Friday, January 11, 2008

"Lord, teach us to pray"

Eucharistic Adoration, tonight, 7-8 pm, SAA Church. All those who wish to adore Jesus in the Eucharist are invited!!
Recently, Anon asked the following in response to my post, “Prayer: Putting on the Mind of Christ” (11/13/07): “How did you make the transition from praying only occasionally when you needed something to what you call real prayer that involves a relationship with God? I think the former type of prayer is typical of many many people -- people who believe, go to Mass, etc. How does one move beyond it?”

In one of my Christmas homilies, I said that it was back when I didn’t really know Christ that I would only pray when I needed something. I said that there was no real friendship there. I encouraged all to examine where they are in their friendship with Christ and said that it’s all about friendship with Him. The inference was that if there are people who pray now like I used to, then they don’t really know Christ or have a real friendship with Him. I will answer your question in the same way by saying that one moves beyond merely asking God for stuff by growing in friendship with Him. So, how do we actually do that?

This reminds me of a talk I had this week with 2nd grade boys who are in my nephew’s Cub Scouts den. I asked them if they pray every day and just about every one of them (18) said they did. Great! So, I asked them how they pray. They said that they get on their knees, they make the sign of the Cross, they close their eyes, etc. Now, of course, they were answering my question, but these weren’t the responses I was necessarily looking for. So, I asked them a follow-up question: how do you talk to your best friend? They responded by saying that they talk about what’s going on in school or other stuff, they listen to their friend, they laugh with their friend, etc.

I found it very interesting that their answers about how they pray were much more of a formal nature. They immediately thought of the style of their prayer rather than its substance. I assured them that the gestures they make are very important; these gestures (kneeling, sign of the cross) show that prayer is not exactly like talking to a good friend because it is an encounter with the Almighty. But, if we are in friendship with Christ, then prayer is from our heart. When we describe how we pray, it should be along the lines of: talking with Him about what’s going on in our lives, listening to Him speak to our hearts (the hardest part), laughing with Him, crying with Him, thanking Him, etc.

How did I move beyond self-centered prayer? I began to spend time with Christ. I began to go out of my way to be with Him, mainly in Eucharistic Adoration. I began to center my prayer on Him. I didn’t know how to pray when I first started (still have a long way to go!), but I knew I just wanted to be there with Him. I knew that I needed to be there with Him. The most important thing about prayer is to be there. Just be there. If we are there with Him (if not physically in the Real Presence, then spiritually in our hearts) with open hearts, then He shows us how to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1).

I remember what a retreat master in the seminary said about prayer which summarizes much of what I’m writing. He said that we often go to our Lord to tell Him the kind of day we have had and dump all of our problems on Him. But, how often do we say, “Hi, Lord, how was your day?” The best way for us to move beyond self-centered prayer is to center our prayer on Jesus. The best way for us to do that is to see Him - in the Eucharist. We will see Him tonight from 7-8 pm. If we come with open hearts, He will show us how to pray.


At 2:35 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

When her young cousin died, my 12 yr old daughter was inconsolable for a while. She asked what she could do, and I told her she could pray. She’s the age where many things that are important to me are very far from cool to her. I get the, “Ugh!” when I tell her to get ready for Mass, and there have been times that she’s rolled her eyes when she hears I’m going to Adoration. She’s a good kid, and I understand this is about a way she can rebel. I almost expected her to have a comment when I told her she could pray for her cousin. She didn’t have a comment, but she did have a question, “Will you take me to Mass tomorrow?” (Did I mention it was a Monday morning Mass during vacation?) When we were driving there, she asked if we could stay at the church for a little while after Mass. During Mass, Fr. Greg mentioned her cousin and asked everyone there to pray for her. After Mass ended, she put on her jacket, and I asked her if she still wanted to stay. She told me she didn’t need to because, “He (FG) already knew.” Her plan was to go to church to pray and then ask Fr. Greg to also pray for her cousin too.

In the fall, I was floored when her soccer team got on their knees in the middle of the soccer field, and I was surprised that she was now relying on not only her own prayers but was willing to ask for them from another. I guess, when we lay a foundation of making prayer important, even if they won’t always let us see, our kids do learn to fall back on it.

At 7:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an unrelated question. The topic came up at basketball practice the other night that spurred a debate- The March for Life. Are all the junior high students asked to go? I’m sure attendance would be optional, but I’m curious about whether or not they are encouraged to go. I know it’s coming up, and nothing has come home yet. If my memory serves me, I think it’s a pretty simple permission form without a lot of information. I’m not sure about how I feel about my child going. I’m not sure about age appropriateness- is she too young , or is it good that she is at an impressionable age to be part of something as important as standing up for the value of life? I worry a little about the zealots who may be there. Will she see something upsetting? Do teachers attend with the students? Will students follow-up on the experience afterwards in some way?

