“The perfect prayer is not one in which we tell God what we wish from Him, but rather one in which we ask God what He wishes from us.” Venerable Fulton Sheen
In times of trial or confusion, someone will inevitably come along and casually dismiss the whole ordeal with the ground-breaking suggestion to “just pray”. Undoubtedly, this suggestion is well-intended, but to tell a man to just pray while his church burns or country breaks apart, is like telling a soldier to just read his training manual again, while bullets fly towards him. The manual is important, and soldiers that did read it, will be better prepared for the battle, but once the fighting begins, the reading ends. Likewise, a man that prays the Psalms will be better prepared to handle the tribulations within his own family or scandals from within his church, but when those scandals and tribulations actually arrive, it’s now a time to serve, a time to act.
Concerned about the current Pope-appointed cardinal that published his study on orgasms? Just pray. Worried that defunding the police may destroy the safety of your community? Just pray. Outraged about kindergarten kids being exposed to mock sexual dances by transvestites at our schools? Just pray. If this response just seems inadequate and more like someone is telling you to keep quiet or go away, it’s because it is. St Paul warns us about this in his second letter to Timothy; “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.” 2 Tim 3:1-5
Reverend Maurus Fitzgerald, author of a book on Catholic prayers, had the following advice written in that very same book: “Jesus bade us to pray always. We can put this Divine command into action by living constantly in a state of love and adoration toward God, offering Him all our actions and especially our sufferings, seeking to carry out His will by observing the Commandments and the Gospel.” Mother Teresa always started her day with prayer and the Church’s ultimate prayer , the Mass, to strengthen her spiritual muscles for the day ahead. Then she sprung into action and brought Christ to the most abandoned and despised in the streets of Calcutta! Ora et labora! Pray and work.
Don Juan of Austria, one of the commanders of the Christian navy at the Battle of Lepanto, had his soldiers pray the rosary before battle began. His own ship hoisted an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe – the significance of seeing Our Lady standing on top a crescent moon, was not lost on anyone present that day, believer and non-believer alike. Then the fighting began and Christendom was saved! Ora et labora…
Many centuries before, a mother prayed for her son to leave his sinful life and comeback to Christ. In a distant country across the sea, a man prayed….and then stood on the steps of the cathedral and preached the Gospel despite hostile government. In the audience, a defiant young pagan listened….The mother was St Monica, the man St Ambrose of Milan, the young pagan was… St Monica’s son, better known as St Augustine. Ora et labora…
A rich, old man had this to say in a recent interview: “I Identify myself as a Catholic. I was raised, I was baptized, I was married in the Church. My children were baptized in the Church. But as far as practicing it, it seems almost like a pro forma thing that I don’t really need to do. ” I sincerely pray for this man, because it could be any of us. The real name is Dr Anthony Fauci (you can read rest of article on lukewarm faith here). Archbishop Fulton Sheen in his book “Lord, teach us to pray”, reminds us that “All life is a trial. I can be one of God’s heroes only because I might have been one of God’s cowards…There is no epic of the certainties of life; no crowns of merit rest suspended over those who do not fight; there are no aureoles except for those who might have turned back and yet pushed on.”
Prayer is essential to the spiritual well-being of the soul, but like faith, it is dead without works (James 2:14-17). We are reminded of this every Mass during the Confiteor prayer: “I confess to Almighty God and you, my brothers and sisters, that I have gravely sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…” St Louis de Montfort in his spiritual masterpiece, “The secrets of the Rosary”, wrote a reflection on our Lord’s prayer with an emphasis on the words “Thy will be done”: He wrote, “Rather, when we say ‘Thy will be done’, we ask God to make us humbly resigned to all that He sees fit to send us in this life. We also ask Him to help us to do, in all things and at all times, His Holy will, made known to us by the Commandments, promptly, lovingly and faithfully…” It’s remarkable that amidst one of the worst crisis for Israel, namely the Babylonian exile, the prophet Jeremiah rather than simply asking the people to pray, he gave them the following instructions: “Now why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of An′athoth who is prophesying to you? For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, “Your exile will be long; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their produce.” Jer 29:27-28 In other words, build up your family and your community with homes and food. Jeremiah almost appears to assume they know prayer comes first, but also sees that the people seem resigned to fate.
Guigo, a Carthusian monk from the twelfth century, taught about four steps to praying with Scripture, which he refers as a ladder that has four rungs. The four steps are lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio. A fifth step has been added, namely resolutio. St Teresa of Avila taught that prayer strengthen us for service, while St Francis de Sales explained that the real fruit of meditation comes from earnest practice throughout the day, of the thoughts and resolutions obtained from it. This is of course, Our Lady’s only commandment to us: “Do whatever He tells you.” Jn 2:1-11
So the next time someone dismisses your concerns or your sufferings with a casual “just pray”, thank them for helping you up the first step of the ladder. Then remember, that the very first book to follow the Gospels, is not called “Prayers of the Apostles”. Look it up! 🙂
St Joseph pray for us.
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