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Thirsting and Quenching | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. | From
Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within
Men and women everywhere are hungry and
thirsty, voraciously yearning and seeking: rich and poor, wise and foolish,
young and old, literate and illiterate, saints and sinners, atheists and
agnostics, playboys and prostitutes. Some can explain their inner emptiness in
words; most cannot, but everyone experiences it. That inner ache drives all our
dreams, desires, and decisions--good and bad. Even your decision to pick up
this book and read was triggered by this nameless desire.
Our abiding hunger for more than we presently experience does not have to be
proved but only explained. Which is what we propose to do right now, before we even
begin to think about what prayer is all about. Otherwise you and I cannot
understand fully the splendid reality of communing deeply with our Creator and
Lord and of our unspeakable destiny in and with him.
Mere animals do not and cannot have this inner aching need, for the simple
reason that material things are satisfied with visible creation and their place
in it. Because you and I have intellects and wills rooted in our profound
spiritual core, nothing finite and limited does, or ever can, fill us. Deep in
our humanness is an ache for fullness, for infinity. We are completely
satisfied by no individual egoism, by no series of selfish pursuits: vanity,
fame, money, lust, power, drugs. Always the sinner seeks more accolades, more
money, more recognition, more lewd eroticism, more control of others, more
drugs. Never is he satisfied, never really happy and fulfilled.
Why is this so? As spirit-in-the-flesh beings, you and I burst beyond the
material order, beyond what our senses can attain, beyond the cosmos itself. By
its limited nature nothing created can satisfy us. God alone, the sole infinite
One, can fill our endless yearnings. As Karl Rahner put it, we are oriented by
nature to the Absolute. Or as John Courtney Murray expressed it, the problem
now is not how to be a man, but how to become more than a man. Or as St.
Augustine put it in his classic prayer: "You have made us for yourself, O
Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Kittens and
giraffes do not have this problem. They cannot. You and I do. (See CCC 27-30.)
Quenching and prayer
What does this have to do with a primer on
prayer? Much, very much. Prayer is not merely a pious reaction to suffering or
a means to get us out of trouble. We are the only beings in visible creation
who cannot attain fulfillment without becoming more than we are, therefore
without the divine. Ducks and camels, trees and stars need matter alone. In
other words, you and I are transcendent beings whose needs go beyond this
universe. That is why our destiny must be God and no one else. That is why
prayer is absolutely basic. This is the divine plan, and no other plan comes close. At
the heart of our human reality there must be a relationship and communion with
the divine. Otherwise we simply do not make it; we do not and cannot flourish
and attain our destiny. (See Evidential Power of Beauty, pp.
Prayer, therefore, is both simple and deep--and, as we shall see later on,
immensely enriching, leading to unspeakable love and delight. Prayer is not
complicated, because there is nothing more natural than to converse with your
beloved, and most especially with your supreme Beloved. If all grows normally
it becomes deep, because, as we have explained, it is rooted in your profound
human and spiritual reality, in who and what you are as a man or a woman.
The illness of boredom
But we need to look at all this from another point of view, the downside of our
human situation. Among the saddest pictures we meet in life is a jaded face:
the visage of one who "has done it all", whose life through wanton sin
is a shambles; It is a countenance that expresses no joy, no peace, no
excitement, no enthusiasm, no interest, no hope, no love, no fulfillment.
Behind that face is an inner desert of degenerate exhaustion, completely empty of
Jadedness is extreme boredom, but there are lesser degrees, of course. But even
lesser shadings are abnormalities. Human beings are meant to be alive and
vibrant, full of wonder, love, and happiness-which is exactly what Scripture
promises to those who embrace God's word fully. This is what the saints
experience, what people who have a deep prayer life know to be the case. They
"rejoice in the Lord always", not just some of the time (Phil 4:4).
Jadedness and boredom and an absence of vibrant prayer comprise one reason
among others that the great novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky was right on target
when he made the comment that "to live without God is nothing but torture."
Not everyone admits this, of course. One reason is pathological denial. Another
is that when people are so submerged in self-centered pleasure seeking, they cannot
see what some silence and solitude and honesty would make obvious to them. A
third explanation for the denial is that bored people often use pleasures, both
licit and illicit, as so many narcotics that tend to dull the deep inner pain
of their emptiness. This human aching is always lurking in the center of their
being, but it is faced only in honest silence. The print and electronic media
offer endless proof day after day that Dostoevsky was right, but few care to
see and to listen. Facing reality as it is requires honesty. As Jesus himself
put it: We cannot serve both God and mammon (Mt 6:24). If it is not the first, it
will be the second. Nature abhors a vacuum.
