Ever wonder how one could possibly fulfill Paul’s directive to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)? I have, and I’ve also been asked by students how one manages such a feat. (Does sleeping count?)
Apparently St. Augustine wondered the same thing because he gives a nice interpretation of the phrase in today’s Office of Readings, which I thought worth sharing. His answer struck me as rather “Ignatian,” in the sense that Ignatian discernment trains us to be attentive to our desires and where they’re leading us. And our desire for the coming of Christ is one of the great undercurrents of this quietly joyful season of Advent.
So here he is, the ever-profound, ever-insightful St. Augustine:
[T]he desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. The Apostle Paul had a purpose in saying: Pray without ceasing. Are we then ceaselessly to bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? Is this what is meant in saying: Pray without ceasing? Even if we admit that we pray in this fashion, I do not believe that we can do so all the time.
Yet there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless. Therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire…