If we really have a good prayer, one where we truly have an intimate encounter with God, we for sure would come out of it burning with zeal for love and concern for the others. Somehow we would catch the fire behind these words of Christ: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk 12,49)
Yes, real prayer has that effect. If, on the contrary, we come out of it just thinking of our own selves, or worse, feeling low and dry, then we are not actually praying. Prayer will always sharpen our mindfulness and thoughtfulness of the others.
Prayer is by definition an act of love. And love in turn is always self-perpetuating. It never stops giving itself to God. As St. Francis de Sales would put it, “The measure of love is to love without measure.”
And because of our love for God, then our prayer which is an act of love for God will always lead us to love others. That is always the trajectory of a true, love-inspired prayer. Its vertical aspect never leaves behind the horizontal aspect.
In his first letter, St. John said regarding this point: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we have this commandment from Him: whoever loves God must love his brother as well.” (4,19-21)
Of course, it cannot be denied that there are times when in spite of our best intentions and effort, we still would feel dry. Neither should we be surprised by this. Many saints, who really had intimate conversations with God, also experienced the same phenomenon. God allows that to happen for a good purpose. Such dryness serves to purify and deepen our faith and piety.
But normally, even in the worst scenario when we would be feeling low and dry in our prayer, the heart would still beat for love and concern for the others. Genuine prayer can have no other effect. If in prayer we are truly with God, we should also be with others. It cannot be any other way.
So in these times of lockdown and quarantine, we have to make sure that our prayer does not begin and end only with our own selves. It has to begin and end with God. And because of God, it somehow has to involve the others.
We have to be wary of our tendency to convert our prayer as a way to build some kind of an ivory tower, where we isolate ourselves from the others. This can happen when our idea of being with God is detached from being with the others. Sad to say, we can observe some people falling into this trap.
This can also happen when our idea of prayer is too spiritual as to neglect the material dimension of our life. Let us remember that man is by definition a composite of spirit and matter, of the soul and the body. He cannot be one without the other.
If our prayer has to lead us to love others, then that love has to be shown by caring not only for the spiritual needs of the others. That love also has to care for their material needs. And vice-versa.
In the end, what is most important is that everyone is led to God who is the Alpha and Omega of our life and of the whole world. So, our love for the others that comes as a result of our prayer should not just be limited to doing philanthropy or some acts of altruism. Our prayer-inspired love for the others should bring them to love God the way God loves us.
For as Christ clearly commanded us, we have to love one another as he himself has loved us. (cfr. Jn 13,34)*