Living on a prayer

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Do you remember the Y2K frenzy? At the beginning of the year 2000, there were alarmists who feared the worst. While certainly not an alarmist, at the beginning of the new millennium Pope John Paul II offered his own strong words.

At the dawn of the third Christian millennium, the pope wrote a document where he explained the necessity of prayer for Christians in our day. He wrote, “It would be wrong to think that ordinary Christians can be content with a shallow prayer unable to fill their whole life. Especially in the face of the many trials to which today’s world subjects faith, they would be not only mediocre Christians but “Christians at risk”.”

Without a life of prayer, we become Christians-at-risk. That is how serious it is. This week we examine paragraphs 2558-2696 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the call to prayer. Prayer is lifting the mind and heart to God and asking good things of God. To pray is an act of the virtue of religion, which is to say, it is an act of justice whereby we honor God who is to be worshipped.

The highest prayer is liturgical, the Mass and other Sacraments as well as the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. The sacred liturgy assumes other moments of prayer and leads to other prayer but the liturgy has pride of place.

Devotional prayers play an indispensable part of the life of Christian prayer. The rosary for example is probably the most encouraged prayer by saints and our Popes. A daily encounter with our Lady with at least some portion of the rosary seems a non-negotiable for a Catholic in our day.

Time before the Blessed Sacrament is also an essential element of Christian prayer. As John Paul II never tired of repeating, “The Lord waits for us in the Sacrament of Love.” While one can pray anywhere, the Catechism insists that the place of prayer is not immaterial. When it is possible a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament would do wonders for deepening one’s spiritual life.

Prayer should also be based on the Word of God. A prayerful reading of the Scriptures assigned for the Mass of the day, especially the Gospel, represents a highly commendable form of prayer. The whole of Bible, along with good spiritual books, offer solid spiritual reading. The psalms constitute the masterwork of prayer in the Bible.

Christian prayer includes prayer of adoration and worship, thanksgiving, contrition, and supplication. Authentic prayer embraces each of these aspects. Intercessory prayer is the powerful prayer we engage in often when we commit to praying for others.

Just as God could feed the hungry without us but desires to use us to give others food, so He could give the world all manner of spiritual goods but decides to include us—by means of our prayers—in His work. Our intercessory prayers really do affect others. They have a power that ought not to be missed. The great Christian apologist of our time, Peter Kreeft of Boston College likes to say that if we understood how powerful our prayers were we would not likely get up off our knees for a long time.

Christian prayer is always Trinitarian, that is, it always acknowledges the truth about God who is a Trinity of persons. Forms of transcendental meditation in the “New Age” movement are very different from what a Christian does when he prays. While a Christian can pray to each of the persons of the Trinity, his prayer is only possible because of the Holy Spirit. It is always done united to Christ, which means it is directed to the Father.

The prayer of Christians is based especially on the prayer of Jesus. Because of our baptism we are united to Christ as brothers and therefore can call God our Father. In prayer we also call upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, without whom it is impossible to have a deep life of prayer.

All this is serious stuff. It shouldn’t alarm us, but give us reason to pause…and pray.

Father Connors serves as associate pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in East Greenwich. This column is part of a yearlong biweekly series on the Year of Faith by Father Connors and Father Joseph Upton.