Friday 16 June 2023

Practising the Presence of God with Brother Lawrence - Jennifer Moorcroft - CTS Books

Practising the Presence of God with Brother Lawrence
Jennifer Moorcroft
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860827488
eISBN 9781784692698
CTS Booklet SP33

A few years back I stumbled upon the books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society. I instantly fell in love with the clear and concise writing; the wonderful lives of Saints and Blesseds, amazing histories and the church teaching. I have read over 354 books from the CTS, and I have been blessed and benefited from almost all of them. There are many wonderful series. This is the fifth volume I have read from the pen of Jennifer Moorcroft, but I will be tracking down others soon. I loved the books in the CTS Great Saints Series. I have already read 14 books in this series and yet had not read any of the 7 from Moorcroft. I have also read many in the CTS Biographies and also Saints of the Isles Series. And have enjoyed all of them. This volume is a fantastic read! This volume was originally published in 2011, the eBook edition was released in 2017, and it was rebranded early in the 2020’s.  

The description of this book is:

“This humble Carmelite lay brother became a light in the turmoil that gripped the Europe of his day. However it is not only his life and times that enrapture us, but his great attraction to God's love combined with his method of prayer. As he put it himself: the holiest, most ordinary, and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It consists in taking delight in and becoming accustomed to his divine company.”

And the chapters in this little volume are:

A message that speaks today
The attraction to God’s love
First steps in Carmel
Practising the presence of God
Living a life of prayer
The quietist controversy
Final sufferings
Maxims of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection

Back when I was in university The Practice of the Presence of God was very popular in Campus Ministry. It was used by the Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ and even Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. I read the book a number of times and in a few different translations and editions. I even read his Spiritual Maxims, but have yet to read his letters. It has been at least 28 years since I have read it, but after reading this wonderful volume I cannot but want to read it, his maxims and his letters. I highlighted a several passages my first time through this volume; some of them are:

“The writings of Brother Lawrence found such diverse admirers as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, Thomas Kelly, a Quaker, and Aldous Huxley the atheist.”

“When the idea that we can speak to God and that God speaks to us is often greeted with derision and implications of delusion in the secular world, Lawrence affirms that we can indeed speak to God; indeed, that it is an integral part of our human existence. He assures us that God likewise, and pre-eminently, speaks to us.”

“In later life he was sometimes dismissed as simple-minded, ignorant and uneducated, none of which was true, but it was probably a testament to his humility that he was content to be thought so. In fact, he was well-read according to the standards of the time. The parish priest gave him lessons, supplemented by lessons in his faith at home. It is a measure of the esteem in which he held his parish priest that he took the name of Lawrence when he entered religious life; it was also the name of the village’s patron saint.”

“During his period in the army, when he was eighteen years of age, he had had a profound experience that changed him spiritually and which he called his conversion. It was during the winter, and he saw a tree stripped of its leaves and fruit, to all appearances lifeless. Nicolas was then made vividly aware that he, too, seemingly dead like the tree, was nevertheless assured of a springtime of resurrection. The incident was almost commonplace, but for Nicolas, it ‘lifted him up immediately to God, and inspired him with so sublime an awareness that this impression was still as strong and intense in his soul forty years later’.”

“It was in 1640, now convinced that God really did want him to follow the religious life, despite his profound sense of his own unworthiness, that he entered the Carmelites as a lay brother. He said that he entered religion in order to atone for his past mistakes and clumsiness, but he found also a depth of union with God and a joy and contentment that he would never have believed possible.”

“Brother Lawrence asserted that the Lord had tricked him, because he had entered religious life in order to be severely reprimanded for his previous sins, but had instead found only satisfaction. Nevertheless, his Novice Master did treat him with greater severity than the other novices, because he already recognised that Lawrence had sterling qualities and would grow in virtue through such testing.”

“Before he started his work in the kitchen he would think about what his work involved, and then how he would carry out each task, doing everything for the love of God, and asking God for the grace to do everything well.”

“He would often spend the nights in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Nevertheless, prayer was far from easy for him.”

“For the first ten years of his Carmelite life he went through a testing time of trial; prayer was difficult, and even when he received graces in prayer he dismissed them as untrue because he considered that he did not deserve them. What he saw as the sins of his previous life were so overwhelming to him that his mind and soul were in torment.”

“During his novitiate he had spent his times of prayer in thinking of God more by devout sentiments than by reasoning and elaborate meditations. In the early years of his religious life he read many books to help him, and prayed with the help of various devotions, methods of prayer and set prayers, but none of them really suited him. His time of prayer was often spent in rejecting wandering thoughts and then falling back into them.”

