Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:7-8).
Recently I have been listening to lectures by Dr. Keith Egan on the lives and teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. These 16th Century Spanish mystics and friends revived the Carmelite order and wrote classic works on contemplative prayer, most notably Teresa’s Interior Castle and John’s Dark Night of the Soul.
While commenting on the heart of their teachings, Egan offered this aphorism:
We pray as well as we live.
We live as well as we pray.
We pray and live as well as we love.
I turned off the CD. To commit it to memory, I repeated the aphorism about 100 times. What a lodestar for the life of faith!
Egan echoes the Catholic catechism, offering further insight. “We pray as well as we live,” emphasizes that we do not disengage from the world in prayer. Rather, engagement charges our prayers. How we address God emerges from how we address life and how we listen to life addressing us.
“We live as well as we pray,” means that the quality of our work and relationships emerges from our level of intimacy with God. If we go about our business mindless of God, whatever prayers we offer amount to no more than perfunctory compulsions.
“We pray and live as well as we love,” concludes Keith Egan, for prayer bears fruit in our mercy toward others, while mercy inspires the love we pour into prayer.
Teresa and John bring to mind brave ventures into the depths of the soul. Teresa ventured past the “snakes and reptiles” of temptations toward deeper intimacy with God in her heart. John passed through the dark night of detachment from all that is not God toward a day of purity of heart in which he could see God.
Yet both, with utmost humility had mercy especially on those who had little or no mercy on them. And it was that mercy they taught, by example as much as by words, in the same breath that they taught so brilliantly about prayer.