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DON DIVO BARSOTTI

THE FOUR PRAYERS


 

Chapter I

The Shema

ecause of our Consecration, each of us for our life of prayer recites at the beginning of each day, the 'Hear, O Israel', the Lord's Prayer, St Francis' Lauds of God, and the Beatitudes, prayers which should begin all our days.

We need to understand why we ought to say these four prayers, in what sense these are a constant reminder, a precise indication of the journey to carry out because of the Consecration we have made.

They begin with the invitation to listen and to welcome the word of God which is written for us as a fundamental law of perfect love. They end with the proclamation of the Beatitudes which spring from the fulfilling of the law as it comes to be through the Christian life: at the end of the journey of our present life peace awaits us, the joy of God, which is Paradise.

The four prayers follow the sequence in which the right places are placed in terms of this journey: we recall that the distance between us and God is infinite; yet, there is no journey except what God has established, joining us through the Incarnation, and this is the same road which we must take to him.

{THE 'SHEMA'

ear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. These precepts I give to you this day, you shall fix in your heart, you shall repeat them to your sons and daughters, you shall speak of them when you are seated in your home, when you walk in the way, when you go to bed and when you get up. You shall bind them to your hand as a sign, they shall be to you as a fringe about your eyes and you shall write them on the doorposts of your home and upon the gates of your city . (Deuteronomy 6.4-9, Leviticus 19.18, Matthew 22.37-39, Mark 12.28-34, Luke 10.25-28.)

The first prayer, Hear, O Israel, relates to obedience. In fact, how can we obey God's will without first learning it? And how can we learn it without being willing to listen with faith, humility, in silence, in contemplation. Our Lord, as a religious Jew, said this prayer every day, even three times a day; we only say it once at the beginning of the day.

God bows down to me to communicate his life to me. Perhaps we have not even once realized this mystery, this omnipotence of love! God does not live in us in discreet moments, but in the eternity of his gift, and we in each instant ought to welcome and live God's eternity. Given the impossibility of our giving to God total and continuous attention, this prayer at the beginning of each new day recalls us to that contemplation, to that attention which is never lazy for it involves all our powers: intelligence, memory, will, emotions, feelings.

'You shall love . . . ': the future indicates the prolonging of the Incarnation of the Word, that is of love, in us who ask for an unlimited time, all our life and more. Basically, the precepts the Lord repeats to us at the beginning of each day are one alone: you shall love your God and your neighbour. (In the selection from Deuteronomy 6.4-9, a precept from Leviticus 19.18 has been inserted, ' You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. This in fact Jesus did, as given in Matthew 22.37-39, Mark 12.28-34, Luke 10.25-28.

The adjective 'all', repeated three times, expresses the infinite requirement of God who desires of us an absolute gift whether of time whether of activity, in our family, in society, in political life. There should remain no empty space in our personal life and that in relation to others: all our life should be the realization of God in an exclusive love, so total that it consumes our life through him.

'The verses of Deuteronomy 6.4-9 came to be written by Jews on parchment, enclosed in a container of wood or metal and bound on the forehead and on the back of the hand (these are the phylacteries which Mathew names in his Gospel: 25.5); they also came to be placed on the doorposts of houses at the height of a man' (Bibbia di Civilta` cattolica). For us the precepts bound to the hand can indicate that our work should always turn to God in the activity of our mind, which is the greatest power we have. The precepts inserted on the doorposts - and precisely at the height of a man - serve to give all our social and political actions a decidedly religious direction.

Chapter II

The Lord's Prayer

The image that we use of St Sergius praying in the orans position, his hands and arms full of Pentecostal flames, comes from a story of a disciple in the desert asking a monk how to pray. 'Pray', said the monk, 'until your fingers become flames'. And the disciple looked and saw each finger of the old monk's hands in flames. From the Desert Fathers.

The Lord's Prayer is the reply of the soul that has listened. In the Comunity's prayers it is recited chorally, while Hear, O Israel - which is right because it is about listening - is said only by the leader.

{THE LORD'S PRAYER, THE 'OUR FATHER'

The Lord's Prayer is the prayer which distinguishes the Christian according to a programme actually given by Christ himself. But it is also the prayer par excellence for each consecrated soul, to whom it shows how to achieve the divine will, and adds to that both for the beginner and for the one who has reached a certain perfection.

Christians recited the Lord's Prayer even before it was canonized by St Matthew in the form we have it in his Gospel. The identity of the form (making exceptions for minimal variants) witnesses to the fidelity of the tradition which next brought it to this Gospel. This prayer is so complete and inexhaustible that the Church has made it her own: in fact, it is recited once during Mass and twice during the Liturgy of the Hours (at Lauds, Morning Prayer, and at Vespers, Evening Prayer) and the Community also recommends it at the beginning of the day, immediately after Hear, O Israel . The Didache notes in its eighth chapter that it should be 'prayed three times a day'.

But it is not enough to recite it: we must live it and that is much more difficult. After listening it is not enough that we ask God that he help us go out on the same street following him by his descending to us. He speaks to us and gives us a law, but it would be presumptious on our part to believe that obedience to this divine law would be our work. The will which he manifests to us is God himself and God is love.

It does not treat, therefore, of immediate action, but of prayer because through prayer all is granted and the realization of divine will is impossible without the grace which comes to be given to us to the measure that we pray. It treats, rather, of a prayer of request: all that is asked in the Lord's Prayer tends in fact to achieve God, following his will.

The Lord's Prayer is composed of six requests: the first three invite us to live as sons and daughters the divine life; the other three help us to place ourselves in the condition of realizing the first, which logically ought to come after. It would be a good practice to meditate on one each of the days of the week, because it is impossible to achieve this all at one time. One could suggest a scheme for us with the practical translations of various themes, reminding ourselves that these are not drawn from one commentary alone: all the greatest Church Fathers, Doctors and Saints have written one; there is therefore an embarrasment of riches to choose from and who wishes can read more fully and in more detail.

