“How’s your prayer life?” I have a vivid memory of that question from my first days of the seminary 40 years ago, and it is a worthy reflection for each of us.
I raised that question about three years ago in this space, when we were immersed in COVID-19 and its many impacts; the struggles to find a just social order; political turmoil; even the formation of ACCs and the transitions it brings. All of those factors naturally disorient and disrupt our routines and expectations; yet resiliency allows us to persevere, to learn from the difficult times, and to cherish things we might otherwise take for granted.
Since that time, we have settled a bit into our new relationships as an ACC. We have welcomed a new bishop.
We have resumed most of our pre-pandemic activities in life, though aftereffects and scars still linger. The war in Ukraine, rising prices for the basic necessities of life, ongoing political tensions, the uncertainty about our future in the parishes with fewer clergy … all of this can continue to cause us anxiety and weigh down our spirits.
Amid change and uncertainty, where do we find stability? In our electronic age, we are bombarded by information and commentary. How do we sort it out?
I still don’t pray enough, but I do know that prayer is essential to keep a healthy perspective. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2659-60) reminds us: We learn to pray at certain moments by hearing the Word of the Lord and sharing in his Paschal mystery, but his Spirit is offered us at all times, in the events of each day, to make prayer spring up from us. Jesus' teaching about praying to our Father is in the same vein as his teaching about providence: time is in the Father's hands; it is in the present that we encounter him, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today: “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts.” Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the kingdom revealed to “little children,” to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the Beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influence the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom. So learning to pray is a life-long pursuit, but it is not so much a skill we master as a disposition we foster: an openness to the presence of God, each day. People pray in different ways; as the Catechism puts it, there are as many ways to pray as there are souls. Just as our human relationships are unique, so is each person’s connection with God. Part IV of the Catechism is all about the spiritual life. It is different from the more doctrinal sections in Parts I-III; Part IV is more like spiritual reading with encouragement, consolation, guidance, and hope. Among the most common themes in Part IV is the word “today.” That is, our spiritual lives are not a separate part of our existence, not just a set of religious practices and pious exercises when time permits. Rather, Catholic spirituality embraces all of life, precisely when and where we find ourselves.
The Rosary is helpful in this way, since it is a set of mysteries that are really patterns of how God works in human lives. What mystery are you living, today? Are you being called to a task, like Mary in the Annunciation? Are you bringing the hidden Lord to another, like the Visitation? Are you living a share in the Agony in the Garden, wrestling with God’s will? Are you carrying the Cross of suffering, illness, rejection, fear? Are you experiencing a new beginning in a kind of Resurrection, or using the Gifts of the Spirit to bring hope to another?
Someday, when life’s journey is complete, prayer will be our endless future: to be in God’s presence fully and perfectly. We need to cultivate our spiritual lives, lest that relationship with God gradually dwindle; but the spiritual cannot become an excuse or an escape from our earthly responsibilities. That balance is behind St. Benedict’s motto: ora et labora, to pray and to work. I find the same balance in the familiar story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42), both of them serving the Body of Christ in complementary ways.
So the question, “how’s your prayer life?”, is not only about how much time we spend in prayer but really about how we are open to God in both reflection and action, the balance of ora et labora. May you find in your time with God, whatever form it takes each day, that peace the world cannot give.