Piety: The Life of Prayer

Father Jean Guibert in his book On the Exercises of Piety shows how piety permeates a person’s spiritual life in mental and vocal prayer, in the sacraments, in various devotions, in spiritual reading, in the examination of one’s conscience, and in spiritual retreats. He asserts that piety is “an activity of a higher order, which takes hold of a man by what is deepest in him to lead him to the loftiest regions of the ideal and of happiness.”

Explaining the role of piety in prayer, he states: “The life of piety is nothing else than the life of prayer. . . . It is surely not isolated from moral life, since its end is to make us better. . . . When the Apostles said to Jesus Christ, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ (Lk 11:1), it was because they wished to enter into the way of piety.”

“Prayer is a soul’s effort towards God, when she feels her dependance and distress; under the impression of her dependance, she goes to her Creator and Lord to offer Him her adoration and to implore His help; and, under the impression of her distress, she goes to her Deliverer to obtain consolation and comfort. She adores, she gives thanks, she implores, and she touches the heart of her God. In this ascent towards God, the soul expresses her feelings by gestures and words, and then we have vocal prayer; and sometimes she concentrates her activity within herself . . . and then we have mental prayer. To speak the truth, there is no prayer that is not mental, because there is none that is not in the soul itself, and which does not express the feelings of the soul.”

Next, he distinguishes four ways in which mental prayer and vocal prayer are related: “In simple and uneducated souls, the interior feelings remain confused while the mouth utters words. . . . In those who are better educated, the forms of prayer awaken feelings that are clearer, and the mind and heart say all that the words express, but as soon as the words cease, silence occurs in souls which are incapable of acting inwardly. Others have their interior activity better developed—words are required to evoke it; but as soon as the flame is alight in the heart, the fire maintains itself, the soul is truly capable of prayer of a mental nature. Lastly, there are others who acquire by practice such a power of interior life that they are in activity, and contemplate and pray without the need of words; the sound of forms of prayer rather disturbs than helps them.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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