- Our Father who art in Heaven: the passage from the slavery of the Old Testament to the filial adoption of the Messianic era. Of one's personal relation to the ecclesiastic and monastic community. God's infinite transcendence (Heaven).

- Hallowed be thy Name: to overcome all human limitations, deepening in solitude and in silence in order to lose oneself in his light. Make it so that the holiness of God be truly seen through our life with which we ought to give witness to the holiness of God, holiness which ought to transform us if we wish our witness to be credible.

- Thy Kingdom Come: In two Beatitudes the use of the present tense: 'Because of these is the Kingdom of Heaven' underlines that the realizing of the Kingdom is about our moment in time, today, and that it is not to be left until after our death. ' The Kingdom of God'- Jesus said -' is in your midst' (Luke 17.21). 'The kingdom is the presence of God. This kingdom has begun to be achieved through Jesus and is hidden, even though active, amidst us' (Bibbia liturgica, Edizioni Paoline, p. 1257).

To us remains only accepting him whether within ourselves, righting the balance of our powers, disturbed by sin, or whether through our means, reshaping that unity through work, prayer and above all through suffering, the price to give for our salvation and for that of the whole world. In fact, the Kingdom requires our presence not as single individuals, but as the Church and as a monastic Family. If we do not shape this holy kingdom how, we will no longer have a part in it, least of all after our deaths.

- Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. This request is exactly as is given in Chapter 8, Part II, of the book from which these chapters are taken (La Vita Religiosa nella Comunita` dei figli di Dio: Pagine tratte dalle meditazioni del padre fondatore don Divo Barsotti per la formazione, ed. Jolanda Pifferi.)

- Give us today our daily bread. The words of the Our Father are of great simplicity and transparency, but also of infinite profundity. The word of God turn to us, always considering our needs: body, soul and spirit; because bread nourishes the body, but is also the word of God which feeds the soul and readies it for receiving grace, spiritual life. Already in one of the first books of the Bible this double value of the food which we need is found: 'The Lord your God . . . tested you with hunger, then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers ever know, to make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by whatever comes from the mouth of the Lord' (Deuteronomy 8.3). Jesus says more clearly 'I am the bread of life . . . the living bread, come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread shall live in eternity ' (John 6.48, 51).

In the Lord's Prayer we request both food, clothing, work, the satisfaction of all human needs, and the nourishing of the soul which is the word of God, the carrying out of his will, that our suffering in all circumstances be adapted to make us meet the Lord. Jesus said: 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to fulfil his work' (John 4.34); and to the devil, who tempted him in the desert, he replied with the same words from Deuteronomy given above (Matthew 4.4).

Let us accept then as food for the soul all that is pleasing and displeasing during the day that he will give us.

- Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us . The debt is not to be identified with the sin, but with its consequences. We can never repay adequately for an offense against divine justice requiring a reparation of infinite value. God alone can cancel our debt, because Jesus has paid for all. Like the Lord in the parable (Matthew 18.23-35) cancelling the debt of the Servant which he had run up of ten thousand talents, which is an exorbitant sum, so we ought to recall that divine mercy which requires of us a similar consideration towards those who owe us something, a consideration that guarantees a concrete recognition of our misery and of our openness to love which is one: of God and our neighbour.

This request means accepting God's love and letting it pour out from us on all his creatures.

- And lead us not into temptation, but free us from evil. God permits trials and tribulations, contradictions, difficulties, humiliations which assail us from every side and which can do us great good if we can accept them as the means for purificaiton and of sanctification. We cannot pretend to be saved while our earthly pilgrimage is being carried out, but we ought to await the necessary strength and grace from God to confront and transform these in deepening the spiritual life.

The request is this: make it so that we are not overcome in the testing of our scanty faith and to free us from the evil which rules in the world in which we still remain. The world can reveal and conceal God: the danger to us is of becoming closed up in things that attract by their beauty and which therefore cease to be the means for guiding us to him.

Chapter III

St Francis ' Lauds of God


 

o be able to recite the third prayer with the greatest closeness to its spirit it is best to know its origin and to contemplate its content.

St Francis in 1224 found himself on the holy mountain of La Verna together with his favorite brother, Leo. Leo, gravely tormented in spirit, wanted some words written in Francis' hand, convinced that these would help him overcome his temptations: but he did not dare confide this desire in his father, who nevertheless was inspired to write them.

Thomas of Celano tells us: 'In fact one day the Blessed Francis called him and said, "Bring me parchment and ink, because I want to write the words of God and his praises which I have meditated in my heart". Thus came about the thing requested, written in his hand, the Lauds of God and the words which he had in his spirit and at the end the blessing for the brother, and he said, "Take this little document and guard it with care until the day you die".

'Immediately all his temptation ceased; and the parchment was preserved, bringing about miracles' (Thomas of Celano, Vita II di san Francesco).

Brother Leo kept the miraculous writing until his death, which came about in 1271, carrying it always about himself, then, as a sacred relic, it came to be treasured in the Basilica of St Francis, in Assisi, though it is now much faded and decayed. But with the help of sophisticated scientific equipment at our disposal today, one can obtain a reading of the document that is much more faithful to the original.

The Lauds of God in the Highest contained in the 'chartula' - or little document - are the testimony of an intense interior life that we ought truly to propose as a programme for monastic life. We first of all gain the impression of a collection of expressions, but the perfections and the attributes, all positive, with which Francis exalts and praises God, reveal the conscious knowledge he has of him. The repetition of words can delude by their monotony: in reality the poverty of language witnesses to an inexpressible, incommunicable experience of God through pure concepts.

His other writings are more or less legislative or exhortive; the Lauds instead are the gift he has made for Brother Leo - and to us his sons and daughters - of what he had most intimately: his prayer, his witnessing of his experience of God. He puts it in the relation of love lived with God and he cannot give us a thing that is more precious than this communion of life.

