A Brave And Ready Heart: What Does That Mean?

A Brave And Ready Heart: What Does That Mean?

On Monday evenings, while my son is at flag football practice, I sometimes have a window of opportunity to stop by a church to pray. I don’t take advantage of this opportunity often enough, but a few weeks ago I decided to stop and spend some time in prayer. When I pulled up to the chapel, I happily discovered that no one else was there. I entered, knelt down, and began to pray.

Light from the fading sun was streaming through the stained glass windows, illuminating a large painting on the wall that depicted the Flight Into Egypt. With statues of the saints standing by and a hauntingly beautiful crucifix above the altar, there was plenty to keep my eyes on while I prayed.

The chapel was quiet—so quiet that I could hear my own thoughts (except I was sick of hearing those). I longed to have some kind of communication from God.

I sat in silence for a while but heard nothing. Keeping my gaze on the painting of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I began to say a rosary. With each Hail Mary, I pressed harder on the beads, rolling them between my fingers in an attempt to stay focused. Yet, interiorly, I felt nothing at all.

Hoping to ward off distractions, I shifted my position; first kneeling—then sitting—then kneeling again. I finished the rosary and then spoke to God about the many things that were on my mind, asking Him for help with a particular struggle I was having. I shared with Him all the people and situations I wished to pray for.

But I felt as if God were distant and remote.

Eventually, I sat back in the pew and stared at the crucifix. Not sure what I was hoping for— some perception maybe; some sense of something from God. I squinted my eyes so that I couldn’t see anything except Christ on the cross. I sat there for what seemed like a long time. When I finally checked my phone, I realized that I only had a few minutes to pick up my son, so I rose from the pew.

I dipped my fingers in the holy water, made the Sign of the Cross, and left the chapel.

There are times when I talk to friends who appear to be closely connected with God, or when I read about the saints, who, in their lifetimes, seemed to have a direct pathway to Our Lord—and I feel discouraged. I, too, wish to feel the presence of God; I long to know His will. The beautiful words from Scripture are often on my soul: “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.” (Psalm 57:7)

So where are you, Lord?

Let’s face it: sometimes prayer takes a certain kind of bravery. I want something that I can see and feel and touch. I want to know that He hears me. Yet spiritual bravery is perhaps less about a struggle and more about surrender. When I persevere I find that what matters in prayer is not so much what I do, but what God does in me.

One can’t stand in front of a fire without being warmed, or stay in the sun without being tanned, and in remaining in God’s presence and letting him act in the depths of our being, we are doing what really counts. If our prayer consists of nothing more than that—holding ourselves before God without doing anything or thinking of anything special, without any particular feelings, but with a heartfelt attitude of availability and trusting abandonment—then we could not do any better.

Fr. Jacques Philippe, Time For God

We are called to have a heart that is brave and ready, yet what is that, exactly? In a conversation with a holy friend recently, she echoed the idea that (in her experience) it has more to do with trustful surrender than anything.

She told me that spiritual bravery is something she has developed only after much persistence in prayer. In other words, for her it developed over time. In fact, she said she recognized it only after many life lessons on suffering, detachment, forgiveness, and patience.

There’s no room for idleness or complacency in trustful surrender. As we’ve seen, self-abandonment requires an “active receptivity” of the will; that is, a heart that’s courageous enough to deny its own inclinations and submit to the will of God from moment to moment.

Good Catholic series, Thy Will Be Done

Some days our efforts at prayer feel futile. There are moments, like that day in the chapel, when I might not feel anything at all. There are other times, when I am struggling or in the midst of suffering, that a simple prayer takes tremendous effort. But I have learned that our emotions don’t always reveal what God is communicating, and in fact, they can even get in the way of that communication. God is at work in me even when I am not aware of His presence.

In the book Time For God, Fr. Jacques Philippe explains that every time we call upon the Lord, we are in the midst of an encounter with God. He is always with us, even when it may feel as though He is far away:

It is enormously liberating to know this, for sometimes we can do nothing at all in mental prayer. Really though, it doesn’t matter much, because even if we can’t do anything, God can. In fact, he is always acting in the depths of our soul, even if we don’t realize it.

Fr. Jacques Philippe, Time for God

We draw on what we know about God and on His grace, given to us in so many moments every day. Each time I participate in the sacraments; each time I pray and fast; each and every struggle—whether big or small—offered to God, is an encounter with Him.

Time with Our Lord is never wasted time. While I may not feel His presence, God promises that when we call upon Him, He is there: “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him; if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

When I think about that day in the chapel, or other times when I have become discouraged about my faith, I have to admit to a certain selfishness. It’s not hard to see that I expected something from God that day, even if just a tiny consolation.

One of my favorite books that I keep on my bedside table is well-worn and marked up. The Way by St. Josemaría Escrivá is full of spiritual lessons, and inevitably when I open the pages, my eyes fall on those passages that I need the most. In a chapter on the interior life I have underlined these words: “It’s hard! Yes— I know! But forward! No one receives the reward—and what a reward—except those who fight bravely.”

Regardless of how we feel when we pray, let us learn to be brave and always seek Our Lord with a confident heart: “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.”

This article is an excerpt from the highly acclaimed Good Catholic series Thy Will Be Done, a guide to trusting God…with everything.