Augustine on Prayer

For the last two weeks we’ve been talking about prayer and particularly Saint Augustine’s advice to Anicia Proba about how to pray aright. Augustine tells her that we must first recognize our own “desolation” before our prayers will be what they ought to be. That is, we must acknowledge the truth that our deepest desire is for God and that nothing else – wealth, success, popularity, fame – will fulfill us. It is not that we are destitute like the man under the bridge, but rather, no matter how good or great our earthly lot may be, our true desire is for God. As the hymn writer put it so long ago:

From the best bliss that Earth imparts
We turn unfilled to thee again

Augustine says, in effect, that only when we take notice that our hearts, left alone, are disordered, that is, that we have a dogged and chronic tendency to put things that should be second and third place into first place, only then will our prayers be what they ought to be. So when we start to pray, our first request might be:

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace . . .

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