Is it hopeless, the situation of the blocked-up heart? — Why We Need To Pray — By Fr. Karl Rahner S.J.

Fr. Karl Rahner S.J. (5 March 1904 – 30 March 1984), was a German Jesuit priest and theologian. He is considered one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century.

As you can see from his picture, Fr. Rahner is not known for his nonsense. What he is known for is a very serious and often dense discussion of the Catholic Faith. We at Peace and Freedom have had the pleasure of “getting to know him” through his many writings.

Fr. Rahner was completing his seminary education at about the same time that Adolph Hitler was coming to power in Germany. Fortunately for us, Father Rahner was able to keep from getting swept up into the turmoils of that time. One of his first writings that came to public notice was his treatment on the necessity and need for prayer — a portion of which is reproduced below.


By Karl Rahner

Is it hopeless, the situation of the blocked-up heart? Is the danger of collapse and of inner suffocation unavoidable? What are people to do if they are to manage an escape from the dungeon of the cold despair and disappointment that they disguise? How does the heart’s opening take place? We can say it in a word: in prayer, prayer to God, just in prayer. But because we’re still trying to understand what “prayer” means, we need to go slowly and talk cautiously. Let’s ask what people need to do when they find themselves in this situation with their hearts blocked up.

The first is this. They must just stay there and let go. When people notice that in fact their souls are blocked up, they either begin to defend themselves with the desperation of a person drowning, indeed of a person being buried alive – plunging into everything, into every form of activity and busyness that gives them hope of fooling themselves about their despair. Or else they really despair: either in overt frenzy or else quietly and icily they curse, they hate themselves and the world, and they say there is no God.

They say there is no God because they are confusing the true God with what they took to be their God. And as regards what they are actually referring to, they are quite right. The God they are referring to really does not exist: the God of earthly security, the God of salvation from life’s disappointments, the God of life insurance, the God who takes care so that children never cry and that justice marches in upon the earth, the God who transforms earth’s laments, the God who doesn’t let human love end up in disappointment.

. . . The truth is that . . . you can happily let despair seem to take away everything from you, but in truth it’s only what is finite and null that is taken, no matter how great and wonderful it was, no matter indeed if it’s your very self – you yourself with your ideals; you yourself with your life-projects, all so very cleverly, so very precisely, so very nicely set out; you with your image of God, the image that was like you rather like the Self of the One past all grasp. What can be taken from you is never God. Even if all your exits are barred, it’s only the exits into what is finite that are blocked, the exits into what really are dead ends. Don’t be shocked at the loneliness and desertedness of your inner prison, which seems to be filled only with powerlessness and hopelessness, with tiredness and emptiness! Don’t be shocked.

For look, if you stand firm, if you don’t run away from despair, if in your despair at the idols of your life up till now, idols of body and mind, beautiful and honorable idols (for yes, they are beautiful and honorable), idols that you called God – if in this despair you don’t despair of the true God, if you can stand firm in this way (this is already a miracle of grace, but it’s there for you) then you will suddenly become aware that you’re not in fact buried alive at all, that your prison is shutting you off only from what is null and finite, that its deathly emptiness is only a disguise for an intimacy of God’s, that God’s silence, the eerie stillness, is filled by the Word without words, by Him who is above all names, by Him who is all in all. And his silence is telling you that He is here.

And this is the second thing you should do in your despair: notice that He is here, know that He is with you. Be aware that for a long time He has been waiting for you in the deepest dungeon of your blocked-up heart. Be aware that He has been listening for a long time, to see if you – after all the busy noise of your life, all the talk that you call your “illusion-free philosophy” or perhaps even your prayer, noise, and talk in which you are only talking to yourself, after all the despairing, weeping and silent sighing over the need in your life – He has been listening to see if you might finally be able to be silent before Him and let Him have the word, the word that appears to be the person you were up till now only as a deathly silence.

When you give up your frantic, violent inner anxiety about yourself and your life, your feeling should not be that you are in any way falling; when you doubt yourself, your wisdom, your strength, your capacity to make life and the happiness that comes from freedom for yourself, you should not despair. Rather, you should feel you are with Him, suddenly, as through a miracle that must happen every day anew and that can never become routine. You will suddenly realize that the petrifying face of despair is only God’s rising in your soul, that the darkness of the world is nothing but the shadowless radiance of God, that what seems a dead end with no way out is only the immensity of God, God who needs no ways because He is already here.

– Excerpted from “Opening the Heart” in Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings, edited by Philip Endean (Orbis Books, 2004).



  (Man cannot exist independently of God)



“The Catholic Guide to Depression,” by Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak, STD.

Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.


The Dalai Lama prays as he arrives at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to hold a discussion on “Happiness, Free Enterprise, and Human Flourishing” in Washington, DC, February 20, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)



Buddhist monks launch paper lanterns into the sky at a temple in Suphan Buri province Jan 9, 2013.

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One Response to “Is it hopeless, the situation of the blocked-up heart? — Why We Need To Pray — By Fr. Karl Rahner S.J.”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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