‘Let nothing disturb you; Let nothing dismay you: All thing pass; God never changes. Patience attains All that it strives for. He who has God Finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.’ 

St. Teresa of Avila1 


Nuns, by their pure, demanding way of life, show an everlasting hope in the Word of God. They possess abundantly the simple, beautiful, exemplary confidence of little children.

They have confidence because God alone truly suffices for them. They know that God will not deceive them.

The key to such great self-denial in everyday life is confidence, prayer, and absolute love for God.

Love is a fire; this blaze inflames them with a desire that is not immediately directed toward action but, rather, toward God alone: The entire life of nuns is dedicated to prayer.

Defining prayer

If man does not have a well, he cannot draw water. Similarly, without prayer, man becomes arid, because he no longer has depth or an interior life or a fountain to irrigate his soul.

Prayer opens on to a limitless oasis. It does not consist fundamentally of speaking with God. Of course, it is normal that two friends should want to talk so as to get to know each other… (but) we cannot really meet God without His light shining upon us. Through prayer we allow God to engrave on our face the splendour of
His Face

In fact, prayer ultimately consists of being silent

  • so as to listen to God, who speaks to us, and
  • so as to hear the Holy Spirit, who speaks in us.

I think it is important to say that we do not know how to pray alone and cannot do so: the Holy Spirit is the one who prays in us and for us.

St. Paul tells us ‘it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’ 

He continues: ‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words’ (Rom 8:16,26).

Of course, there is no doubt that men must speak to God, but true prayer leaves God free to come to us according to His will.

We must know how to wait for Him in silence. It is necessary to go on in silence, in resignation, and in confidence.

To pray is to be able to be quiet for a long time; we are so often deaf, distracted by our words…. Unfortunately, we cannot take it for granted that we know how to listen to the Holy Spirit who prays in us.

The more we persevere in silence, the greater chance we will have of hearing God’s whisper. Recall that for a long time the prophet Elijah remained hidden in a cave before hearing the soft whispering of heaven.

Yes, prayer consists in the first place of remaining silent for a long time. We must nestle close to the Virgin of silence to ask her to obtain for us the grace of loving silence and on interior virginity, in other words, a purity of heart and a willingness to listen that banishes any presence except God’s. The Holy Spirit is in us, but we are often filled with orchestras that drown out His voice….

Prayer is a long time of desert and aridity when we want to go back to the easy joys of the world instead of waiting for God. When thoughts distract us from God, it is important not to forget that the Holy Spirit is still present.

The greatest saints themselves had doubts about their own prayer life: …Saint Therese of Lisieux even wondered whether she believed in the words that she recited in her daily prayers.

I think that prayer calls somehow for an absence of words, because the only language that God really hears is the silence of love. The contemplation of the saints is nourished exclusively by a face-to-face encounter with God in abandonment. There is no spiritual fruitfulness except in a virginal silence that is not mixed with too many words and interior noise. …. True prayer leads to a sort of disappearance of our personal clutter.

When John Paul II prayed, he was submerged in God and seized by an invisible presence, like a rock that seemed totally foreign to what was going on around him.

Karol Wojtyla was always on his knees before the majesty of his Father. In thinking of that saintly successor of Peter. I often recall the remark by John of the Cross in the Ascent of Mount Carmel, ‘All objects living in the soul, whether they be many or few, large or small, must die in order that the soul enter divine union.’ 2

God never communicate Himself fully except to a heart that resembles the pure light of a summer morning full of beautiful promises.

I am not unaware of the fact that the body constantly draws us out of prayer. Man consists of imagination, too, which is skilful at taking us on long voyages far
from God. …

And so, for a long time I have thought that prayer can take shape only in the night. In darkness, we are illumined only by God. Like Jacob, and after the example of monks, it is important to learn to pray in the middle of the night, while all creation is seeking sleep. Prayer at night plunges us back into the darkness of the death of Jesus Christ, which we commemorate during the ceremonies of the Paschal Vigil.

Through prayer, man is recreated in the immensity of God; it is a small anticipation of eternity. Through prayer we resemble Christ, who loved to be recollected all night: ‘In these days he went out to the hills to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God’ (Lk 6:12).


Adapted and edited from Robert Cardinal Sarah ‘God or Nothing – A Conversation on Faith’ Ignatius Press 2015 Pp. 206-208.
1 ‘Efficacy of Patience’ in St. Teresa of Avila, The Collected Works’, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriquez, O.C.D., vol. 3,Washington, D.C., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1985, p.386
2 Ascent of Mount Carmel, in The Collected Works of St John of the Cross’, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. , and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979, p.99

This article can be found in Mirror 0216.