The Eyes of the Heart: On Authentic Christian Prayer


Pentecost is upon us with its emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s action in the world. But what about His action in my heart?

As the soul comes to know its Creator, its eyes open little by little to knowing and understanding as God knows and understands. For those who have accepted and are living the faith, St. Paul writes to the Ephesians his hope for them (and us): to receive this “spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). These and other gifts the Holy Spirit are infused into our souls at baptism and perfect us as we grow by grace in virtue. They should bring a Pentecost of the heart within us.

This enlightenment of the “eyes of your hearts” (Eph. 1:18) comes to us who are sealed by His Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). All of us consecrated to Him and who remain “in His hand” receive direction from Him to follow in His ways (Deut. 33:3). This direction comes to us through the Holy Spirit who “searches everything” that gives us a peek into the “depths of God” (1 Cor 2:10).

Thus, all Christian prayer is Trinitarian. That means regardless of whether we are talking to God our Father, Jesus our Lord, or a saint or angel, our prayer goes through Jesus to the Father in the Spirit. Jesus Himself teaches that “true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth… God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24) Jesus is the truth (John 14:6) and the Word of God, which God always sends forth in His breath, the Spirit (CCC 689).

All of this means we must pray to live the Christian life. “A clean heart can see God” said Mother Teresa. Conversations in prayer with God are necessary, not optional. 

To pray in truth, the prayer itself must be true. It is easy to fall into quietism or grasp false consolations that lead one into gnostic-like thinking of receiving special knowledge from God. Quietism is a heresy repeatedly condemned by the Church since the 13th century. It has taken many forms over the years, but generally involves spiritual gluttony and pride. The quietist believes they are perfected through their mental prayer and no longer need acts of virtue or good works. “God takes care of all” is their attitude. They use the language of the saints such as speaking of infused contemplation, renunciation of self, love of the Cross, etc. But they do not act until inspiration is given. Prudence is missing from their choices and acts because prudence is an active deliberation; this contradicts their idea of just waiting for God to move them. Hence any acts of virtue are incidental not intentional. These are the people who appear swimming in a mental daze, following their emotions which they believe to be God’s impulses, and do so without judgement or discernment of their own. Some may think they receive messages from God. 

The esteemed spiritual author of the early 20th century, Fr. Raoul Plus, explains true prayer, a stark contrast to the quietist/gnostic-like tendencies of false mystics, Eastern religions and new age spiritualities:

“We must be on our guard to avoid confusing the act of prayer with the state of prayer.” … “Is it possible to think of nothing but Him [God]? No. Here lies a double impediment: first, the practical impossibility. Our daily duties involve a number of actions other than formulated acts of prayer.” … “Hemmed in as we are by the visible world of sense, it is only with difficulty that we can have even fragmentary relations with the invisible [spiritual] world. Man is created with a body and soul, and no one can ask of others or require of himself to lead a life of pure spirit.” … “Even if our occupations were reduced to the minimum and…we were able to spend a large portion of time in prayer, yet continuous prayers would be impossible for they would soon lead to grave mental derangement and complete powerlessness.” … [for those to whom God has given the gift of infused contemplation and habitual union] “The ability to remain in the presence of God is not the normal result of our own efforts. … the soul finds it can easily adjust its sense life to harmonize with its supernatural life: outwardly it behaves like everyone else, while keeping within perpetual contact with the Divine Master.”

Legitimate Christian prayer brings forth an abandonment to God that is based in affectionate love for Him. Out of that love comes desire to rid oneself of sin and to show love to others more fully—to actually live as scripture instructs (which is anything but passive). Over time, this leads to spiritual growth in which the Holy Spirit lives more habitually in the soul. Grace-filled moments “are a fascinating conjunction of the grace of God with the rich inner life of the individual.” While that produces a peace even in the midst of turbulence or chaos, the perfection of one’s nature by grace impels one to greater acts of virtue. Quietists, on the other hand, believe they become so perfected as to not need these acts. Some even believe they become transformed into God (mirroring Eastern religions). Their prayer is no longer a conversation with God growing in relationship with Him and, from that, perfection by virtue and grace. Rather, their prayer is a form of self-regression; a form of passive self-love focused on their perfection by suppressing their humanity rather than focusing on love of our Creator Himself. 

Regularly conduct an honesty-check with yourself about the fruits of your prayer. The fruits of the Spirit, or their absence, will become clear. A few suggestions:

Fruits of authentic Christian PrayerFruits of inauthentic, pantheistic prayer
Am I more able to have tolerance, compassion, or even love for difficult people in my life (or at least desire to)? Do I want to do good for others? Do I desire God more than His consolations? A quietist (and false Catholic prophets) would not measure based upon increased love in the heart but, rather, increased imaginations of inspirations from God. Their focus is on the graces received rather than the Giver of those graces. It is an ‘interested’ love of God, meaning it is conditioned upon receiving His gifts. They love the Giver through His gifts rather than just Him alone.
Do I understand the barrier my venial sin creates in my relationship with God? Do I take it to confession (or desire to, if confession is not available)? To a quietest, all is in God’s hands. They conveniently minimize their own role as a secondary cause in situations. Thus, they see their sins as minimal and would confess only when they believed God gave them the impulse to.
Has my knowledge of my Creator, and my own littleness, led me to listen to Him more? Do I realize how little I am?Rather than this fruit of humility, a gnostic believes they receive secret knowledge from God, a form of spiritual pride. Some believe they can make spiritual impact in the world based on their superior knowledge (prominent in some New Age spiritualities). They, and quietists, develop a passive pride in this way.
Have I gained a sense of my own goodness, both body and soul, and desire to order my disordered passions? Do I strive to take care of both for God’s sake? The goal of the quietist is an annihilation of one’s will so as to reside in the intellect, inactive. They would say no efforts of our own should or need be made; only those directed by Him. For example, falling for temptation is ok unless God moves you to reject it.

These can also be used as benchmarks to test other types of prayer, both within the Church and outside of it, so as to avoid blending paganism into your beliefs about God and His plan for you. False Catholic prophets and their promoters, mindfulness/Buddhism, centering prayer, and other Eastern or new age spiritualities are wildly popular in today’s culture and our Church. These are self-focused and self-empowering, with some prayer aimed at regression or annihilation of the soul, changing it into some sort of ‘pure’ form in a divine being that they may term ‘god’. Others espouse partaking in a ‘collective consciousness’. 

The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the heart to know its Creator which is love Itself. Made to His image and likeness, we should become love to Him and others. That is our benchmark. 

“When He, the seven-fold Spirit, and the soul of an order more elevated and really divine informs us, His possession is in no way an intrusion nor is His motion and direction in an external and violent imposition. In reality these influences of the Spirit are intimate, vivifying, and autonomous, so that He who is the reason of our reason and the life of our soul is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. So it is that under His action we feel more free and active than ever.” (Servant of God Rev. John Arintero OP)

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.


1 Raoul Plus, SJ. How to Pray Always: Principles and Practices for Attaining Union with God. The Newman Press, 1951. Pages 3-6. 

2 Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations. Ignatius Press, 1993. P. 133. 

3 Servant of God Rev. John Arintero, OP. Mystical Evolution Volume 1. P. 240. 

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