A longing for God

Patrick Corbett CSsR

Patrick Corbett CSsR

Father Pat is a Redemptorist priest and writer

Once, Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when He had finished, one of the disciples said:

Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples. Luke Chapter 11:1


The image of Pope Francis praying alone in the vast St Peter’s Square spoke volumes to a world in the grip of the isolation of the Covid pandemic.


I remember it well. I had just returned from the Philippines, and without any warning, was forced into fourteen days of isolation. During that time, the TV was my only companion. That night as I joined the pope on the TV screen, it so touched my own situation that I remember I knelt down and I actually started to cry.


I have since asked myself what the tears were all about? I know in the world of prayer, mystics, and others speak of the gift of tears. They did not seem a gift that night of loneliness and isolation, but they have since invited me to look more closely at many aspects of prayer.


That lonely figure of the pope praying raised more questions than answers! I began to think more deeply about my own prayer: how I prayed, why I prayed?

Although prayer has been in my life for as long as I can remember, those fourteen days were the beginning of a new search.


I have written a book, a prayer journal titled: Love Bade Me Welcome where I documented my search. Love Bade Me Welcome is a poem by George Herbert, an Anglican priest and a contemporary of Shakespeare. In future issues of The Majellan, I will write about his poetry and the inner journey and the struggle that is prayer.


My prayer journal, however, begins with Anne Frank and her famous diary. During those two weeks of isolation, I thought a lot about Anne in her secret hiding place in Nazi occupied Amsterdam. Anne’s situation was, of course, far more desperate than mine and would sadly end in her death. I’m quoting it because she speaks of her Longing and for me prayer is ultimately a longing for God.


Certainly, her words spoke very powerfully to me.

Today the sun is shining, the sky is a deep blue,                                     

there is a lovely breeze and I am longing –                                             

so longing for everything…                                                                   

I’m restless, I go from room to room,                                                  

breathe through the crack of a closed window

feel my heart beating as if it is saying:  ‘ can’t you satisfy my longing at last?

I believe that it is spring within me,                                                                 

I feel that spring is awakening,                                                                           

I feel it in my whole body and soul.                                                                         

 It is an effort to behave normally.                                                

I feel utterly confused. I don’t know                                         

what to read, what to write, what to do…

I only know that I am longing!


At its deepest level prayer is a longing for God. St Augustine wrote: Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and they are restless until they find their rest in you. Augustine also wrote the following insight into his own prayer life.


I entered into my own depths, with you as guide; and with the eyes of my soul, I saw your unchangeable light shining over my soul and my mind. It was not the light of everyday that the eye can see nor some greater light of the same order. Your light was not that, but other altogether other …


Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new. Late have I love you! For behold, you were within me and I outside; and I sought you outside …You were with me and I was not with you …You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness: and you sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness: you breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you: I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you: you touched me, and I have burned for your peace.


O eternal truth, and true love and beloved eternity. You are my God, I sigh to you by day and by night. Confessions Book 7.


It may seem that with prayer we have jumped into the deep end of the pool. Yes, indeed, prayer is ‘Olympic size’ but thankfully there are wading and paddling pools and I hope a quiet reading of, and reflection on the cry of Anne Frank and Augustine’s prayer, may encourage us to keep swimming!

Footnote: This article is the first in a series on ‘prayer’ that will feature in The Majellan this year by Redemptorist priest, Fr Patrick Corbett who has published some of Alphonsus’s poetry and writings on prayer.


St Alphonsus Liguori is a Doctor of the Church, the Majellan is part of the Religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, (Redemptorists) that he founded. Alphonsus is the author of over 100 books. He is famous for saying that of all his writings, there is none more important than his book on prayer.


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