Praying the Our Father - The Ladder of Perfection
My earliest and happiest memories are of going to visit my grandfather. It wasn’t because he played games with me, gave me my favourite chocolate or even money to buy myself an ice cream on the way home, it was just because I loved him. He was such a lovable kindly man that it was more than enough just to be with him and feel myself enveloped by his love. This was before I even went to prep school. By the time I did he was dead ‘though by today’s standards he was still a young man barely old enough to draw his pension. However he left me a legacy of love in his eldest daughter who was my mother. She was the most loving mother one could wish for, who in spite of the dyslexia that blighted my early life enabled me to grow up with confidence and imbued with a security that only love can give. I can still see my grandfather in my imagination with a mop of white hair and a moustache to match. I saw him over a year ago in my bathroom looking at me through the mirror. I was just raising my hand to shave the soap suds from under my nose that had left me with a white moustache and there he was looking back at me. I had never thought I looked like him before, never given it a second thought, but there he was looking back at me. It was undoubtedly him. The only trouble was the face that looked back at me wasn’t the kindly loving face that I remembered with such love, would that it were.
The legacy that Saved Me from Destitution
The experience jogged my memory and made me realize just how much I owed to that loving man who made a will in my favour before I could walk properly. I still have a few possessions around me that remind me of him. The pieces of antique furniture, the Dresden vases that have been turned into electric lights, and the secret wooden box that nobody could open until I stumbled on the secret sliding door to find a golden sovereign inside. But above all else it was the small fortune that he left me. Yes, left directly to me. My mother had the interest on the capital, but when she died a large share of the capital came directly to me . I received it when I didn’t have two pennies to rub together, when I was all but destitute and didn’t have anywhere to call my home.
The Legacy that saved me from Spiritual Destitution
My Grandfather came from a long line of Catholic recusants, who had lost all their lands and all their money in crippling fines - the price of keep the faith through penal times. In addition to the money that the family made after Catholic Emancipation ( 1829) my grandfather handed on a spiritual legacy too that my mother handed on to me. After she died and I had time to reflect on all I had received from my her and from my Christian forebears. I wanted to say thank you, I wanted to do something to show how grateful I was for what I had too often taken for granted before. How better to thank someone for all that they have done for you than by doing what they always wanted you to do. So I started saying the morning offering once more that she had taught me to say as a boy. Although I had forgotten to say it for years I began to say it again each morning and then I tried to put it into practice each day with the help of the daily prayer that she had taught me to say too, before going to bed at night.
Learning how to say Thank You from the Master
Jesus knew how important it was to say thank you, that’s why he was so disappointed that only one of the ten lepers came back to thank him after he had cured them. He didn’t make the same mistake himself for his whole life was one long thank you for what he had been given by his Father. His Father had not only brought him into being in the first place, but lavished upon him a quality of love that the world had never even dreamed of before and gave him the privilege and the joy of transmitting it to the rest of human kind with the promise that it was theirs for ever. What else could he do to say thank you than do what his father wanted of him from first to last. That’s why the first words he spoke made it clear that he would spend every moment of every day doing what his Father had asked of him ( Luke 2:49). The Gospels are four different accounts of him doing just that. If we are to learn from him then, this is where we begin. Firstly by remembering to say thank you to our common Father everyday of our lives for what he has done and is continually doing for us now. And secondly by transposing our words into deeds as Jesus did every day of his life. In other words by using every moment trying to observe the first and the second of the new Commandments just as Jesus himself did and still does.
The Mystical Ladder that leads into God.
Now in freely choosing to become a human being Jesus chose to act like a human being too so that, apart from everything else, we could learn from him, from his example. In short just as he learnt how to love, as a human being, we must learn in the same way, namely by performing act of selfless loving, one after another, day after day, ‘til gradually a habit of selflessness is born that enables us to receive the same love that he received in return from his Father. When the acts of love that are made inside of prayer are put into practice outside of prayer they gradually become steps. With practice, these steps gradually become, not just a habit, but an inner disposition of heart and mind that joins them all together into spiritual ladder that reaches onwards and upward enabling our loving to ascend into God and his loving to descend into us. This is why the analogy of Jacob's ladder became so popular with the Fathers of the Church. St John Climacus is a case in point – his book Scala Paradisi or Ladder of Divine Ascent, that was written at St Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt Sinai, shows how human perfection comes about when divine and human loving coincide. It details how God’s love can enter into us, suffusing our love in such a way, that it can rise up and enter into him. Other spiritual writers used the same analogy for it contained within it a profound mystical truth. While the truths of faith can enable us to come to know God, only love can take us, not just to him , but into him. Love is learnt, through practicing the daily offering of oneself inside and outside of prayer which is the new worship’ in spirit and in truth’ that Jesus promised would prevail when his Kingdom came after the resurrection.
Out of All Proportion
The extraordinary and the sublime generosity of God is such that, as we thank him for what he has done for us in the past, he actually gives us here and now in the present a hundredfold in return and continues to do so the more we thank him. That’s why Jesus said at the Last Supper ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments and I will send another to be with you - it is the Holy Spirit’. This Other is none other than his own love that now enable him to make his home within us and we to make our home in him. Whoever said that saying ‘thank you’ is just a sweet nothing’ –not me!