Call to the inner life
Sometime around 1931 Evelyn Underhill wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang (1928–42), about the inner life of the clergy. Her concern was that the multiplicity of the clergy’s duties had diminished some priests’ grounding in a life of prayer.
Underhill’s concerns are as relevant today as they were when she wrote the letter – perhaps more so. However, we should not limit her concerns and proposals to only the clergy. They are equally applicable to the laity. The life of the Church and the life of humanity, lay or ordained, must begin within and arise out of a life of prayer.
The following are excerpts from her letter: ‘Call the clergy as a whole, solemnly and insistently to a greater interiority and cultivation of the personal life of prayer. The real failures, difficulties and weaknesses of the Church are spiritual and can only be remedied by spiritual effort and sacrifice… her deepest need is a renewal, first in the
clergy and through them in the laity; of the great Christian tradition of the inner life. We look to the clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. We are seldom satisfied because with a few noble exceptions they are so lacking in spiritual realism, so ignorant of the laws and experiences of the life of prayer. Their Christianity as a whole is humanitarian rather than theocentric.’
Selfless love of souls
‘God is the interesting thing about religion, and people are hungry for God. But only a priest whose life is soaked in prayer, sacrifice, and love can, by his own spirit of adoring worship, help us to apprehend Him. However difficult and apparently unrewarding, care for the interior spirit is the first duty of every priest. Divine renewal can only come through those whose roots are in the world of prayer.’
‘We instantly recognize those services and sermons that are the outward expression of the priest’s interior adherence to God and the selfless love of souls.’
‘I know that recovering the ordered interior life of prayer and meditation will be very difficult for clergy immersed increasingly in routine work. It will mean for many a complete rearrangement of values and a reduction of social activities. They will not do it unless they are made to feel its crucial importance.’ ND