The primacy of prayer over action
Speaking with God
“Of maximum usefulness in the Church of Jesus are not the so-called practical men nor even the pure proponents of theories, but the true contemplatives,” wrote Josemarìa Escrivà’s first successor, Monsigno Alvaro del Portillo, in the pages of the Osservatore Romano on June 23, 1985, the tenth anniversary of the founder’s death. The theme of contemplation – of that “frequenting” God which according to St. Josemarìa brings one, “to know him and to know oneself,” – was also the central theme in a homily by Monsignor Javier Echevarrìa, third prelate of Opus Dei, pronounced a few days ago in the Basilica of St. Eugenio in Rome, on the occasion of the diaconate ordination of 35 future priests.
There is a picture which is very dear to me which shows the three priests together in front of the little church of St. Dunstan in Canterbury in the summer of 1958: the intense gaze of Monsignor Escrivà, in the middle, which well expresses his character, and Don Alvaro and Don Javier who look us straight in the eyes; together they seem almost to anticipate that which, in great communion with Benedict XVI, says to us today with one voice: it is necessary to speak with God. “But of what?” asked Josemarìa Escrivà, cited by Monsignor Echevarrìa in his homily to the deacons. “Of what? Of Him, of you: joy, sadness, successes and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weakness!”
Those who experience how God in prayer, “is present and acts in the world and in our lives,” to use the words of Benedict XVI, will marvel at its effects: “We are,” said Monsignor Echevarrìa, “more calm and content, we are more attentive to serving others,” and “we carry out our work better.” This last aspect, that of, “improving the technical quality of work itself,” which derives from, “the presence of God in the working environment,” as already evidenced by Monsignor del Portillo in 1985, seems in need of re-discovery, even amongst those who call themselves believers.
The three priests seem to suggest that we need to attempt to create a virtuous circle: working always in the presence of God helps us to banish, “every inaccuracy, every superficiality, any carelessness or dilletantism,” and to transform work into an, “alive and concrete service to the living Body of Christ,” almost as a work to contemplate in order to be purified and go back to God and our brothers. “Contemplation,” continued Monsignor del Portillo, “modifies action anytime that it is not up to the personal dignity, or that superior dignity, of the children of God,” and makes it perfect whether it involves repetitive manual labor or refined intellectual work; in fact, “the only necessary thing is the instrument, however modest, which knows how to adapt itself to its end.”
It would be a crude error to ignore this teaching, especially in this historic moment. Faced with a frenzied and inhumane activism that is far from God, the true Christian way has always been shocking: the primacy of oration over action.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta offers us the key for better understanding this primacy: everything that she did, “right in the middle of the streets,” as St. Josemarìa would say, had a secret engine, ignited silently in the heart of the night: prayer in front of her Eucharistic Jesus. Who knows if even our nights, spent in this way, would not bring the dawn of a truly new and perhaps unexpected day.
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