Thursday, July 10, 2003

Got Prayerbook?

I recently acquired an amazing book, Treasury of Prayer by Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik. To read about Fr. Lovasik, you can go to his autobiography at the Catholic Authors' website. (That site is a very worthwhile place. It has biographies and autobiographies of the men and women who've bequeathed literary treasures to the Church such as Antonia White, Sigrid Undset, Robert Hugh Benson, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and many others). Treasury of Prayer is aptly named; it's full of breathtaking and inspiring prayers from older days, when men seemed less abashed at the prospect of being overwhelmed with headlong, eloquent, and innocent love for Jesus, His Church, her Sacraments and His Saints. (The book's imprimatur was granted in 1952; the very idea that a book of Catholic prayers might require an imprimatur shows you how old it is). There are hundreds of prayers here -- aspirations, novenas, litanies, morning prayers, day prayers, evening prayers. There are prayers for the sacraments, particularly for the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

Fr. Lovasik's Treasury doesn't have any of those ponderous meditations that cumber older prayerbooks like tangles of overgrown hedges. The prayers he chose for the Treasury are as fresh and vivid as the day they were first offered to God. Included, for example, is a love-hymn by St. Teresa of the Child Jesus (a/k/a St. Therese of Lisieux), a perfect prayer for someone who's received the Eucharist:

Jesus, now You fill my heart to overflowing. My dear Saviour, repose in my heart, for it belongs to You. Only self-surrender places me in Your arms and lets me feed on the Bread of Love reserved for Your chosen ones.

Jesus, when I love You I love the Father, and my poor heart is united with Him. O Holy Trinity, You are the Prisoner of my love!

My Beloved, Supreme Beauty, You have given Yourself to me. I love You in return, my Saviour. Only make of my life one great act of love. I cannot receive You in Holy Communion as often as I wish, but, dear Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in my heart as in the Tabernacle, and never leave me.

Jesus, You are my peace, my happiness, my only love. My God, You know that I have desired nothing but to love You alone. I desire no other glory. I am weak and feeble, but it is my being like a child that makes me dare to offer myself as a sacrifice to Your love, my Jesus.

Give me a thousand hearts, that I may love You; but even these are not enough, O Supreme Beauty. Give me Your Sacred Heart itself with which to love You. May Your Heart preserve my innocence. I place my hope in You, O Lord, that after this life I may see You in Heaven.

Although You have the seraphim in Your heavenly court, yet You seek my love. You desire my heart. Jesus, I give it to You. I have no other way to prove my love for You but to throw flowers before You, that is, to let no sacrifice, word, or look escape; to draw profit from the smallest actions and to do them for love.

I love You, my Jesus, and I give myself to You forever. Give me the grace, O Lord, to live by love. You alone can satisfy my soul, for I must love You for all eternity.,

The grace that I especially ask, my Jesus, is never to offend You. I fear only one thing, my God, to do my own will. Then take it, for I choose all that You choose. My gifts are all unworthy, and so I offer You my very soul, most loving Saviour. I offer myself to You that You may perfectly accomplish in me Your holy designs. I will not allow anything created to hinder You from doing Your holy Will in me.

How many of us care enough, are brave enough, to bare ourselves so completely to anyone, let alone to our very own omniscient and divine lover? This is why Catholics love books of prayers. We always have, and always will, because the Lord has made us very wise about such things.

Christians of a certain culture hoot derisively at our affection for "meaningless, pre-packaged formulas that bounce off the ceiling" because they're not "free, open, and truly from the heart." If such Christians lived by their own standards, they'd burn their hymn-books and allow only impromptu whistling to accompany their worship. Complaints like these demand ignorance of a truth all lovers instinctively know: There's no shame in humbly joining another's words to one's own overwhelming, inarticulate desires. Our books of prayers are no different from the hymnals, organs or (may God give them grace to abjure it) electric-guitars and drumsets which can be variously found in Reformed churches. Like the hymns of old, the prayers of the saints help us bring our own deep longings into a more conscious, recognizable form. They make our faith visible to ourselves. They affirm the "venerable communion" that flows through all our loves for Him, both across time and within time. Like hand-holds left by earlier climbers to the same summit, the prayers of great lovers help us climb above our present state. They show us who we really are, and who we could more completely be.

Prayerbooks like Fr. Lovasik's should be found in every home, purse, briefcase, and glove-box. These gems of devotion may be prayed intensely, or read queitly as poetic essays on the glory and mystery of our lives in God's love -- that too, is prayer. There's no point to having such a book except faith in God and His Church, and so allowing one into your life is itself an act of faith in Him who makes us who we really are, and who we could more completely be. If you wish to acquire Fr. Lovasik's collection, you can do so at Roman Catholic Books. (I'm not too fond of all their offerings, but they've got the right stuff in this one) or from St. Joan of Arc Books.

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