This famous novelist went on to remark that atheists should actually be called
idolators. Why? When one rejects the real God, he inevitably substitutes lesser
things to fill his inner emptiness. Everyone, we should notice, has one or more
consuming interests that occupy his desires and dreams. If we are not
captivated by the living God and pursuing him, we will center our desires on
idols, big or small: vanities, pleasure seeking, prestige, power, and others we
have already noted. While the idols never it isfy, they often do serve as
narcotics that more or less deaden the inner pain of not having him for whom we
were made and who alone can bring us to the eternal ecstasy of the beatific
Yes, if you and I are not seriously pursuing the real God, inevitably we will
focus on things that can never satisfy us. We are chasing after dead ends.
Prayer is the path to reality/Reality.
Quenching at the fountain
Scripture says it best of all. With a charming invitation the Lord shouts
"Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money,
come .... Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to
satisfy .... Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live"
(Is 55:1-3, JB). Nothing less can bring us to life. And Isaiah himself keeps
vigil through the night as his spirit yearns for his Lord (Is 26:9). He practices
what he proclaims.
The psalmist is of like mind: his soul thirsts for the living God (Ps 42:2-3).
Like a parched desert he pines for his Lord, for only in him does he find rest
(Ps 63:1; 62:1). The inspired writer knows that God must be our consuming
concern, for pursuing him, adoring him, loving him, being immersed in him can
alone profoundly delight and fill us. Anything less than Everything is not enough.
The New Testament has the same message, for the Fountain has appeared in the
flesh. He declares in the Sermon on the Mount that they are blessed who hunger and
thirst after holiness (Mt 5:6), and his Mother proclaims in her Magnificat that
the Lord fills the hungry with every good thing (Lk 1:53). Jesus explicitly
invites all those who are thirsty to come to him for a quenching with living
water (Jn 7:37). At the very end of both Testaments this same invitation is
extended to everyone: let all the thirsty come forward to be forever quenched
with the life-giving waters, that is, an eternal enthrallment in Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit seen face to face (Rev 22:17).
Prayer life is therefore profoundly rooted in the needs of our human nature.
Without it we are frustrated creatures. All the way from the beginnings in
vocal prayer through meditation, which leads to the summit of contemplation,
this prayerful immersion in the indwelling Trinity gradually transforms us from
one glory to another as we are being turned into the divine image (2 Cor 3:18).
Here alone do men and women become "perfect in beauty" (Ezek
16:13-14). We can understand why Henri de Lubac was prompted to say that man is
truly man only when the light of God is reflected in a face upturned in prayer.
Prayer Primer: Igniting A Fire Within
Fr. Thomas Dubay, a renowned teacher and writer on prayer and the spiritual life, presents a simple, profound and practical book on
the most important of all human activities, communion with God.
Prayer Primer is written for intelligent adults (and teenagers) who want God and a serious prayer life, but it does not presuppose
that they need or have a theological background. It does take up many questions rarely answered adequately in the classroom or from the
pulpit, often not mentioned at all: Why pray? (be ready for some surprises) ... Why vocal prayer is important and yet should be
limited ... What contemplation is and is not ... Praying with Scripture ... Family prayer--even how to introduce children to group
meditation ... Prayer in a busy life ... Pitfalls and problems--together with solutions ... Buddhism? New Age? Centering prayer? ... What
should you do when dry and empty and not at all inclined to pray? How do you even get started? ... Where and how to begin? ... Assessing
progress ... Growing in depth. All of these subjects, and more, are clearly and concisely explained for citizens of this 21st century.
"Of the many books written on prayer, Prayer Primer is unique. Father Dubay is a master on this subject. It is a rare gift to have a
simple primer written by such a man. It is utterly sound, trustworthy and practical." -- Peter Kreeft, Author,
Prayer for Beginners
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:
St. John of the Cross | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Seeking Deep Conversion | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
The Source of Certitude | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
"Lord, teach us to pray" | Gabriel Bunge, O.S.B.
The Confession of the Saints | Adrienne von Speyr
Catholic Spirituality | Thomas Howard
The Scriptural Roots of St. Augustine's Spirituality | Stephen N. Filippo
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Liturgy, Catechesis, and Conversion | Barbara Morgan
Blessed Columba Marmion: A Deadly Serious
Spiritual Writer | Christopher Zehnder
Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M., is a well-known retreat master and expert
in the spiritual life.
A Marist Priest, Father holds a Ph.D. from Catholic University of America
and has taught on both major seminary level for about fifteen years. He
spent the last twenty-seven years giving retreats and writing books (over
twenty at last count) on various aspects of the spiritual life.
Ignatius Press has published several of his books, including Fire
Are The Poor, Faith
and Certitude, Authenticity,
Evidential Power of Beauty, and Prayer
Primer. He has presented many series on EWTN, including an extensive
the spiritual life of St. Teresa of Avila and a series on
the life of prayer.
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