Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thoughts on Prayer

Having grown up in a secular home, I was never taught to pray and only came to this habit after becoming Catholic when I was twenty-three. So, largely because of being self-taught, I have had to think about prayer, learn how it works, develop my own ways and habits. This process has, perhaps, given me a different perspective on prayer than those who have grown up with the habit. These are some things I have learned about prayer:

• Pray every day.
When I received my instruction in the faith from Father Frank Kane he told me that Catholics are obliged to pray every day. He told me that Saint Augustine thought that the faithful were minimally required to say two Our Fathers and two Hail Marys every day. So that was where I began.

• Pray when all else has failed.
Once, when I was working in a print-shop downtown, I was having a tough time running a really old press, a Multi 1250. On my lunch break I went to the bookstore run by the Daughters of Saint Paul to pick up a book I had ordered. When I got there, one of the sisters asked me why I looked so down. When I told her that I was having trouble running a press, she asked what kind of press, and it turned out that she had also run the very same press for the Daughters’ print shop at their mother house. She then went through the possible causes of my problem (worn in-feed rollers, inadequate buckle, incorrect stop-finger timing, etc.). When, at last, we had gone over everything that could have been out of adjustment and ruled them out as the cause of my problems, she shook her head and said, “That’s when I try a prayer to Saint Paul!” And you know what? She was absolutely right! By the simple act of turning your problems over to Our Heavenly Father, you will find yourself more clear-headed, more at-ease, once again ready to face your travail.

• Pray for your own causes.
One day I found a pamphlet on an empty seat on the #36/Broadway bus. It showed an ordinary man in silhouette next to the headline: “REMEMBER ... This Unknown Communist has a SOUL” It urged you to wear the Green Scapular and pray for the conversion of Godless Communists the world around. It occurred to me then, that once I had been that Unknown Communist, and that whoever had left that flyer on the seat had been praying for me. I resolved then to pray each day for the conversion of Godless Communists each day. You should take up a cause as well! I suppose there is nothing wrong with taking up a big one, (like an end to abortion, or the conversion of the Jews, or the souls in Purgatory) but you should give consideration to a group that needs God’s grace and is pretty much neglected. Praying for the conversion of Godless Communists probably peaked-out in 1953 and I might just be the last one left Is anyone praying for the conversion of the Tuvinians? Start praying for them and you might just be the only one!

• Pray because no one else will.
I used to see a guy where he worked downtown. (Let’s call him “Will.”) He was always very good at his job and, since he was more helpful than anyone else there, I always went to him. After using him for about fifteen years, I saw him on the street. Will told me that he had taken early retirement from his job (he was in his early fifties) and moving to a different city in order to get away from his crack dealer. It turned out that he had been addicted to crack cocaine for eleven years! I wished him the best of luck, gave him my e-mail address, and told him that I would pray for him. He told me that he was an atheist, and didn’t believe in prayer, but he thanked me for it anyway. I haven’t heard from him since. Recently I asked one of his co-workers if any of them knew how Will was doing. She was very cagey until she realized that I knew Will’s secret, but then she admitted that no one had heard from him since he had left town. “That’s a shame,” I said, “I pray for him every day, you know.”

The woman was astonished, “You do? I had no idea that you were such good friends with him.”

“I’m not,” I admitted, “But if I don’t pray for him, who will?”


• Pray because people ask you to.
I was at work one day when I got a package of Green Scapulars in the mail. I’m like a kid on Christmas morning when something comes for me in the mail, so I opened it right away. One of my clients was there and, when he saw the scapulars, he asked what they were. I explained that wearing a scapular was like wearing a prayer, that the Green Scapular was like a prayer for conversion, and that I often gave Green Scapulars to people needing conversion. He then asked, “If I took one, would you pray for me?”

“Sure!” I gave him a scapular, but immediately I regretted it. You see — I didn’t much care for the fellow. In fact, without breaking into a sweat, I could probably make a list of 500 people who I would rather see in Heaven than this fellow. I agonized over it for days. I really did not want to pray for him, but I also couldn’t see how I could refuse. It became clear to me that, as a Christian, I was obliged to pray for anyone who asked me to if their request was reasonable.

Now, from time-to-time, that fellow will ask me if I still pray for him. I’m proud to be able to tell him that I haven’t missed a day.

• Prayer must be a real conversation with God or it’s pointless.
If you’re saying the same thing day after day, then you’re doing something wrong. You should be thinking about what you are saying and open to the thoughts that God will put upon your heart. You need to ask yourself constantly if you really want what you are praying for or if you are just going through the motions. You need to ask yourself if there are things you should be doing in addition to prayer to address a certain situation. Perhaps you have neglected to thank God for some particular grace that has come your way? Your prayers should not be a laundry list!

• The saints are your friends, treat them that way.
They are people just like you, with their own concerns and interests. Do you think if you just pick the name of a saint out of a hat, that he will be any more interested in your problems than some name you pick out of the phone book? When a saint is made “patron” of a particular thing, this is just a rough guide. Both Dymphna and Drogo are patrons of mental health, but Dymphna’s concern seems to be with people who are genuinely disordered, whereas Drogo is more concerned with emotional distress. Read the lives of the saints and make friends with them.

• Wear your prayers.
Praying for conversions? Get that Green Scapular! Worried about your kids? Wear that Saint Joseph medal. Find yourself tempted by vice? A Saint Benedict medal will be a constant reminder that you need not face temptation alone.

• Let your kids see you pray.
I start the day each morning by ironing a shirt and saying my prayers. I expect anyone in the room with me to join me when I say a Hail Mary or Our Father. My kids hear me run through the list of those whose conversions I am praying for and my son often joins me at the end saying “... and Godless Communists the world around. May the love of Jesus enter into their hearts.” My youngest daughter loved to have her toes played with when she was an infant, so I began saying my after-dinner Rosary on her toes. She loved it, and the others saw that praying was an ordinary part of life, not something apart from life.

• Do not neglect the Rosary.
Marshal Foch said it all:
“I think that I did not miss a single day in reciting [the Rosary], including the most terrible times of battle when I had no rest night or day. How often did I see her manifest intercession in the decisions which I made in choosing a precise tactic. Take, then, the advice of an old soldier seasoned by experience: Do not neglect the recitation of the Rosary for any reason.

• Pray for the unknown intentions of others.
I say three Hail Marys every morning for the intentions of the Pope and an Our Father for the intentions of the Catholic Dads!

1 comment:

Nod said...


I'm not being snotty when I say: I thought this was a pretty good post. ;-)