My dear brethren,
It is a great joy and a great satisfaction for me to be with you in this wonderful Church of St. Claire, which is filled with so many memories. Divine Providence chose the First Sunday of Lent for me to be among you. Allow me, therefore, to give you some advice in order that you practice this Lent well - Lent which is nothing other than the preparation for the beautiful Feast of Easter. Before becoming partakers in the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be partakers in His Passion, in His Redemption, in His Sacrifice.
Lent is undoubtedly a time of penance. Therefore, we must make some efforts to deny ourselves usual satisfactions - in eating, and drinking and the like. It is good to deny ourselves in these things in order to attach ourselves more to the spiritual goods, forgetting the temporal goods in order to elevate ourselves towards the eternal ones.
But more than by our penances, God is pleased by our observance of His Commandments. God created us to be with Him one day. The way that leads us to Him through the years that we have to spend here below is marked by His Law towards Him. His Law is in fact nothing else than the road signs, which Our Lord has placed along the way of our earthly life, leading us towards Heaven in order that we attain heavenly bliss.
What then are these Commandments of God? Our Lord Himself took care to remind us of them and St. Paul says the same thing as well. They consist in loving God and loving our neighbor. All the Commandments of God are summed up in this. In the very measure in which we love God and love our neighbor and put this love into practice in our daily lives are we walking peacefully towards the happiness of Heaven. How can we manifest in a particular way our love towards the Good Lord? I think that the most profound, the most essential way to manifest our love to God is to pray. We have all learned to pray in our catechism, the little catechism of old - since today's catechisms have distorted everything and do not teach anything clearly. But we keep the good definition of old: prayer is an elevation of the soul towards God. It is simple, it is short, but it is much - to lift up our soul towards God. I think that if we would put more in practice this definition of prayer, to lift up our soul towards God, we would indeed be less attached to the goods of this earth and we would be more attached to God Himself and to the heavenly goods.
Therefore let us make an effort during this Lent to pray better and to pray more.And what are the different ways to pray? What are the different kinds of prayer?
First, there is vocal prayer: that which you do here during Mass, during the prayers in common, the Rosary you said together just a while ago. These are vocal prayers, in which you express your love for God and through which you lift up your souls towards God. Therefore we must hold in high esteem this kind of prayer and practice it much. We do so in particular by assistance at Mass and also when we can by the recitation of the Rosary, praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary, uniting ourselves to her, and by all the practices of vocal prayers, all the devotions approved by the Church, which all the devout souls have practiced in their lives, these souls which have gone to Heaven before us and are now singing the praise of the Good Lord in Heaven, in particular all the saints.
The second kind of prayer is mental prayer or meditation. Mental prayer consists in lifting up our mind towards the Good Lord by meditating on the grandeur of God, on His perfections, without pronouncing exterior words. It is another kind of prayer. When you come during the day and adore the Blessed Sacrament, close to Our Lord, without the need of words, lifting your soul to the Good Lord, submitting yourselves to Him, thinking of Him, living with Him for a while, forgetting the worries of this world, daily worries, in order to elevate your soul towards God, you practice mental prayer. Spiritual directors, all the saints and founders of Orders recommend it. You well know that the good Poor Clares who were here before - behind these grilles - spent a long time in mental prayer. The same is done in all the Carmels, in all the religious congregations. Even the rules for the clergy required of priests, monks and nuns the practice of mental prayer. It is good also for the faithful to imitate those who have consecrated themselves to God and to practice mental prayer in a special way. You can do it in a church, in a chapel, but also at home in front of a statue of the Virgin, in front of a Crucifix, or a little home oratory that you may have arranged in your home. Everyone can pray to Our Lord and unite himself with the Blessed Virgin Mary in his mind.
There is a third kind of prayer which is essential, and which is the most important, beside vocal and mental prayer: the prayer of the heart.
What is the prayer of the heart? It is that which shows internally love for the Good Lord, without even a particular thought on this or that subject, such as this perfection of God, or that manifestation of the charity of God towards us. But to simply love God, to express our love to the Good Lord. It is somewhat like a little child in his mother's arms, like to what he has in his heart for his mommy and daddy. He is happy - he is in his father's arms or his mother's arms. He does not think of anything else. He thinks only of loving his parents. Well, we should have such a natural, profound and constant love for the Good Lord. This prayer is the most pleasing to God because it places us entirely at His disposal. By it, we offer our whole self to God. We offer our body, our will, our time and all that we are to Him Who created us, to Him who awaits us, to give us this heavenly bliss which He has prepared for us. This is the best way not to sin any more, at least not to sin grievously. He who truly loves God gives in a way his very being and all that he is throughout the day and at all times. This prayer of the heart can be permanent, without stopping. As a child who loves his parents loves them always, with a perfect continuity, so we should love the Good Lord in a similar way. In loving God this way we will not fear sin because we will feel that any disobedience to God will draw us apart from Him. Thus, if we truly love Him how could we, at the same time, love Him without our whole heart and displease and disobey Him? This would be a contradiction. This is why the prayer of the heart is so important.
I beg you, during this Lent, to put yourselves into the hands of the Good Lord, to forget the things of this world in order to attach yourselves to the Good Lord. This is the first advice I will give you to fulfill the Law of the Good Lord asking us to love Him. The first Tablet of the Law of Moses had these three Commandments towards God. The second Tablet shows us the law of the love of our neighbor. How can we manifest our love for our neighbor? Undoubtedly the services we render to our neighbor outside our families, in our profession, in our daily lives, but we could also ask ourselves where we most frequently fail to love our neighbor. To this end let us ask St. James who, in the epistle he wrote and which belongs to Holy Scripture, tells us of this little organ given to us by the Good Lord called the "tongue." He tells us: "It is with the tongue that one sings the praises of the Good Lord but it is with the tongue that one ignites the fires of iniquity and the fires of division." This is true. Therefore let us make an effort to practice charity in our words and by this very fact charity in our thoughts. Thus let us avoid rash judgments, detractions, and calumnies, which are so easy and sometimes so tempting in our conversations. Unfortunately, some love to criticize this or that, dividing rather than uniting, rather than practicing charity. Let us make efforts to manifest the love towards our neighbor during this Lent by striving to avoid detractions and calumnies - all the sins of the tongue. Such is, my dear brethren, the advice I deem good to give at the beginning of this Lent.
Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus to live as they lived at Nazareth. We must remember that the example Our Lord has given us is absolutely remarkable. What did God Himself - for He is God Who came down among us - do during the thirty-three years of His life? Of these thirty-three years He spent here below before ascending into Heaven, He remained thirty years in family life except when, leaving His parents, He remained at Jerusalem to teach the Doctors of the Law. This is the only event we know of His infancy or His youth. Until the age of thirty He practiced charity in the family. This is an admirable example Our Lord gave us. Therefore He does not ask us things, which are utterly impossible - no, just the practice of charity towards God and towards our neighbor, as He Himself has done in the family of Nazareth.
Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to help us to practice this Charity so that, by the grace of the Good Lord, by the grace of the Sacraments which we receive, we may walk little by little towards the goal of our life here below: to share one day the happiness of Heaven with all those whom we love and who have left us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.