The Lauds are the highest expression of Francis' interior life, the witness of a perfection joined to his identification with Christ, fulfilled at La Verna after receiving the Stigmata. He then lived the pure praise of the angels and of the saints in heaven, joined to that pure transparency through which all of God was reflected in him: he praises God because God lives in him. The soul, based in divine perfection, has no more need to ask for anything!

{THE PRAISES, THE LAUDS, OF GOD

This prayer can be divided in two parts: the first as an introduction and the second giving us the testimony of the interior life of the one who prays.

In the first part Francis contemplates God who lives, who works, God who in creation manifests all his greatness, all his power, his love. Through the values of the created world, which he recovers, St Francis rises to the Creator and contemplates his Omnipotence: 'Tu sei forte, You are strong' ; his greatness 'Tu sei grande , You are great '; his transcendence: 'Tu sei Altissimo , You are the Highest ', a typical term St Francis uses in preference to all others to distinguish God. God is above all that he has achieved. With the Doxology: 'Tu sei il bene, tutto il bene, il sommo bene, il Dio vivo e vero, You are the good, all the good, the greatest good, God living and true ', he concludes the first part.

The true Lauds of God begin now with Francis drawing away somewhat from the created world, contemplates another creation: what God has fulfilled in his inmost being and the Lauds become therefore, now, more original, more authentically his and also more rich and more full. In fact, one praises God through what each one is and the praise of Fracis is the testimony of his life: he knows God not through what he is but through what God works in him.

As in a lyric impetus the saint detaches himself from the introduction and follows the Lauds in a crescendo of admiration and of fervour as in an explained chant, while he repeats himself incessantly, above all the word 'Tu, you', keeping the poem living, real, a passionate personal relation of love. (In just fifteen lines are thirty-one 'Tu'!). While remaining distinct from God, the saint loses in some way any consciousness of himself; he now longer sees himself, but God only, God who is his life eternal.

'Tu sei carita, Tu sei amore / You are Charity, You are Love '. Charity is the active love of God which flows out from himself, overflowing infinitely into creation and comunicating itself to us. It is love, agape, free and provident and just for this end, that lifts the torpor of the mind, which, feeling itself loved without reason, remains suspended in a boundless admiration before the mystery that transcends it. Such love sustains in us the desire, erotic love and is God himself who, making our response out of love, achieves our ascension to God, in a desire which impels us and consumes us without end to the complete destruction of self. It is an infinite desire, because even God, who is the object of our desire, is infinite. Thus, charity, the love of God is the overflowing of an infinite mercy into the abyss of creation; the love of God on our part is a desire, a passion which consumes. That is the difference between the two terms used by St Francis.

'Tu sei sapienza/ You are Wisdom'. The wisdom in St Francis is God who makes himself known to us, is God in how much he is known. It is the taste of God. God cannot any more be the object of contemplation, but now fills us and transforms us and our life becomes simple and supreme sweetness.

'Tu sei umilta`/ You are Humility'. God's humility is very different from ours: he makes himself humble out of love; we instead, ought to be humble because of the force of the truth, recognizing our nothingness in relation to God. Humility in Frances - and here is a great novelty, a marvellous discovery - it is the same revelation of love. God is love and love cannot but be humble. God loves us with the greatest discretion, staying to one side, half hidden. The greatest miracle is that all remains common and ordinary in our lives, even when he pervades all. Enough to consider the sacred elements of the Eucharist! He loves us and we cannot even recognize this, ourselves forgetting him, remaining indifferent to his love. He lets us live our lives as if nothing were happening, with a timid love. This explains the fact that he wants from us not a forced love, but one that is true, free, spontaneous, conscious.

And Francis contemplates the humility of Christ as the supreme expression of love not only towards the Father, but also towards us, whom he is ordained to save: he has said himself he came amongst his own as one who serves. Francis recognized and contemplated the humility of Christ in the nativity at Greccio, in the Passion and above all in the Eucharist. Who loves directs himself to the other and to this door of total forgetting of self in love in order to no longer live except in the beloved. Poverty frees the soul so it can love, but humility is the proof itself of that love.

'Tu sei pazienza/ You are Patience'. We need to go back to the Latin etymology to understand the meaning of the term 'Patience' exactly. The word 'pati' would be to say, to suffer, to endure, to undergo, to permit, to submit with patience and God reveals himself to Francis in the abyss of his own most profound humility in which he suffers on behalf of humankind. God reveals himself in Christ as Patience not only because, being eternal, he waits to punish us (while we feel that time flies inexorably when impatient), but also because he awaits our conversion. And Christ is patient not only because he suffers, but because he wills freely to take upon himself our sins. In his imitation Francis will exclaim - according to the narration in the Fioretti - that 'the perfect joy' will be in being driven out, dripping with rain, afflicted with cold, hungry, beaten. The greatest gift of the Holy Spirit is to 'overcome onself and willingly for the love of Christ sustain punishment, injury and scorn and tribulation' (Chapter VIII).

'Tu sei bellezza/ You are Beauty'. Beauty is the splendour not only of truth, but also of goodness; it is the truth which reveals itself and shines out; it is the good which overcomes and which flows over and penetrates all sorts of human activity. Francis, poet himself, has given a new expression to poetry and to painting: from him artists have learned to see what is created with new eyes and Christians have discovered the face of God in the beauty of the world. With him is born, therefore, a new vision of all life, the Church renews itself and thus even secular life and art which, in relation with the revelation of God, always has a religious dimension. Thirteenth-century culture is born from Franciscan spirituality with a simplicity, a freedom, a spontaneity that we today no longer are able to feel or to express. It is especially the saints who manifest the true beauty of God.

'Tu sei ogni sufficiente ricchezza / You are every sufficient richness '. The richness of Francis is God whom he possess in such a full and profound way from having exhausted in him the desire for all other things. Thus he now possesses the entire universe and without becoming a slave to things, can rejoice in beauty right at its source. His poverty does not have an ascetic quality, but is the sign of the highest mystical experience: it is the sign of God's presence which fills him totally to the point that his interior joy pours out even in his body and throughout his being - radiating through the world - and the creatures receive richness from his joy.

