While yet a child, Abba Ephrem had a dream and then a vision. A branch of vine came out of his tongue, grew bigger and filled everything under heaven. It was laden with beautiful fruit. All the birds of heaven came to eat of the fruit of the vine, and the more they ate, the more the fruit increased.
Reading: John 15:12-17
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Praying for people, no matter how lengthy the list, does not sound particularly radical, however, when compared with some of the other ancient practices, from fasting to keeping vigils to endless recitation of the psalms to repetitive manual labour. These more rigorous disciplines often strike the contemporary person as not merely odd but wrongheaded – perhaps even contrary to the gospels.
Not only do they raise the spectre of "works," engaged in for the purpose of winning points with God, but they seem difficult, purposeless, and unrewarding. After all, doesn’t God love us the way we are? Why deny ourselves the joy of passionate living, particularly when it comes to sexuality? Didn’t he create us this way? What possible good can come from suppressing our natural desires and passions?
Our modern concern is understandable but misguided. The goal of the ancient Christians was not a passionless life but freedom from the confusion that results when emotions are running the show, as they so often do these days.
The desert dwellers believed that constant emotional turmoil muddies the mind and prevents us from seeing clearly. Their sometimes austere practices were aimed at achieving "purity of heart," or a heart cleansed so completely of self-centred passions and desires that it was able to love as Christ loves. The road to such humility and simplicity of being was long and hard, but when genuine love, purged of all self-centeredness, finally came, it brought with it great joy.
A thousand years later, Richard of St. Victor summed up their penetrating spiritual vision in this way: "Love is the eye and to love is to see."
I’ll make a list of the people in my life who especially need my prayers.
Lord, teach me how to pray lovingly and effectively for these people.