“Gradually he developed a method of prayer that he termed ‘the practice of the presence of God’. He started and ended his work each day in the kitchen with a prayer, and during his work did it as if he was doing it for God alone; the least little task, even picking up a straw or flipping an omelette, was done for the love of God. He also tried to keep up a continual conversation with God during his work, reminding himself of his presence and gently turning back to him when his thoughts strayed, given the necessary need for the concentration required for his work.”

“Having found such benefit in this way of prayer for himself, Lawrence was eager to share it with others, and in his letters, writings and conversations gave invaluable guidance as to how to practice it. However, it is not to be thought that this practice was new in the Church since it lies at the very heart of Judeo-Christian spirituality. Every Christian is called to live in the presence of God, but sometimes an aspect of the spiritual life becomes overlooked and God then raises up an exceptional person to remind us of that perhaps forgotten aspect, or to show it forth in a new and more emphatic way.”

“He recognised that not everyone would attain to the perfection of this practice, with some having a greater capacity, others less; nonetheless, this simple and easy way was open to everyone, whatever their calling and state in life.”

“The awareness of God’s presence could be maintained with a simple phrase; Lawrence gave examples that he himself used, ‘My God, I am completely yours’ or ‘God of love, I love you with all my heart’, or ‘Lord, fashion me according to your heart’;19 but it could also be without words, just by a simple raising of the heart and mind to God, a loving glance or a movement of the heart.”

“An easy way to keep the mind from wandering during the time of mental prayer, is to keep it as still as possible–not to let it take flight–during the day. You must keep it faithfully in God’s presence; and once you are accustomed to think of him from time to time, it will be easy to remain calm during prayer, or at least to bring the mind back when it wanders.”

“In this extract Lawrence makes no distinction between what could be called secular and sacred activities. All can be and must be, offered to God because all are part of life, just as Jesus said ‘when you pray’ not ‘if you pray’, because prayer is an integral to human living, to being truly human.”

“Since that time I do my work in simple faith before God, humbly and lovingly, and I carefully apply myself to avoid doing, saying, or thinking anything that might displease him. I hope that, having done all I can, he will do with me as he pleases.”

“His leg was causing him increasing pain, and when, after fifteen years of working in the kitchen, it became ulcerated, Lawrence was transferred to the sandal-making room, where he could sit down more. Even so, he would go to the kitchen on occasion, feast-days perhaps, and when the brothers were especially busy, to help out, peeling the vegetables and other tasks. Lawrence was content with any place, with any task. He found joy everywhere, doing little things for the love of God.”

“Brother Lawrence became increasingly ill with his ulcerated leg and three times was near death. His patience and contentment in sickness was just as it was as when he was in comparative health, for the thought of death held no terrors for him. When the doctor managed to bring down his fever during one of these crises Lawrence remarked, ‘Ah, doctor, your remedies have worked too well for me; you only delay my happiness!’”

“There are such passages in Lawrence’s writings which could be read as supporting quietism, but in fact are very far from it. In saying this, Lawrence was not expressing a lack of concern about his salvation, but a total abandonment to the love of God and confidence in God’s grace. Giving an account of his soul to his spiritual director he wrote.”

“In this he was following Saint John of the Cross, who agreed that external prayers, acts of devotion, and religious pictures, for example, could be used as aids to prayer, but when God himself took over the prayer, as it were, then these aids become superfluous.”

“Likewise, Lawrence never denied the goodness and beauty of the external world and all the helps that are provided to aid us in prayer. As his experience of recognising the renewing love of God in the bare tree of winter had affirmed to him, he saw the goodness of God in everything, and everything in God.”

“The holiest, most ordinary, and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It consists in taking delight in and becoming accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure; especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin.”

This was an amazing read. I have already recommended it to a number of people. This is another excellent little volume. It seems every time I read a book from the Catholic Truth Society I find 2 or three others I want to read. I have an ever growing wish list of eBooks, books in print, and books out of print I want to track down. I greatly enjoyed this volume. I learned, was challenged, and was encouraged. This is another excellent read from this author from the CTS. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Jennifer Moorcroft:
A Catholic Response to the Jehovah's Witnesses
Saint Therese of Lisieux and Her Sisters 
When Silence Speaks. The Life and Spirituality of Elisabeth Leseur
The Hidden Light: A Life of Saint Dominic
He is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity
God Is All Joy: The Life of St. Teresa of the Andes

In the CTS Great Saints Series:

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