In the last part of the Lauds of God these succeed in an incessant rhythm, passionate, without any logical order and God - in the original document - is known as Security, Peace, Joy, Happiness, Justice, Temperance . . . It seems the flooding of a river which has broken its banks: Francis' soul is overwhelmed by the love of God, and the multiplying of terms which he applies to him is as a mystic stammering that makes him like one drunk with love, who has no direction and no longer any control.

'Tu sei protettore. Tu sei il custode e il difensore nostro. Tu sei fortezza. Tu sei rifugio/ You are our Protector, Keeper, Defender, Strength, Refuge '. Now the expressions become concrete; Francis' mystical experience, while remaining high, reveals a new dimension: of human tenderness: he feels himself to be nothing, but living in the sense of his human fragility, of his own powerlessness in the trusting abandonment to the love of God who defends him and protects him. In his spirituality that relation always rules.

To this ecstasy now a sense of repose enters and it is as if Francis becomes conscious again of himself, wakening from the trance, seeing fully how all his interior life is the exercise of the theological virtues.

'Tu nostra fede, tu nostra speranza. Tu sei la grande dolcezza nostra/ You, our Faith, you, our Hope, You are our greatest Sweetness '. Francis' soul fills the woods with sobs, not knowing how to contain within himself the sweetness with which he is filled. And this great sweetness is already the eternal life.

'Grande e ammirabile Signore, Dio onnipotente, misericordioso Salvatore/ Great and Admirable Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Saviour '. The Lauds of God with a circular construction comes to its conclusion just as it had began: the saint had returned fully to himself, but he does not see in himself that work of infinite mercy, through which God manifests his omnipotence, his healing, descending into the abyss of human misery to fill this infinite abyss with his love. The 'chartula' concludes with the name 'Saviour', which is precisely the name of God made man for us. Jesus, God Saves.

Our identification with Christ, our oneing to the Son of God, who is the praise of the Father, means for Francis to enter into a sacred conversation between the Father and the Son, through the Son and the Father. Reciting, then, this prayer we enter the Trinity's mystery, in this abyss of light in which the human creature realizes now our beatitude.

To have given to Brother Leo, to us and to all the Church the 'chartula', was not a violation of the intimacy of the saint's mystic experience; St Francis still gives it to us to communicate to us his same spirit, to have us live his same life.

The Frick Collection and Art Reference Library, New York, now owns the Giovanni Bellini, St Francis in Ecstasy

The scrap of paper, the chartula , shown in the painting at Francis' waist is this prayer and blessing St Francis wrote for Brother Leo.

Chapter IV

The Beatitudes


or this the Lauds of God and the Beatitudes ought to be said together: to praise God, we need to have listened to him and then prayed so that he gives us the grace to fulfil what the Lord wants of us. The Beatitudes anticipate now in our present lives, through certain conditions (poverty, humility, purity of heart, mercy) a spiritual perfection that cannot be separated from joy, from the sense of fullness, from the beautitudes which fill our hearts, our spirit and all our created being.

It is the 'perfect happiness' of St Francis that for us, while still living here below, is expressed in the following words written by St Francis: 'So, if I could be patient and not be disturbed, I say to you that this is the true virtue and salvation of the soul'.

Beatitude is the final end of holiness: the saints are blessed with the same holiness they receive from God and we, participating in this divine beatitude, rejoice in the same joy of the saints.

The Beatitudes are found at the threshold of the New Testament: St Matthew, according to the Biblical order the first Evangelist, begins Jesus' own preaching with the Beatitudes, taking these as the essential foundation to the Good News.

The Beatitudes, but these are not new - ; they are, in fact, found in all the texts of the Old Testament, which reveal the possiiblities of life, of blessings, of beatitudes only in relation to God through obedience to his law. The whole story of Israel, turning to hear the divine word, receives the gift of life that descends from God himself and makes him blessed. This beatitude, united with the observance of the law, is the great promise God made to Israel.

The Psalms begin, ' Blessed is the man who does not follow the counsel of the wicked ' (1). Later we read in Psalm 83:

Blessed is the one dwelling in your house, always singing your praise!

Blessed the one who finds in you strength, and who chooses in their heart the holy pilgrimage. (83.5-6)

And again (118):

Blessed is the man with integrity, who walks in the law of the Lord.

Blessed is the man who is faithful to his teaching, and who search for him in his heart. (118.1-2)

The author of Proverbs exclaims, 'Blessed is the man who has found wisdom ' (3.2.), and Isaiah, 'Blessed are those who hope in God' (30.18).

The term, 'blessed, happy', is thus often used in the Bible (more than 50 times): it is found in rabbinical literature and even in Hellenistic texts. Jesus thus draws them from an ancient Biblical tradition, represented especially in the Psalms, continuing through the intermediate years and taken up again and spiritualized in the New Testament through the Apocalypse who own ending contains two of the seven Beatitudes.

The supreme fruit of Christianity is the message of joy, because that brings us the gift of life eternal, which is the Son of God, which is the Beatitude. This, however, is also the warranty that we will live a Christian life and that we are open and ready to accept the word of God.

We have no criteria for judging God's actions in us, but God, to guarantee the authenticity of his encounter with us, gives us this same beatitude. From this come the reversal of interpretation: we are not blessed because we are poor, humble, beaten, persecuted, but rather we become poor, humble, beaten, persecuted, pure of heart, etc., because we have discovered a supreme value which surpasses all the others. The Beatitude is the sign with which we can know the divine action in us because it is impossible to know God directly: the Beatitude is the imprint of God in our life and the Beatitude of God is without limit because it springs up within one's depths and has no other boundary apart from ourselves. It is the joy that none can take from us - as wrote John in his Gospel (16.23) - because its roots are in the depths of our heart and not in the world.

