Living in the monastery of the heart

By Sr Patty Andrew OSU, 15 October 2022
Image: Benjamin Nothdurft/


Historians note that when the period of Christian martyrdom ceased around the beginning of the 4th Century A.D, the phenomenon that we know as Christian monasticism began to sprout and flourish. It was as Tertullian, an early Christian writer said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Martyrdom transformed the person into the perfected, complete, full and whole image of the divine.

Such a process of transformation is the hope and goal of our Christian life. St Paul expresses this central reality of our faith journey in the third chapter of his second letter to the Christian community in Corinth. Using the beautiful image of the mirror, he describes our transformation into Christ in terms of light. Paul portrays our life journey in faith, as one in which we reflect like mirrors the brightness of the Lord. In doing this faithfully, we all grow brighter and brighter until eventually we are transformed into the image of the one that we reflect (2 Cor:18).

The spiritual movement of the Desert Fathers and Mothers which formed the foundations of Christian monasticism, was grounded in this Pauline belief of the divinisation of the human person. St Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria from 328, said, “that God became man in order that man might become God.” In a short biography of Anthony of Egypt, one of the earliest of the desert fathers, Athanasius shows how only God incarnate can transform human nature into divine likeness. To participate in this transformation, certain spiritual practices were adopted by those in the monastic desert communities. One of these was a simple focussed mantra called “The Jesus Prayer.” This prayer is founded on the biblical view that God’s name is conceived as the place of God’s presence.

The Vatican II Council (1962-1965) called us all to renewal in the light of the foundational story of Christianity. In current times, many books are being written and programmes created which reflect the grounded spirituality of the early centuries of our Christian tradition. One of these is a book titled, Joy in God – Rekindling an Inner Fire by Joachim Hartman SJ and Annette Clara Unkelhäußer. They propose a method which is titled the “Gries Path.” It is based on a contemplative approach to prayer characterised by simplicity, silence and an attentiveness which enables God in the present moment, to be revealed.

The authors have developed a consistent approach structured in conversational style, to assist those who wish to deepen this way of enabling God to illuminate and transform their lives.

It is framed within what they term, as a spiritual conversation concentrated around two central questions. These echo the experience of the Emmaus Disciples (Luke: 24:13-35)

Why was my heart burning?

Where were my eyes opened?

In all the reflections there is an accent on awakening the senses. They are seen as significant doorways leading us to become more aware of the presence of God in us, in our lives and in all that is. The chapters are focussed on the following foundational themes relating to the life of the human spirit:

Gratitude and Joy

Emptiness and Fullness

Healing and Wholeness

Suffering and Consolation

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Vocation and Mission

The pairing of these themes with what appears to be oppositional movements enables a perception of spiritual wholeness wherein as Richard Rohr (2003) says “everything belongs.” Our journey to wholeness or as the Vatican II Document, Lumen Gentium (1964) says “holiness,” is about integrating these apparent opposites.

In recent years, Lawrence Freeman osb, Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, spoke of this contemplative way of prayer as being for all. He described those who are engaged in the prayer of the heart as the new monks of the modern world. Noting that “some live in traditional monasteries but the majority do not. Many are integrating what previously seemed impossible to reconcile – deep spiritual practice, and conjugal love, solitude and social responsibility.”

Through our Baptism, we are all called into this “way of the pilgrim” wherever life finds us. Just as the pilgrim travels lightly, this small accessible book gives us the essentials to find and remain dwelling in the heart of God, thus enabling our inner divine spring, to continue to well up within us to the fullness of life.

The book can be used in a supportive way both personally or with small faith sharing groups.

Sr Patty Andrew osu is an Ursuline Sister in the Diocese of Parramatta.

This article was originally published in the 2022 Season of Creation | Spring 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes, schools and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now or you can read the digital version here.


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