- The Lord God . . . morning by morning he wakens, wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. Isaiah 50.4
We need to understand why we ought to say these four prayers, in what sense these are a constant reminder, a precise indication of the journey to carry out because of the Consecration we have made.
They begin with the invitation to listen and to welcome the word of God which is written for us as a fundamental law of perfect love. They end with the proclamation of the Beatitudes which spring from the fulfilling of the law as it comes to be through the Christian life: at the end of the journey of our present life peace awaits us, the joy of God, which is Paradise.
The four prayers follow the sequence in which the right places are placed in terms of this journey: we recall that the distance between us and God is infinite; yet, there is no journey except what God has established, joining us through the Incarnation, and this is the same road which we must take to him.
ear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. These precepts I give to you this day, you shall fix in your heart, you shall repeat them to your sons and daughters, you shall speak of them when you are seated in your home, when you walk in the way, when you go to bed and when you get up. You shall bind them to your hand as a sign, they shall be to you as a fringe about your eyes and you shall write them on the doorposts of your home and upon the gates of your city . (Deuteronomy 6.4-9, Leviticus 19.18, Matthew 22.37-39, Mark 12.28-34, Luke 10.25-28.)
The first prayer, Hear, O Israel, relates to obedience. In fact, how can we obey God's will without first learning it? And how can we learn it without being willing to listen with faith, humility, in silence, in contemplation. Our Lord, as a religious Jew, said this prayer every day, even three times a day; we only say it once at the beginning of the day.
God bows down to me to communicate his life to me. Perhaps we have not even once realized this mystery, this omnipotence of love! God does not live in us in discreet moments, but in the eternity of his gift, and we in each instant ought to welcome and live God's eternity. Given the impossibility of our giving to God total and continuous attention, this prayer at the beginning of each new day recalls us to that contemplation, to that attention which is never lazy for it involves all our powers: intelligence, memory, will, emotions, feelings.
'You shall love . . . ': the future indicates the prolonging of the Incarnation of the Word, that is of love, in us who ask for an unlimited time, all our life and more. Basically, the precepts the Lord repeats to us at the beginning of each day are one alone: you shall love your God and your neighbour. (In the selection from Deuteronomy 6.4-9, a precept from Leviticus 19.18 has been inserted, ' You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. This in fact Jesus did, as given in Matthew 22.37-39, Mark 12.28-34, Luke 10.25-28.
The adjective 'all', repeated three times, expresses the infinite requirement of God who desires of us an absolute gift whether of time whether of activity, in our family, in society, in political life. There should remain no empty space in our personal life and that in relation to others: all our life should be the realization of God in an exclusive love, so total that it consumes our life through him.
'The verses of Deuteronomy 6.4-9 came to be written by Jews on parchment, enclosed in a container of wood or metal and bound on the forehead and on the back of the hand (these are the phylacteries which Mathew names in his Gospel: 25.5); they also came to be placed on the doorposts of houses at the height of a man' (Bibbia di Civilta` cattolica). For us the precepts bound to the hand can indicate that our work should always turn to God in the activity of our mind, which is the greatest power we have. The precepts inserted on the doorposts - and precisely at the height of a man - serve to give all our social and political actions a decidedly religious direction.
- This chapter is taken from the addresses given at Brescia, 22-23 January 1977, Florence, 4 September 1960. To deepen this argument suggested reading is Divo Barsotti, Il Signore e uno , Morcelliana, the book being on a series of spiritual exercises commenting on the Shema (Hear, O Israel), Israel's prayer.
The Lord's Prayer
The image that we use of St Sergius praying in the orans position, his hands and arms full of Pentecostal flames, comes from a story of a disciple in the desert asking a monk how to pray. 'Pray', said the monk, 'until your fingers become flames'. And the disciple looked and saw each finger of the old monk's hands in flames. From the Desert Fathers. READ....