St. John Chrysostom on Prayer
Not long ago, during one part of the Liturgy of the Hours called the Office of Readings, a homily by Saint John Chrysostom was read entitled "Prayer is the light of the spirit. "
St. John Chrysostom, a Father of the Church, tells us that prayer and converse with God is our highest good: it is a partnership and union with God. He compares it to the eyes of the body that are enlightened when they see light. In the same way our soul, when it is intent on God, is illumined by His infinite light.
Here the saint is not speaking of prayer of outward observance but prayer from the heart, not confined to fixed times or periods but continuous throughout the day and night. He says that our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, not only when it is engaged in meditation but at other times also. That is, when carrying out one's duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God and call Him to mind, so that our work may be seasoned with the salt of God's love, and so become a pleasing offering to Him. During our entire lives we can enjoy the benefit that comes from prayer if we devote a great deal of time to it St. John tells us.
Prayer enlightens our soul, gives us true knowledge of God and mediates between God and man. Once a soul is raised up to heaven by prayer, it clings to God with the utmost tenderness. The soul, like a child crying tearfully for its mother, craves for the spiritual milk that God provides. The soul longs for the satisfaction of its desires. And because of this longing, receives gifts outweighing the whole created world.
Prayer gives joy to the spirit and peace to our heart. St. John wrote of prayer, not words. He speaks of a longing for God, a love too deep for words. St. Augustine, too, wrote of prayer as a desire. Such a longing is a gift of God's grace. As St. Paul tells us, "We do not know how we are to pray but the Spirit himself pleads for us with inexpressible longings. "
When the Lord gives this kind of prayer to a person, He gives him or her a great gift that cannot be taken away. It is a heavenly food that satisfies one's spirit. Anyone who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord. One's spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity, as many a saint has experienced.
St. John compares our soul to a house. It needs to be painted with the colors of modesty and humility. Made radiant with the light of justice. Decorated with the finest gold leaf of good deeds. Adorned with the walls and stones of faith and generosity. And finally crowned at the top with prayer. In this way we will make our souls a perfect dwelling place for the Lord.
We need to take St. John's wisdom of prayer as desire and practice it throughout the day, as he recommends. But we also need to ask God in prayer to help us to thirst for Him. Finally, remember this most important advice he gives us; If we devote a great deal of time to prayer we will enjoy the great benefits that come from it!