Reviewed by Patti Maguire Armstrong
Prayer brings us answers and consolation. Yet, there is something even better: an infusion of God. It is the fruit of contemplative prayer.
In his book And You Will Find Rest: What God Does in Prayer Fr. Wayne Sattler prepares us for this kind of prayer through the classic works of two doctors of the Church: St. Teresa Avila’s The Interior Castle and St. John of the Cross’s The Dark Night. Both saints held that all prayer is good but that too often we only consider what we ourselves do in prayer as opposed to contemplative prayer where God acts.
Fr. Sattler brings these two great saints together to help us understand how to avail ourselves to contemplation which is regarded as the height and goal of Christian prayer. The creation of this book draws on his six years as a hermit in a one-room cabin in rural North Dakota from 2006 to 2012 as a way to serve the diocese. As Pope Pius XI is quoted in the book, time devoted to prayer and penance cultivates the Lord’s field by calling down divine graces to help the work of the laborers of the Gospel to reap a richer harvest.
The teachings of St. Teresa and St John have also been at the heart of the retreats he began giving to the Missionaries of Charity around the world and classes he presented to the diaconate program in the Bismarck Diocese.
St. John’s teachings on the path of purification are presented by Fr. Sattler in laymen’s terms and complimented with St. Teresa’s colorful insights on the pure experiences of God. In life, the two were friends. St. Teresa was working on reforming the female branch of the Carmelites in Spain when she met with St. John in 1568. She was 52 and he was 25. St. Teresa appointed him as the spiritual director and confessor to her convent of 130 nuns.
Such a gift their friendship must have been to each other; two servants of God, sharing their love and insights on contemplative prayer. And You Will Find Rest brings their complimentary thoughts together to fire our own spirits with a desire for a deeper relationship with God.
A Greater Good
Father Sattler asks us to consider how God sees us, how we can follow him, and how to live in his love? “In the life of Christ, we witness how the faculties of our souls were originally intended to work together,” he wrote. “Our faculties of will, intellect, and memory need to be guided by faith, hope, and love, he explained, but to follow him, we must deny ourselves.” Fr. Sattler elaborated on the three-step process given to us by Jesus: self-denial, picking up our crosses, and following him.
From there, we are introduced to contemplative prayer and the period known as the dark night, which is not a time of desolation, but one of separation from man’s mere activities into the pure activity of God. “The ordinary path to contemplation is through the dark night when God makes it impossible for us to meditate as He tries to free us from our attachment to lesser goods,” Fr. Sattler wrote. “This does not mean to suggest that there is something wrong with meditation and vocal prayer; the door is simply being opened to contemplation. This is that breaking point in prayer spoken of in the Introduction, which serves to separate the mere activity of man from the pure activity of God.”
St. John explained in The Dark Night, “Contemplation is nothing else than a secret and peaceful, and loving inflow of God, which if not hampered, fires the soul in the spirit of love.”
Consolation vs Spiritual Delights
St. Teresa introduced us to the differences between consolation and spiritual delights so that we come to understand that consolation has an earthly element even in prayer. She makes the comparison of an earthly consolation such as success in business with joyful consolations in prayer, noting that both “have their beginnings in our human nature and end in God.” God still has a hand in them, she explained, but the consolations arise from our own efforts so there is an element of having earned them.
“Spiritual delights, on the other hand, ‘begin in God’ even though our human nature feels and enjoys them as they do consolations,” Fr. Sattler explained. He said that St. Teresa found it difficult to put the experience of a spiritual delight into precise words, yet regarded these few words as sufficient: “You open my docile heart,” (Psalm 119: 32).
Fr. Sattler provides us with further explanation: “A spiritual delight, on the other hand, comes without us knowing how it happened. The one who receives it is utterly aware that it did not proceed from their own activity. It came without them knowing how it happened and is beyond what our human nature could have led us to…. To receive spiritual delights, St. Teresa stresses that the important thing in prayer is ‘not to think much but to love much. Do that which best stirs you to love,’ realizing that ‘love does not consist in great delight but in desiring with strong determination to please God in everything.’”
This path to contemplation is a process, according to Fr. Sattler. Much like taming a wild horse, it can only happen gradually. The reward are spiritual delights “that comes without us knowing how it happened and expands our hearts to the deeper possibilities of God’s touches.”
Go here for a presentation Fr. Sattler gave on his book at St. Anne’s in Bismarck.
Patti Maguire Armstrong is a Journalist at National Catholic Register, Legatus, Our Sunday Visitor
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