When God begins to possess you, you strip yourself of all things that are not him: on the other hand, he cannot possess you if you in welcoming him do not free yourself from all things and do not stretch to other than human limits. The initiative is always and exclusively God, but also we ought to do something: if nothing else than to consent to his action and then we will know more where will be begin our poverty and where will begin the Beatitude.

As faith is the beginning of vision so is grace the beginning of beatitude and cannot happen to the true Christian without the experience of joy. The Beatitudes are the essential evangelical rule for attaining perfection; this can be well understood because through our consecration we ought to measure it out each day as the rule of monastic life. This cannot be expressed as a law: it lacks a judicial quality, but it simply indicates where to find true joy.

The Beatitudes are read in the Gospel of St Matthew and in that of St Luke though there it only presents four of these in the most authentic and personal form regarding its hearers: it uses, in fact, the second person as a direct reference 'Blessed are you poor' (6.20). Tho ones we recite each day are taken from St Matthew (5.3-12) which, recomposed from the foundation of Christ's teaching, are eight - the ninth is a repetition -. He, using an impersonal form, gives to these a more ample audience; in fact, no one can feel excluded from the various conditions which these make present.

Even the number eight has its importance as does seven, forty, twelve. It is enough to record that the Resurrection came about on the eighth day, the first of the week: the beginning and the end coincide and form a circle which represents eternity. Also the number eight signifies fulness. The doctrinal greatness of this page of the Gospel of St Matthew can be understood when placed aside two others in Sacred Scripture which record the greatest act of the religious history of the world: that of the creation and that of the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

'The crowd' follows Jesus, but the disciples are nearest to him who therefore take up his word first of those who followed him, abandoning all things. What is given by Jesus is not, therefore, an abstract law, because it is directed to particular persons, but the promised Beatitude requires as essential condition for the followers of Christ: poverty, affliction and the other virtues which are the consequence of this.

The Beatitudes have a solemn introduction: 'Jesus . . . then taking the word, taught them, saying . . . ' And this is a semitic expression which usually introduces a particularly important discourse and one of notable length.

{ THE BEATITUDES

The first Beatitude: is tied to monastic poverty, discussed elsewhere. Here we need only to note that St Matthew joins 'in spirit', making the affirmation of Luke more spiritual and universal; poverty is not that determined by social, economic, geographi conditions, but acquires an acceptance that is much more far-raching. Even to weeping, to suffering, Matthew gives a new human dimension, without excluding the suffering of the spirit. In fact the Greek expression of St Luke refers rather to sorrow on the physical level: illness, adversity, social anguish: ' Blessed are you who weep now, because you will laugh ' (6.21). Instead St Matthew gives to the expression a much broader meaning: not only the knowledge of the human situation, but also the sorrow of one's own sin, of the opposition to God which requires a total conversion. The affliction comes to us also from the world which refuses God and which blocks with its perverse actions the realization of the kingdom. Meekness and humility are two complementary virtues that even the Old Testament recognizes and exalts in Moses (Numbers 12,3). The Psalmist sings: Possessing the land does not imply for the disciples a material conquest, a holy war, but the control of all that is not of God. From this comes a peace which is an inestimable good especially for the soul. The land is a Messianic term that refers to the Promised Land, to Heaven. Humility by itself can mean something purely passive or negative; instead with its gentleness it can acquire its monastic virtue. Christianity insisted on this virtue in the first centuries and on these placed the foundation of monastic life, to which it linked obedience. Isaiah, predicting the joy of the return to the land of Israel after the long exile, exclaimed: Without excluding a spiritual sense, he pronounced a physical relief. But the Beatitude specifies 'hunger and thirst of justice'. Here the passage on the spiritual plane is made manifest.

In the Apocalypse (7.16-17) one contemplates the full realization of this Beatitude: with the same words as Isaiah used, St John decidedly places the satisfaction for this hunger and this thirst at God's throne. Here there is no need to specify what hunger and what thirst is meant because there can arise no doubt regarding the soul no longer subject to physical need. The future of the verb, deriving from Isaiah, could express the eternity of this fullness other than in Christian life, considered as love and therefore desire, road, promise, progress and becoming in contact with time. While the poverty, the humility, the pity, the purity can be harmonised with stability, the hunger instead is a sharpness which pricks and the hunger for justice, the desire of God, is the coiling spring of our life here below on earth, the desire which thrusts and which does not leave us in peace until we have reaching the object of our desire, God. Enough to have tasted God, because the soul becomes insatiably hungry for him and no other food satisfies him. We need to be souls of desire because God gives to the measure that we hope and Christian hope - so it is said - is the reciprocal efficacious desire of God.

But what precisely is this justice. Justice whether in the Old or the New Testament is identified with holiness. Divine justice is love face to face with us and is the positive value of divine holiness. Recognising humankind as sinful, Christ pardons us: this is his judgment. Therefore our hunger and thirst for justice is hunger and thirst for holiness, because, willy nilly, in the religious sense or the lay, all advance toward the perfection of life, the perfection conditioned by our nature. We are therefore blessed to the measure that we aspire to this perfection, realizing in ourselves this divine design and God responds to this hunger feeding and fulfilling it at the same time. God gives to the measure that we are hungry; this corresponds from empty to full, from nothing to all.

But, justice is not exclusively our interior perfection; it is even a certain social justice, because here is a holiness even in contact with us, that is, an ideal of holiness followed by all the Old Testament and on which is based the unity of the people of Israel. We, in fact, cannot live and realize ourselves outside of our social context.

The term, 'justice', is characteristic of the first Evangelist and would espress the new and radical faith to the 'will' of God, that Jesus has come to preach to us and that he lives through the first: - Thus I say to you: if your justice is not superior to that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven - (5.20; St Cyprian, Convocati dalla Parola).

Matthew refers to these words shortly after the proclamation of the Beatitudes. If one thinks of the scrupolosity with which the Hebrews observe even the least prescription of the Law, one can understand that the excessive request of Jesus is not about the quantity but the quality; that is, the exterior, formal observation should give way rather to an adhesion of the mind and the conscience to the will of God, in such a way as to realize the holiness itself of God, a love without limit.

It is evident that the unity of humankind is shattered by only legally observing the Law, because that exterior task does not involve the whole person and the other part, which is spiritual, can go where it will!

This Beatitude recalls the request of the Lord's Prayer: 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us '. This teaches us that divine life is a mysterious river of love that passes from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father, recalling us there to the mystery of the Trinity. Through the filial adoption we are inserted into this mystery with the difference that, while the love of the Father and the Son and of the Son and the Father is natural, necessary, eternal, that which God has for us, the love of mercy is there before us and comes free, as a gift, in our poverty. It is not a love amongst equals, but towards one who is not.

And to make it so God became like ourselves: poor, hungry, naked, in prison . . . We can return this love of mercy to God only through our brothers and sisters in whom he is made present and this love of mercy makes possible the circling of divine love of ourselves to God and God to ourselves; in this act of love it is always God who lives in us and we give him to the others and to God himself. It is not any longer the circulation of God in the bosom of the Trinity; now it travels through the abyss of human misery and fills it. And the abyss can never be filled, neither with our works nor with our virtues; the abyss remains gaping ever more avidly the more we give to it.

Therefore, do not hinder this divine circulation of life through us who become the channels of its communication. We already possess God to the measure that we are merciful and the more we work at being that the greater grows our capacity to love. This mercy given to others reveals that we possess love and, being loved, we permit that upon all and upon all overflows the love of God like a wave luminous with light, like inexhaustible fullness of life.

But we do not need to distinguish too much from one Beatitude and the other which are all aspects of the one holiness of God. John Paul II in his encyclical letter 'Dives in Mercy' affirms that through mercy and justice there is a 'fundamental link, to which all Biblical traditions and above all the Messianic mission of Jesus Christ speaks. Authentic mercy is, so to say, the most deep fountain of justice. If this last is by itself worthy to 'arbitrate' between ourselves in the reciprocal sharing of objective goods according to the fair measure, love, instead, and only love (even that benign love which is called 'mercy'), is capable of redeeming us to ourselves' (14).

One understands, then, how the Psalmist can invoke divine justice which is, fundamentally, mercy.

Purity of heart is the readiness of the soul, in humility, in simplicity and in faith, to recognize in the signs the presence of God and to welcome him in ourselves. God is with us on all sides, lives beside us, is made present with every divine grace: prayer, meditation, the events of our life; but the soul does not always have that readiness and that delicacy to know and to respond to the One who calls it.

It is often said that the signs reveal and conceal God: he, in fact, reveals himself hiddenly and hides himself revealingly. It is always so: what for one is the occasion for an encounter with the Lord, for another remains an insignificant circumstance. And it is not true that the greatest signs result in more grace: often the most common and humble events can bring the greatest transformation within us. Only a great interior purity permits us to judge whether in a word that is heard, in an event, in a person met at some moment in our life, it is truly God who speaks to us.

God requires of us that interior disposition of openness and of sensibility to him, so that grace can come; and we could refuse this without paying heed, profering some excuse. We ought to be prepared for his coming and not defend ourselves from him; being prepared to welcome him in each moment and in whatever occasion. That delicacy of the soul, of living faith, that purity of heart, requires of the heart this encounter with God that comes about always in new ways, unusual ways, and which we would never have imagined! He never repeats himself and comes always unexpectedly: It is just because his manifestations are so surprising that we recognize his presence! But we ought not to doubt that he is found in us in dryness, even in the neighbour who harms us, even in the heaviest tasks of our day. If he presents himself with evidence, our faith would not have any merit.

We need an interior youthfulness to live these meetings with God, to see him with the eyes of the spirit in a marvellous game of love in which he hides himself to increase our faith and so can be able to give even more; and he reveals himself more through the most improbable concealments and the most unusual ways. In the spiritual life the highest things are always the most simple: God does not ask great things of us, but only that we transcend our feelings, events, people and above all our awareness of all things impeding our adhering to God in the moment in which he makes himself present.

This Beatitude ought to help us to realize the mystery of the divine adoption upon which our spirituality is fundamentally based. To be workers of peace is to say to adopt ourselves to recovering that unity which sin has broken so profoundly. First of all peace, and thus unity, ought to be recovered in us, between the human of flesh and of spirit, as said St Paul in the Epistle to the Romans (7.14-25). And that would be possible if at the same time we renewed our contact with God, a relation of love, as child, as spouse, conforming ourselves completely to his will.

It would be easy - and would be a logical consequence - to establish a relation, if only on the spiritual level, with those with whom we live, who perhaps think and act differently than we do, bringing imbalance and wounds to our society.

The worker of peace cannot even be interested directly in an active mission, but ought to sow amongst others precious seed: at times it is enough to dispel sadness, to resolve a doubt, to console one in sorrow, to counsel one who is uncertain, to avoid a fault. It is enough to open the heart with sincerity and simplicity to make the divine presence felt with its warmth and efficacy.

It is enough to know how to teach and to speak at the right moment: who loves peace knows instintively what can be done and what ought to be done to achieve it, defend and give it even to those others apart than those who joy in it for itself. Certainly the most precious peace is that which the soul receives from God in the most intimate part where there ought to be no clouds to disturb it.

It is the gift that Jesus gave to his followers each time that he appeared to them after the Resurrection, greeting them with the words, 'Peace be to you! ' (John 20,19,26, Luke 24,36), and what he gave - as if said with joy - is a peace very different from that promised by the world: it is the same presence within us; it is his kingdom which is established in us.

But to obtain this peace, we need to succeed in silencing our egoism, our resentments - even when just - the useless vindications and the wretched justifications. We ought in sum to continue Christ's work that - as St Paul said - topples down the walls of division and makes peace: to save the world, we need to restore that unity sin had destroyed (Ephesians 2.14-18).

The verses that follow are the explication of this Beatitude: the example of the prophets ought to encourage and calm us. Because it is found as conclusion to the solemn proclamations, this Beatitude shows the highest level of the gift and of eternal happiness that derives from it. In fact, more than one's own life, what is the one supreme good the we possess, what thing can we offer? The Early Christians said that the perfect Christian is the martyr, because martydom is the highest and most authentic witness that can be made of one's faith.

Just so - as it was said when commenting on the term 'kingdom ' in the Lord's Prayer - the verb in the present promises the Beatitude of persecution already in this life. One reads, in fact, in the Acts of the Apostles: 'But these (the Apostles) went to the Sanhedrin joying in being outrageously treated for their love of the name of Jesus ' (5.41). The Apostles were, therefore, the first to be 'Blessed' by persecution.

But there is also another way of living martyrdom in this life. St. Jeanne Francoise de Chantal spoke of the martyrdom of love that all can offer to God at each moment of our life and in each situation that we find ourselves. Her secretary refered to this in the Memorial: 'With your whole being say yes to God and make proof of that' - the saint exhorted -. In fact divine love plunges its sword into the inmost and most secret parts of the soul and separates us from ourselves . . . . We do not worry about knowing whether this martydom is the same as that of the body: knowing that the one does not give way to the other, because ' love is stronger than death ', and the martyrs of love endure a thousand more serious sorrows saving their lives to do God's will than it would be to give a thousand lives in witness to faith, to charity, to fidelity' (Office of Readings, 12 December).

There certainly won't be a lack of occasions in which to exercise this martyrdom of love. True love is always a martyrdom: feeling that you live uniquely to give yourself without any pretense, without asking other than what you can give. Who doesn't find themselves needing to endure malevolence, aversion, calumny, hostility, jealousy, wickedness of all kinds? And who can feel sure of not having wounded another?

The Beatitudes ought, therefore, to be for us not a word only to listen to and to recite each morning, but of the sunset of our lives. We ought in sum to recognize ourselves in the poor in spirit, in the afflicted, in the humble, in those hungry for justice, in the merciful, in the pure in heart, in the peace workers, in the persecuted, until people today no longer say that God is dead, seeing and hearing anew the presence of light in our Beatitudes.

The pages of the New Testament are constellated with so many other Beatitudes that it would be useful and beautiful to discover, gather and meditate.

The chapter takes a certain amount of liberty from the Spiritual Exercises held at Greccio, 1-10 August 1969, and Meditations held at Bologna 13 December 1969.

Chapters drawn from La Vita religiosa nella Comunita dei figli di Dio: pagine tratte dalle meditazioni del padre fondatore don Divo Barsotti per la formazione/Monastic Life in the Comunity of God's Family, pages drawn from the Meditations of the Father Founder, don Divo Barsotti, on Formation, ed. Jolanda Pifferi.

Julia Bolton Holloway , Lectures given in  Bergen, Norway, Göteborg, Sweden, 1999

WHEN TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED IN MY NAME

e should like, today, to talk about prayer and about our community gathered in God's name, as God's family, to live prayer. Fifty years ago our Father Founder, the contemplative theologian don Divo Barsotti, named us the Comunita` dei figli di Dio, the Community of God's Sons and Daughters, of God's Family. Because we are originally a Florentine community, I should like to begin with a Della Robbia of Christ in Prayer at Gethsemani.

Della Robbia ware is made from red clay, terra cotta, like Adam and ourselves, our humanity, made from the earth to which we shall return, then it is glazed with whites and blues, sometimes garlands of fruit and greenery. In Italian the words for heaven and for sky and for blue all run together, cielo, cieli, celeste. Aaron the High Priest in the Temple in prayer was garbed in blue. Mary contemplating on all these things in her heart is garbed in blue. In prayer our mortal bodies become the immortality of the heavens.

Christ told his disciples that whatever they asked would be granted them. Then, at Gethsemani, he begged they stay awake and pray with him. Instead, they slept. Had we stayed at his side in this prayer, our prayer he gave us to Our Father, he our brother, perhaps he would not have died on the Cross. This Della Robbia shows Christ in his humanity, for he had told us that we who do his Father's will are his brothers, and sisters, and mother.

When I saw this in a museum, in an exhibition, though usually it is hidden away in a church's sacristy, I found myself saying, `If he, who is God, can pray with such humility to our Father, then surely I, who am human, can cease being too proud to pray'. I found myself standing before this Della Robbia terra cotta with its white and blue, in prayer.

Though in the Della Robbia Christ seems so alone, he is not. He is there with his Father, with whom he dialogues. And the Spirit is with him, suffering with him, as if in childbirth. And we, gazing, in prayer, are with him in prayer.

Our Father Founder, don Divo Barsotti, of the Comunita` dei figli di Dio, has us begin each day with four prayers.

The first is the one Christ would have prayed, which would have been on the doorpost of his house, likely made by his father, Joseph the Carpenter, and would have been bound with a leather thong upon his brow and his arm. We hear him pray it in the Gospel of Mark:

{THE 'SHEMA'

Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. These precepts I give to you this day, you shall fix in your heart, you shall repeat them to your sons and daughters, you shall speak of them when you are seated in your home, when you walk in the way, when you go to bed and when you get up. You shall bind them to your hand as a sign, they shall be to you as a fringe about your eyes and you shall write them on the doorposts of your home and upon the gates of your city . (Deuteronomy 6.4-9, Leviticus 19.18, Matthew 22.37-39, Mark 12.28-34, Luke 10.25-28, followed by the Norwegian and Swedish translations.)

{Hør, Israel, Herren vår Gud, Herren er en. Du skal elske Herren, din Gud, av hele ditt hjerte, av hele din sjel og av all din makt. Disse ord skal være i ditt hjerte. Du skal gjenta dem for dine barn og tale om dem når du sitter i ditt hus og når du går på veien, når du legger deg og når du står opp.

