St Francis Q&A

Monday, May 21, 2007

"Prayer is like brushing your teeth"

The following is a reflection on prayer from the book, “From the Pastor’s Desk”, which is a collection of spiritual reflections given by Msgr. Thomas Wells when he was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda from 1994-1999:

“A number of people (well, actually two of them) have asked me to share some thoughts on how to pray. I often mention the importance of prayer in living the Christian life, so perhaps it might be useful for some to give at least a few suggestions on how to pray.

I begin with two notes of caution. In a society that craves instant gratification, prayer – like most really important activities – goes against the current. Prayer is the principle means for drawing close to God, but that drawing close takes place over the course of a lifetime, and, most often, we do not notice it as it happens. Secondly, there is no “right” way to pray. Because each of us has a different personality, each relates to God differently. For any Catholic, of course, there can be no authentic prayer life where the Mass is not the center, because in the Mass, in a perfect way, we pray with Christ who leads us to the Father. As for prayer outside of the Mass, what I suggest are only basic principles that, I believe, have served me well over the years.

First, prayer is like brushing your teeth: do it each day and at a regular time and it will become a habit. God is Spirit; we are active in the material world and, therefore, most of us are not inclined to turn off the obvious material world in favor of listening to the much less obvious spiritual. In addition to a regular time, try to find a place for prayer, perhaps before a Crucifix or favorite religious image. The reason for this, of course, is simply to put ourselves into a prayerful frame of mind. Russian Orthodox homes, for example, have a special corner where an icon is placed and before which a candle is lit at time for prayer. Obviously, at (Our Lady of) Lourdes, the adoration chapel in the church is an ideal place for prayer. However, if it is not practical to come daily, why not schedule a period each week to come before the Blessed Sacrament?

Finally, the heart of prayer is listening to God. Obviously, what He has to say in prayer is more important than what I say. Equally obvious is the insight that I cannot hear God as I hear another person. That is why I recommend praying with Scripture. Each day, the Church selects passages from the Bible for use at daily Mass; but, even if I cannot get to Mass, I can still use the readings as a way to hear God’s Word each day. No, if I give the Lord five or ten minutes each day and quietly try to hear what He is saying in these passages, I probably will not “hear” anything. But, if I make this listening a daily habit, I guarantee that over time His Word will sink into my life and I will find it gradually shaping the way I live. God may be subtle; but He most certainly is powerful in those who listen to Him!”


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