My aunt died recently. She had lived most of her life as a nun and a teacher outside her congregation in a big Irish town. For me as a child she was my clever, funny aunt, who was wildly cunning at card games and a friendly ear in all our family dramas. Over the years she became a spiritual friend to me, someone who accompanied me in the ups and downs of living a Christian life in the middle of all the things most people live through: job hunting, romance, sickness, finance problems and the pursuit of happiness. I say she was a spiritual friend and not a spiritual director; I didn’t go to her for advice and direction – I went to have a laugh and some company, to get a feed and then sometimes to see what insights she had on various situations. This was because I knew that behind all her light heartedness and unassuming good nature was a saintly person who had faced profound challenges in living her vocation and had been a true Samaritan to many deeply troubled people.
This is what I learned from my aunt about personal prayer. You feed prayer not with lofty expectations but by bringing everything in your life in prayer to God and you should never think any little thing is unworthy of His attention. God is your friend, not your schoolmaster. Friends are there for little things as well as big things. The big conversations start with little conversations. My aunt wasn’t all that interested in whether or not people spoke in tongues. She didn’t go to seminars or to Medjugorje. Her routine was Mass, Rosary and the Divine Office. She went to Adoration daily and did her work. In all these things, she gave everything to God, and she waited. Most of the time she felt that prayer was about waiting- in the security that God is working. She knew that when we experience darkness or temptation or block in prayer, we are actually a step closer to the grace of prayer. The closer grace is, the closer we see our sinfulness and limitations, and this is a great gift to us. Prayer done well will make us humble and loving: even if our sin and weakness seem the same, our response to them will be different. We will be different in our interaction with others: we can express love and solidarity to others and give practical support in their suffering and brokenness because we can see that they are much closer to Christ on the Cross in their situation than we are. Half the town came to my aunt’s funeral, and many there were in tears. Through a life of simple but effective prayer, she transformed her life and the lives of many others.
by Dr Ted Lynch, Ireland,