“So in your life, when the divine seed is thrown into you, when this divine grace, this share of the divine life, is cast into you, do not imagine that its growth will be visible to you while you watch it. You do not imagine that you can hear it grow. Up, up, through the tree, comes the sap mounting. You do not see it pushing its way along the branches to the softening tips. It is hidden. You never hear the ebb and flow of that tide. Life is silent. Always, growth as we know it, is silent, only to be noted afterwards. Silence and the darkness alone can measure the mounting height of growth. You do not watch things growing to see them grow — not in nature, not in life. God’s seed is sown in our hearts; shall we know that it is growing? Shall you know whether you are growing holier in life? Certainly not. You will never know. The seed is growing by itself. You minister to it; you cannot measure its growth. Silence and darkness are its needed conditions and the thing grows of its very nature. You can help it and you can hinder, but you do not really make it grow. Our prayers, are they improving? You will never know whether your prayers are getting worse or better. Prayer is not a measurable thing. It is something invisible, something that no eye can ever reach, that even no intelligence can ever watch flourish or decay. Do not imagine that if your prayers were better you would know they were better. You will never know. Do you think a saint stops and says to himself: ‘Now my prayers are better.’ Sinners may do that, not saints. Do not suppose, we cannot suppose, that the saint, as he grows in sanctity, suddenly awakes to the fact and says: ‘I am a saint.’ Sinners — oh, yes. Sinners may be self-complacent, perfectly self-satisfied, but that is dreadful, not reassuring. The saint, as he grows in sanctity, grows in self disesteem. When you think your prayers worse they are likely to be better. Likely, that is all that can be said. They may be worse, as you think them worse. They may be more distracted. There may be less comfort and inspiration in them. But whether they be better or worse, you will never know this side of death. Darkness and silence alone can measure a thing’s growth.
“The most beautiful prayer, so the Church teaches us, and the highest, and the noblest, is the prayer of absolute silence. Not in this silence can a man stop and think of any such desperate self-measurement. Any examination in the midst of its prayer, to see if the soul is progressing, would be either mischievous or fatal. You can never know. It is hid from you and always will be hid from you. Not when you are striving can you stop to remember. Not when the child is running about is it growing. Not when you think, not while you are working at your soul will your self-examine help you here. Probably you are only thereby torturing your soul. What God asks is simplicity and confidence in Him. Leave your moral worth alone to Him to be judged. We are so small-minded that of ourselves we are encouraged only by what our eye can measure in the spiritual world. If we live at all in the spirit, we must live by faith. We live not by troubling over whether we know or not. We live, really, by ignorance. We live by making no effort to discover exactly where we stand in the divine judgment. We live by absolute trust. To that we are always reduced as the final principle of our perfect serenity. You would be no happier if you saw you were better, at least, you would not rightly be any happier. All that can make us happy is the consciousness of the compassion and care of God. Never can happiness be based on self, never on our knowledge of our own growth, but on God only and always. It is foolish here to be looking at ourselves. Only to be looking at Him is wise. Let us go back almost to the first thing we ever learnt in our catechism. ‘God made me to know Him.’ Never fully shall I learn that lesson until, at last, I see Him. Till then I must go on learning. But no command is laid on us that we should know ourselves.
So the essential business of the soul is prayer, prayer always and not action. Not what I do matters, nor so much how far my virtues are cultivated, nor my sins gradually laid aside. All that must be attempted truly. Yes! But that is a lesser work. Watch and listen to the saints! They will tell you, one by one, that all the great work of their souls was achieved in prayer, while they were not thinking of self at all. Is not it a phrase of one of the saints: ‘You are only truly praying when you do not know that you are praying.’ Prayer should be something unconscious in itself. Perhaps on a spring morning, when you feel life coursing in you, you may be aware of it, but ordinarily you do not stop to think that you are alive. Life is natural. With us the supernatural should be like the natural. Thus will the soul be growing best in its prayer, when it is thinking not of self, but of God. Its gaze should be riveted on God’s wonderful goodness, God’s haunting mercy, God’s untiring forgiveness, God in Himself, the marvelous truth of God.” (Fr. Bede Jarrett, O.P., No Abiding City, ch. 9)