When I was teaching theology, my students would go to the chapel for a reconciliation service in lieu of class once each year. While in the chapel awaiting the Sacrament, they sat spaced apart, (a form of ‘social distancing’ I suppose) because teens are teens: they would be talking with each other if not for the spacing. I encouraged them to use the period for reflection, saying that they should view it as a gift, as it was the one time when nothing was expected of them: there was no pressure, there would be no quiz, they did not have to produce results, and they could just be themselves with the Lord. I cannot say they were always participating, but I trust that some prayer and reflection went on. Sure, there was some dozing off, too, but at least they did it in the presence of the Lord. Actually, this is a good approach to prayer for everyone, especially for those who are struggling with it or have not spent quiet time with the Lord on a regular basis in a long while. Therefore, consider this an invitation, a message of encouragement to spend time in prayer, a time when you can be totally yourself, when nothing is expected of you, and in which you can enjoy the luxury of being with your most loving, faithful Friend.
Often we are so busy that prayer goes to the bottom of our ‘to-do list’ because other things are deemed to be more pressing. Soon we lose the habit because we have convinced ourselves that ‘I can do it later, but if I don’t get to it I will survive anyhow.’ But aren’t we invited to do more than survive? And without prayer, are we really living our best life? If we approach prayer as a job to accomplish or a chore to be done then of course it will not be something we look forward to participating in. And if it becomes ‘something we do,’ rather than a relationship we engage in, there is no way we will desire to pray, other than perhaps uttering a rote prayer here or there. While rote prayers are wonderful too, they are only one part of prayer. There is no substitute for the time given to building a relationship with the Lord who desires this with all His heart! It is also a mistake to think prayer is ‘something I do.’ Rather, prayer is a mutual relationship with God who shares in the work. Not only that, but we really do not have to do anything but be there and open our hearts to Him. As with my students, there are no prerequisites, no quizzes, and we do not have to produce results, (God does that with our cooperation).
The reason most people give for not praying, or not praying enough, is that they are too busy. On the contrary, St. Francis de Sales said: “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.” He knew that the busier we are, the more we will need God’s help and guidance to get through our daily obligations. Prayer is a time for resting in the arms of God; it is not an activity, but rather, it is sacred inactivity. That is, on the holy ground of our mind and heart we can simply ‘be’ with God. Of course, as in any relationship we need to share what is on our mind, what needs fixing, what is bothering us, what is going well, what is important to us, etc. We also need to allow God time to respond deeply within us, which does not mean we will hear or feel anything at that moment, but that we have opened the door to seeing and hearing differently throughout the day. And if we have nothing to say, then we can just rest in Him. If we approach God as a best friend with whom we are meeting, there will always be something to say and something to learn from Him.
St. (Padre) Pio of Pietrelcina (feast day, September 23) often said, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” In prayer we put everything into God’s hands, especially our worries. Remember, prayer is not only for asking favors; and when we do desire something we should not expect to change God’s mind such that we will get whatever we ask for. Prayer is about our hearts being opened to greater mercy, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, service, justice, peace, and love. In this stressful time in our lives we can look to an insight St. Paul offered concerning a grace God can give: encouragement. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in every affliction so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) Prayer opens us to the grace of encouragement and acts as an aid to weathering the storms of this life. Encouragement leads to hope, and hope leads to joy and gratitude. Therefore as we rest in His arms daily, entrusting Him with our burdens and fears, let us accept the encouragement of God, His love and His grace, so that in being encouraged we might encourage others, too.
May we turn to God in prayer more readily during this time of uncertainty and the unfamiliarity of newness! May we enjoy time spent with the Lord, growing in love and holiness as we enter more deeply into our relationship! May we receive the graces we need, especially encouragement! And may we offer what we receive in prayer to those who are also in need of encouragement! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1. My photo, chapel in Bay of Islands, North Island, New Zealand: This of course, is not where I taught, but it is a small chapel.
2. Painting, The Sheaf Binder, by Vincent van Gogh.
3. My photo, taken at Direlton Castle and Gardens, Direlton, Scotland: Sometimes we need to simply be quiet, smell the flowers and meet God there!
4. Icon, St. Padre Pio Mother Pelican, by Fr. William Hart McNichols: If you wish to purchase a copy of this in any number of mediums, you can find it at fineartamerica.com/featured/2-st-padre-pio-mother-pelican-047-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5. My photo, taken at the Dolphin Discovery, Grand Cayman Island: These amazing dolphins were being encouraged by their trainer who can be seen at the bottom left. Beautiful creatures!
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart