For the most part this week, I found myself re-reading both of Our Lady’s recent messages given on June 23rd and June 25th. Both these messages have striking similarities I couldn’t help but ponder more than once.
First, here’s the June 23, 2017 message from Our Lady through Ivan:
“Dear children, I came, I came to you and presented myself as the Queen of Peace. Also today, I desire to call you to pray for peace. May there be peace, dear children. May peace begin to reign in the world.
Dear children, be persevering in prayer. Fight against evil and against sin and the idols of today’s world which seduce you. Be firm; be strong in faith. And to be strong in faith – pray. Pray, and through prayer meet with my Son, for Him to grant you strength, for Him to grant you the grace. Be open.
The Mother prays for all of you and for all of you intercedes before Her Son. Thank you, dear children, for also today having responded to my call.”
Now, here’s the 36th anniversary message, June 25, 2017, from Our Lady through Marija:
“Dear children! Today, I desire to thank you for your perseverance and call you to open yourselves to profound prayer. Prayer, little children, is the heart of faith and is hope in eternal life. Therefore, pray with the heart until your heart sings with thanksgiving to God the Creator who gave you life. I am with you, little children, and carry to you my motherly blessing of peace. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
Prayer, and perseverance. These are the two most important attributes of a life of faith.
The Blessed Mother is aware of our efforts to pray, and she thanks us. She understands prayer isn’t always easy for us, and she is pleased that we are here still praying and trying. She wants us to persevere, and she is happy when we do so.
I found her words to be a great encouragement for me, asking us to keep fighting against evil, to keep up in prayer, and not to give up. She knows the battles each of us face in our daily lives, and prayer is as vital for us as the air we breathe.
Plus, her messages seemed to coincide with a rather familiar struggle I had this week:
Distracted, dry prayer.
It’s happened to the best of us. We all have experienced it. Even the Saints struggled with distracted prayer.
Sometimes our prayer is just booming with the Holy Spirit. You’re bursting at the seams with joy, praise, and love to Almighty God. And you just feel like you’re walking on a cloud, practically! You feel strong, confident, consoled, and content.
Then, other times, you feel about as dry as the Atacama Desert. You feel next to nothing. You’re mind is moving about as fast as a Formula One car, moving from one random thought to the next, not one of them pertaining to prayer. And you can’t help but wonder why you feel so weak, absentminded, and even far away from God.
It’s definitely not a great feeling. But it’s something we have to expect to run into at times in our daily conversion. And we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that when such an occasion occurs that we are somehow being punished or rejected by God, because we’re not.
I decided to pay a visit to my little bookshelf. I was curious to see what the Saints had to say about dealing with distracted prayer and how to keep at it. What I found was pretty insightful, and helped me a lot in understanding why these kind of things occur in us.
For starters, here’s what St. Louis de Montfort had to say about distracted prayer:
When the Rosary is well said it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and it is more meritorious for the soul than any other prayer. But it is also the hardest prayer to say well and to persevere in, owing especially to the distractions which almost inevitably attend the constant repetition of the same words.
[…] Our imagination, which is hardly still a minute, makes our task harder and then of course there is the devil who never tires of trying to distract us and keep us from praying. To what ends does not the evil one go against us while we are engaged in saying our Rosary against him.
Being human, we easily become tired and slipshod—but the devil makes these difficulties worse when we are saying the Rosary. Before we even begin he makes us feel bored, distracted or exhausted—and when we have started praying he oppresses us from all sides. And when, after much difficulty and many distractions, we have finished, he whispers to us: “What you have just said is worthless. It’s useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It’s only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you’re saying; half an hour’s meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow when you’re not feeling so sluggish you’ll pray better; don’t finish your Rosary until tomorrow.” By tricks of this kind the devil gets us to give up the Rosary altogether or else hardly say it at all, and we keep putting it off or else change to some other devotion.
Dear Rosary Confraternity members, do not listen to the devil, but be of good heart even if your imagination has been bothering you throughout your Rosary, filling your mind with all kinds of distracting thoughts—as long as you really tried hard to get rid of them as soon as they came. Always remember that the best Rosary is the one with the most merit in praying when it is hard than when it is easy. Prayer is all the harder when it is (naturally speaking) distasteful to the soul and is filled with those annoying little ants and flies running about in your imagination, against your will, and scarcely allowing you the time to enjoy a little peace and appreciate the beauty of what you are saying.
Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone.
But at the Day of Judgement he will taunt you because of your faithlessness and lack of courage. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater,” [Luke 16:10]. He who fights even the smallest distractions faithfully when he says even the very smallest prayer he will also be faithful in the great things. We can be absolutely certain of this because the Holy Spirit has told us so.
So all of you, servants and handmaids of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who have made up your minds to say the Rosary every day, be of good heart. Do not let the flies (it is thus that I call the distractions that make war on you during prayer) make you cowardly abandon the company of Jesus and Mary, in whose holy presence you always are when saying the Rosary.
(St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary)
Prayer is a weapon. It’s something Our Lady has been teaching us in Medjugorje to take seriously. It benefits us, our families, and the world around us. When we pray we are actively engaging in the fight against evil and sin. So, it should be no surprise when these dry-spells or distractions occur, the enemy is seeking to stop us from foiling his plans.
“Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand…”
“He who fights even the smallest distractions faithfully when he says even the very smallest prayer he will also be faithful in the great things…”
St. Louis de Montfort’s words remind me of what Our Lady has told us about perseverance:
“Dear children, be persevering in prayer. Fight against evil and against sin and the idols of today’s world which seduce you. Be firm; be strong in faith. And to be strong in faith – pray.”
Pray, fight, and persevere!
Don’t give up the ship, as the old saying goes.
Our prayer is profitable, as St. Louis says, and we’d be making a huge mistake for falling for the enemy’s tricks. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
“Always remember that the best Rosary is the one with the most merit in praying when it is hard than when it is easy.”
Our prayer means everything. We cannot give it up!
St. Padre Pio says:
Do not be afraid if you feel nothing during your meditation, prayer, and other devout practices, or if you feel yourself still tied to earthly things, or if you experience the conflict between the old man and the new man, or if you see yourself still beset by weakness. Since you are not choosing any of this, you are not culpable. In fact, all of that is a source of merit for you.
These are the trials of a soul that God loves. He wants to test that soul when he sees it has enough strength to withstand the battle and to weave a wreath of glory with its own hands.
We can see here also that St. Pio’s words echo that of St. Louis’ as well as Our Lady’s. Prayer is the key to a stronger faith. And if we persevere in prayer, we will persevere in the bigger trials.
Then, finally, there’s St. Teresa of Avila. St. Teresa calls these instances of distraction “poisonous creatures,” and states they prove to be quite harmless. In fact, she says they “do the soul good.” Here’s what she wrote:
I think in this state of prayer it is much better for them to enter and make war upon the soul, for, if it had no temptations, the devil might mislead it with regard to the consolations which God gives, and do much more harm than he can when it is being tempted. The soul, too, would not gain so much, for it would be deprived of all occasions of merit and be living in a state of permanent absorption. When a soul is continuously in a condition of this kind I do not consider it at all safe, nor do I think it possible for the Spirit of the Lord to remain in a soul continuously in this way during our life of exile.
[…] the important thing is not to think much, but to love much; do, then, whatever most arouses you to love. Perhaps we do not know what love is: it would not surprise me a great deal to learn this, for love consists, not in the extent of our happiness, but in the firmness of our determination to try to please God in everything, and to endeavor, in all possible ways, not to offend Him, and to pray Him ever to advance the honor and glory of His Son and the growth of the Catholic Church. Those are the signs of love; do not imagine that the important things is never to be thinking of anything else and that if your mind becomes slightly distracted all is lost.
(St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, p. 47-48)
Again, we can clearly see the same breath of the Holy Spirit in the words of Saints. Teresa, de Montfort, Pio, and Our Lady of Medjugorje.
When distractions occur, don’t take it so harshly and don’t overthink it. All is not lost. We are not far away from God. In fact, during affliction, He’s right beside you. If the enemy of soul sees to it to try and disturb our prayer it means we are surely on the right track. It means that our prayer is effective, and that the evil one is on the outside trying to get in without success.
Point blank: it means we belong to Jesus and Mary. And that terrifies the evil spirit.
When our prayer sometimes become difficult we cannot allow ourselves to feel disappointed in ourselves or tricked into giving up. We are only human. Our nature is imperfect and weak, and the Lord knows this very well. On our own, our strength will not hold. But if we respond with love for the Lord, like St. Teresa says, He will give us His strength to continue and we will receive graces for our efforts.
It doesn’t matter if at times we struggle, what matters is our response. Do we pick up our chin, and forge ahead out of love for God? Or do we cave under pressure and call it quits because of convenience?
“Pray, and through prayer meet with my Son, for Him to grant you strength, for Him to grant you the grace.”
“Prayer, little children, is the heart of faith and is hope in eternal life. Therefore, pray with the heart until your heart sings with thanksgiving to God the Creator who gave you life.”
Prayer elevates us. It is our lifeline, and direct connection to God.
We need prayer.
The world needs prayer.
If a moment of inconvenience would merit us an eternity of bliss, wouldn’t it be worth enduring?
Let’s take the words of Our Lady and the Saints to heart, whether we’re on fire with the Holy Spirit during prayer or waterlogged.
May we respond with love always, and never relent in our prayer-life both in times of peace and battle. Let us persevere in prayer with love and dedication so that our hearts will sing with thanksgiving to God Who is goodness and love Itself!