Making an Oratory of the Heart

VALLETTA, MALTA - JUNE 18, 2018: The masterpiece Oratory of St John Co-Cathedral with rich decors and altar icon depicting Beheading of St John the Baptist, on June 18 in Valletta.

Oratory of St John Co Cathedral, making an oratory of the heart
VALLETTA, MALTA – JUNE 18, 2018: The masterpiece Oratory of St John Co-Cathedral with rich decors and altar icon depicting Beheading of St John the Baptist, on June 18 in Valletta.

Making an oratory of the heart…

When I first read the phrase, “oratory of the heart,” in Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God, I had to stop and think about the word oratory. It’s not one we hear in daily conversations. It’s one of those words, I thought I knew but upon looking it up found two very different meanings of the noun. Oratory is defined as eloquence in public speaking and as a place of prayer. Clearly Brother Lawrence refers to the second meaning.

It’s an arresting phrase, isn’t it? Coupled with the image of the Oratory of St John Co-Cathedral it becomes wondrous. Imagine if our hearts could be this splendid, glorious?

This is precisely what an unknown monk from the seventeenth century invites us to do in a simply worded, brief book called the Practice of the Presence of God. Embedded in this second link is a free PDF for those of you who may want to read this remarkable, simply written recipe for achieving the only possible peace in this life: The presence of God.

This copy of the book contains four ‘conversations’ between Brother Lawrence and an unknown writer. Fascinating because in the now four times I have read this little book, I had never before found this “authentic” version with its delightful observations of Brother Lawrence.

The wholly remarkable thing is…

it works! Following a facsimile of the advice in this gem of a book has taught me how to live in the presence of God. And believe me, if my easily distracted, short attention span mind can achieve this, so can anyone.

The secrets lie in willing His presence and in understanding that it’s not about us… our virtue or lack of it, the number of church services we attend, spiritual retreats we journey to or prayers we memorize, it’s all about Him, Christ, His grace and mercy.

The anonymous conversationalist writes this:

…that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity. That we need only to recognize GOD intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.

That in this conversation with GOD, we are also employed in praising, adoring, and loving him incessantly, for His infinite goodness and perfection.

That, without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for His grace with a perfect confidence, as relying upon the infinite merits of our LORD. That GOD never failed offering us His grace at each action; that he distinctly perceived it, and never failed of it, unless when his thoughts had wandered from a sense of GOD’s Presence, or he had forgot to ask His assistance.

Making an oratory of the heart

when people are killing one another because of their religion? Muslims killing Christians and Christians killing Muslims? How is it possible to keep our hearts free of all that is dark, violent and depraved?

Indeed.

The Madonna of the Holocaust

A couple of weeks ago, Fr. Chris Kanowitz was preaching an extemporaneous homily. He had not expected to preach that early morning mass and had nothing prepared. And so he spoke of a painting, icon, that he keeps in his prayer room at the rectory. The Franciscan artist calls it, The Madonna of the Holocaust.

Because I have never before seen an image that so perfectly answers that question of mine, I asked Fr. Chris to send me an image of this haunting, unsettling, profoundly provocative icon.

 Madonna of the Holocaust

Like you, like all of us who have ever lived, I ponder the whys of terror, hatred, the spectacular violence of humans upon one another and how and why God permits them.

While writing an article about Lent and the Book of Job, to the ubiquitous problem of evil I recently found an author who comes close to an explanation. Moshe Greenberg ‘s words also fit as caption to this icon:

“Through nature, God reveals Himself to Job as both purposive and nonpurposive, playful and uncanny, as evidenced by the monsters He created. To study nature is to perceive the complexity, the unity of contraries, in God’s attributes, and the inadequacy of human reason to explain His behavior, not the least in His dealings with man.

“For it may be inferred that in God’s dealings with man, this complexity is also present–a unity of opposites: reasonability, justice, playfulness, uncanniness (the latter appearing demonic in the short view). When Job recognizes in the God of nature, with His fullness of attributes, the very same God revealed in his own individual destiny, the tumult in his soul is stilled. He has fathomed the truth concerning God’s character: he is no longer tortured by a concept that fails to account for the phenomena, as did his former notion of God’s orderly working.”

Thank you for reading.

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