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Maryann said...

When I was reading this blog, I thought of two sayings – Nike’s, “Just do it” and the former choreographer, founder and director of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine’s comment to frustrated dancers, “Don’t think darling, just do.” These go right along with FG’s comment on prayer, “Just be there.”

When I first heard Balanchine’s comment from a Balanchine trained teacher I was studying under, I was offended. I interpreted the comment to mean we were too stupid to be able to think, we should just “do” with our technical and athletic skill. As students, none of us were in a position to question or argue the content of his words. We simply just “did” as we were told.

Looking back, that “doing”, without focusing on preconceived thoughts and ideas, allowed us to free our minds of clutter to a point where the steps of the dance became second nature, not requiring any mental activity, any thought. Only when our minds were free of clutter and thoughts could we feel and smell the air around us and engage in the process of a dialogue through dance. I view prayer through the same glasses. By simply doing, simply being in the presence of our Lord, we can free our minds of clutter, thoughts, the “how to” manual and opinions we have formed through life’s experiences. When we become totally comfortable with simply being alone with ourselves and our Lord, the silence will talk and the process of a dialogue through prayer begins.

In an article on mental prayer (, Brother Andre Marie, M.I.C.M. refers to the anti-Christian notion that the essence of holiness is placed in terms of external activity. “The active apostle needs the interior life if he is to be effective, and Mental Prayer is necessary for cultivating a fruitful interior life.” (The Practice of Mental Prayer, p.2). Brother Marie is quick to point out that prayer is subjective, and one should pray in a manner that “works for you”, that makes you love and serve Jesus Christ. “If after a half hour of a good willed effort at mental prayer done with great difficulty and struggle, we end with nothing else than firm knowledge of inadequacy before God, we have not wasted our time” (p.5).

In this lengthy article, Brother Marie addresses the concept of mental prayer through definitions, quotes from saints, methodology of structured prayer, alternative methods of prayer, difficulties with prayer and closes with some tips and odds and ends. As a beginner, there is more information than I can handle, yet, the information is simple enough that I was able to pick and chose, in cafeteria style, some concepts that will help me deepen my friendship with God.

As FG said, placing yourself in the presence of our Lord, just being there, in what ever capacity you can, allows your ears to hear and your heart to feel silence. As Christians, we are called to recognize the value of silence, and only by doing so can we begin our journey of prayer, our heart-to-heart conversations with our ever loving God.

At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anon:

I spoke with my daughter concerning the March for Life on March 22nd. She is a junior at a catholic high school and attended St. A’s through 8th grade. These were her thoughts.

The March is optional, at least at her school except for their junior year, when they must attend with either the school’s group or another group. My daughter was not positive, but she thought the march was optional when she attended St. A’s. There are teachers and chaperones with them. They do discuss their experience afterwards. In fact, the reason the event is mandatory for high school juniors is to correlate it with their religious studies, values of the Christian lifestyle.

If the format is the same, there is a mass offered while the rally is held. Her group has always attended the mass rather than the rally. She did not know who makes this decision, but it is not the students. My daughter felt the rally did contain enough zealots, fanatics that it could be perceived as scary. She also pointed out that many of the participants in the rally do not necessarily present their viewpoint in a Christian way. I thought this was insightful. Again, these are her thoughts and interpretations of the event.

After mass there is the walk component of the event. She perceived it as calm and cordial. She says they walk as a group, which provides some insulation from offensive pictures or behavior.

I do not know your child’s age, but I would sit and discuss your concerns with her and see what she/he has to say. I have found kids to be very sharp and insightful, often expressing things that never enter my mind. Have you considered going as a chaperone to the march? Also, I do not know of one, but I am sure there is a website with information. I would suspect any religious director, priest or sister could help you with your concerns.

I find that life exposes us to things we are not totally comfortable with, whether we like it or not. For myself, if I am unsure of what to do about a situation, I find out all I can, looking at the pros and cons, and make a decision. Again, I would discuss your findings with your child. After you make a decision, let it go. If you decide to attend and conclude it was a bad decision, take the bad and turn it into a positive learning experience. Spend time with your child discussing the day. You may find she/he had a totally different experience than you anticipated. I firmly believe that we can learn from every experience life offers.

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is for the unrelated question:
im a senior in high school and the march for life has always been a big deal in my house since i was young. because of that when i went for the first time i think my 8th grade year (or around then) it was because i really wanted to go and understood at least kind of what was going on. i think that you should talk to your daughter and think about how much she really understands about what the march is, and that it is not just a long cold day with no real meaning. so i definitley think it is a wonderful experience and wish i could be there this year, but it is definitely one of those expiriences that it helps to really understand and be passionate about the subject. if she decides to go i hope she has a wonderful time at the mass and ralley are definitely awsome not to mention the march :)


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