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The Mystery of Prayer

Father Alfonso Galvez has written about Prayer, beautifully and comprehensively, directly and indirectly, many times in his books and editorials. In The Mystery of Prayer he attempts to give the reader a small glimpse into the depth and reality of mystical or contemplative prayer.

 

Father Galvez states at the outset that it is simply not possible to learn how to practice contemplative prayer: never in three days nor in a thousand years, not even if one were able to live one hundred thousand lives. Contemplative prayer is something essentially supernatural and a gratuitous gift from God that He grants to whomever and whenever He wants; therefore … nobody can merit it, for it belongs to a level so high that man’s natural powers cannot reach it.

 

The author stands shoulder to shoulder with the two great Spanish Mystics and Doctors of the Church, Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross. The three have more in common than their native land. Each gives readers invaluable insights into the subject of prayer. However, both Mystical Doctors offer a method which Father observes as having some obscure, or seemingly austere, points contained in their spirituality: Saint Teresa speaks of a more passive method of contemplation in which a shower of the soft rain of grace can be received by the soul without effort. Saint John emphasizes in his doctrine that the soul should be divested of absolutely everything: embracing Nothing. The Night of the senses and of the spirit.

 

Father’s love for these two remarkable Saints and Doctors of the Church is obvious and tender. He has studied their lives and pondered their teaching through many years. But Father deviates from their methods at a certain point when he brings to the fore his own doctrine of spirituality which emphasizes a most beautiful reality somehow seemingly overlooked in all its fullness and simplicity by both mystics and which works to bridge the gulf between the Creator and His creature: precisely, the human nature of Jesus Christ. It is through His humanity that Christ connects with us and loves each one of us; it is by way of His humanity that we can return that love, in a human way, now elevated by grace.

 

It is this elevation of the human person by grace, grace purchased through the sufferings and death of Christ, along with His acceptance of the human condition, that allows man to share, on a level with equal footing, a relationship of love with God: a divine-human relationship of love. Simply because He wanted to be one of us: His desire, as Father puts it, to feel in His flesh our own suffering; which is but the result of a love so large that it is unable to stand seeing us suffer without making our sufferings His own. This means that He wanted to suffer not only for us but also with us. And there is the crux of the matter: Contemplative Prayer is nothing other than love.

 

Father speaks of this love, this divine-human relationship of love, in concrete and very real terms. Although poetry and metaphors and imagery are brought into play, because words do not always serve, the love relationship between Jesus Christ and the Soul is a very real encounter. In the nature of love, it is the sharing of one life; in the life and death of a Christian, it is equated to the life and death of Jesus Christ, with all the value that such a thing entails.

 

Father stresses the absolute necessity of bilaterality and reciprocity in love: the entire exposition of the divine-human relationship of love hinges on them. Gifts between the lovers consist in this: that each gives to the other everything he has, even his own life; and in that life there is a direct relationship between suffering and joy: it makes no difference whether the soul comes into the presence of the Lord in the fervent joy of the intimacy of love or if she is called to share with Him the hardship of His cross. But there is no doubt that, in either case, it is for her a time of Perfect Joy.

 

Throughout the work Father refers to the tenderness of love so beautifully portrayed in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament which is the grounding for Father’s thought. That contest of love, the give-and-take, the reciprocity which is the basis of any human love relationship: This is why we take as our starting point the behavior in the purely human love relationship, as does the Song of Songs. Thus it becomes possible to portray the divine-human relationship with expressive and intelligible terms similar to those used to describe the way merely human love operates, such as a mutual search on the part of both Bridegroom and bride; their jousting and tournaments in their relationship of love; tender and affectionate terms in their mutual rapport; their reciprocal longings because of their absences; their waiting, each one for the other...

 

When words in the normal order do not have the ability to express his level of thought, Father does as he so often does: he resorts to poetry; he sings. Most of the poems contained in this work are Father’s own originals. He explains: I am convinced that they [his poems] bring into this work a relative sense of beauty and an environment of joy and light that are, after all, so necessary in a world that has seemingly opted for ugliness and darkness. Besides, we need to introduce poetry into the treatises on prayer… And beauty and lightness and joy they do bring—not just as a balance to the subject matter, but as that joy brought about by a pure and childlike heart. Father turns prayer into a love song.

 

Just as Father flatly states that no one can do justice to an exposition on prayer (and subsequently love) through the use of words, it is also true that no one can do justice to a commentary on his book. He explains his reason for writing it, and his explanation reflects the elevated feelings the reader has somehow sensed for himself all throughout the reading:

 

… because I for one have felt, as I was writing this work, thrills and longings about what is said in it; and I have desired that at least some of the beauty that this work may have would become real in my soul. As for the rest, despite being immersed in the midst of so many vicissitudes and numerous ups and downs, my soul has always been filled with longings and dreams about God. Longings and thrills dreamt of but not always accompanied by sufficient efforts and, therefore, never attained. But the just man lives by faith, as Saint Paul affirmed, and he is also sustained by hope. A hope that in itself suffices to give us a pledge of Perfect Joy and to keep lit in our hearts the light which assures us that one day, perhaps at the moment least expected, Perfect Love will knock at our door.

The Mystery of Prayer

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