. Pable is a Capuchin priest, and a well known author, teacher and spiritual director. In this book, Fr. Pable sets out to explain the most popular forms of prayer in an easily understandable fashion. Within this book, Fr. Pable writes about traditional prayers, praying with the Scriptures, meditation and contemplation, individual and communal prayer, and praying the Mass. He writes in very practical terms about approaching prayer with sincerity, the need for forgiveness and healing and the importance of being attentive in prayer. At the end of each chapter of this book are thoughtful questions for reflection on our own experiences of prayer.
These and many other books on prayer and spirituality have served to inspire me to pray and to remind me as to how essential prayer is in the Christian life. To ask what we need of our loving God is to acknowledge that we depend on him for everything. To offer praise, thanksgiving and adoration is our response to God, who never ceases to reach out to us with love, care and divine mercy.