The second is the one he taught us. Our Father, our King, `Avinu Malkenu' is said when the Torah is taken out of the Tabernacle. In this prayer Jesus gives us the Torah and makes us princes and priests in his Father's Kingdom.

The Lord's Prayer is the reply of the soul that has listened. In the Comunity's prayers it is recited chorally, while Hear, O Israel - which is right because it is about listening - is said only by the leader.

{THE LORD'S PRAYER, THE 'OUR FATHER'

The third prayer is St Francis'.

Padre wrote: 'To be able to recite the third prayer with the greatest closeness to its spirit it is best to know its origin and to contemplate its content.

'St Francis in 1224 found himself on the holy mountain of La Verna together with his favorite brother, Leo. Leo, gravely tormented in spirit, wanted some words written in Francis' hand, convinced that these would help him overcome his temptations: but he did not dare confide this desire in his father, who nevertheless was inspired to write them.

'Thomas of Celano tells us: "In fact one day the Blessed Francis called him and said, 'Bring me parchment and ink, because I want to write the words of God and his praises which I have meditated in my heart'. Thus came about the thing requested, written in his hand, the Lauds of God and the words which he had in his spirit and at the end the blessing for the brother, and he said, 'Take this little document and guard it with care until the day you die'.

'"Immediately all his temptation ceased; and the parchment was preserved, bringing about miracles"' (Thomas of Celano, Vita II di san Francesco).

'Brother Leo kept the miraculous writing until his death, which came about in 1271, carrying it always about himself, then, as a sacred relic, it came to be treasured in the Basilica of St Francis, in Assisi, though it is now much faded and decayed. But with the help of sophisticated scientific equipment at our disposal today, one can obtain a reading of the document that is much more faithful to the original.

'The Lauds of God in the Highest contained in the 'chartula' - or little document - are the testimony of an intense interior life that we ought truly to propose as a programme for monastic life. We first of all gain the impression of a collection of expressions, but the perfections and the attributes, all positive, with which Francis exalts and praises God, reveal the conscious knowledge he has of him. The repetition of words can delude by their monotony: in reality the poverty of language witnesses to an inexpressible, incommunicable experience of God through pure concepts.

'His other writings are more or less legislative or exhortive; the Lauds instead are the gift he has made for Brother Leo - and to us his sons and daughters - of what he had most intimately: his prayer, his witnessing of his experience of God. He puts it in the relation of love lived with God and he cannot give us a thing that is more precious than this communion of life.

The Lauds are the highest expression of Francis' interior life, the witness of a perfection joined to his identification with Christ, fulfilled at La Verna after receiving the Stigmata. He then lived the pure praise of the angels and of the saints in heaven, joined to that pure transparency through which all of God was reflected in him: he praises God because God lives in him. The soul, based in divine perfection, has no more need to ask for anything!'

{THE PRAISES, THE LAUDS, OF GOD

And in Italian, Francis' own Italian, this is: This prayer can be divided in two parts: the first as an introduction and the second giving us the testimony of the interior life of the one who prays.

In the first part Francis contemplates God who lives, who works, God who in creation manifests all his greatness, all his power, his love. Through the values of the created world, which he recovers, St Francis rises to the Creator and contemplates his Omnipotence: 'Tu sei forte, You are strong '; his greatness ' Tu sei grande, You are great'; his transcendence: ' Tu sei Altissimo, You are the Highest ', a typical term St Francis uses in preference to all others to distinguish God. God is above all that he has achieved. With the Doxology: ' Tu sei il bene, tutto il bene, il sommo bene, il Dio vivo e vero, You are the good, all the good, the greatest good, God living and true ', he concludes the first part.

The fourth returns us to Christ's praying, Francis being very much Christ's brother, and these are the Beatitudes.

{THE BEATITUDES

When we become Aspirants in the Comunita` we pray these prayers each morning and shall do so the rest of our lives. Someone in the Comunita` meets with us, in Italy weekly, and we pray together and also study padre's writings, which are some of the finest mystical theology that has been written. When we are ready there is Consecration.

Consecrated persons in the Comunita` have entered the First Branch and now participate in a weekly prayer group, a larger monthly gathering, and a monthly retreat with Mass, as well as saying the Church's Hours of Prayer. The weekly prayer group and the monthly gathering study the Bible and padre's writings together.

When and if we are ready we can make our Vows in the Comunita`, completely giving ourselves to God. Those who are married and who make modified Vows are in the Second Branch. Those who are single and who make the three Vows, Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, are in the Third Branch. These three Branches are for lay people living in the world.

There is a Fourth Branch, of young men and women living in houses of the Common Life, making the three Vows.

Padre centres our Consecrated lives upon the Consecration of the Mass. We make our Consecration and our Vows at Mass. We try, if possible, to be at Mass daily.

Maria's Cross, from Sweden with Love

Then in monasticism, one ends the day with the Office of Compline, in which one prays that one place one's spirit in God's hands. That was the first prayer Mary would have taught Jesus, and which he prays, in her presence, on the Cross. We place this gathering in God's name, also in his hands. In Hebrew each letter has a meaning and a number, the smallest letter of all, which begin's God's name, and Jesus' name, which means 'God saves', means 'hand'. It is into our hands that we receive God, our hands and his mirroring each others, the hands of a carpenter, the hands we nailed, engraving our name in the palm of his hands. Rather we need to bind his Name upon our brows and upon our arms, upon our hearts and within our souls. And to see that Name as binding us to all others, gathering us into One. We are never alone when we are alone with God. He is Our Father, we his Holy Family.

Julia Holloway (with Anna Lomi, Consecrata from Prato, in Bergen, reading the Prayer of St Francis in Italian), gave this talk in Göteborg, Sweden, and Bergen, Norway, in September, 1999. It draws on Don Divo Barsotti's Four Prayers .
 
 

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