The Importance of Prayer

DEACON DOUG MCMANAMAN

The purpose of our life is to learn how to pray, to acquire a rich interior contemplative life.

(Homily delivered on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Readings: Gn 18:20-32; Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8; Lk 11:1-13)

These are great readings, and they are all about the importance of prayer. In the first reading, Abraham intercedes for Sodom, and the Lord listens to him and agrees to answer it on condition. And the Responsorial Psalm is: Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me. In the gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples the Our Father and he tells us that we must persist in prayer, to continue to pester God. And then he gives us very good news, a very consoling piece of information: He says: "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

That's pretty good news. The challenge here is to believe this, to believe in his promise. That's what faith is: believing in what Christ says, and the virtue of hope bears upon the promises of Christ, hoping for the fulfillment of his promises. If we do not believe what he says here, we will not hope in his promise, and then we will despair, and we will not be motivated to pray. That's why people don't pray, because they don't believe, and so they don't hope.

And when we stop praying, that's when things begin to go wrong.

You and I were created for prayer. Life is about learning how to pray. If the very purpose of human life is to know God and love God in eternity, then the purpose of life is prayer.

And the more we pray, the happier we become. The more we pray, the less anxious we become, and we are filled with a greater peace of mind and heart. The more we pray, the more we understand ourselves, for we come to know God more intimately, by experience – and we really only know ourselves to the degree that we know God personally. The more we pray, we begin to see the hand of God in our day to day life, that is, we see Him acting in our life. We begin to see that He loves us, personally. That makes life so much more meaningful.

The most important thing is to acquire the habit of prayer. It has to become a habit. Without that, we don't have an interior life; we just have an exterior life. And when all we have is an exterior life, we become anxious, restless, and that leads to greed, the inordinate love of possessing. For we end up trying to secure our own happiness and to reduce our own anxiety, and when things do not go our way in life, we become angry, impatient, irritated, we lose the peace that we long for. And when we are at that point, it means we've taken our life into our own hands. But life is not meant to be lived out of our own hands. We are meant to be carried along by God, like a baby is carried in a car seat. We are meant to be carried along by divine providence. God is in control, not us, and we have to surrender to his control. When we do so, life becomes so much more exhilarating.

If we do not pray, we open ourselves up to deception. This is such an important point. Diabolical deception is so subtle, and we're just not intelligent enough to defend ourselves against the subtle deception of the Evil One. An angel is inconceivably superior, intellectually, to human beings, and the person who does not have the habit of prayer is open to all sorts of deceptions. And the goal of the devil in sowing lies and deception in the minds of human beings is to divide them, to create division and animosity. That leads to divorce, or broken friendships, mutual distrust, animosity in the family, or in a religious community.

The more we pray, the less anxious we become, and we are filled with a greater peace of mind and heart.

The only defence against that is fervent and persistent prayer, the lifting of the mind up into the presence of God. So much takes place during prayer. When we pray, we enter into the deepest region of the self where God alone dwells. No one is permitted to enter into that deepest region of your self, only God dwells there, and there He awaits you and me, individually, and it is there that He speaks to us in silence. When we enter into that region often, life becomes much richer, far less anxious; and life becomes much more tolerable. What happens is that we are given a new pair of eyes to see the world. The world begins to look differently. We begin to see the beauty of the world around us. And we begin to see other people from God's point of view, and when that happens, they begin to look better. And we see ourselves from God's point of view, and we begin to look better to ourselves and we feel better about ourselves.

But if we don't acquire the habit of prayer, old age is going to be one difficult and painful ordeal for us. If a person has an interior life, then life restricted to a hospital or an old age home is not such a horrible prospect, because that person's joy comes from communing with God in the very depths of his or her soul. Such souls are never alone, because they know intimately the God who dwells deep within them. They sense the presence of God within themselves.

It's like being in the presence of someone you love. I recall visiting a parishioner in the hospital who had a stroke, and as I walked slowly into her room in the hospital, I saw her husband sitting there, just looking out into space; and then I see her sitting there, looking out into space, and saying nothing. But they didn't have to say anything, they just enjoyed being in one another's company. They didn't have to carry on conversation.

When I was a teenager I would sometimes pick up the phone and not hear a dial tone, but I wouldn't hear any talking either. I thought there was something wrong with the phone. I'd listen, only to discover that it was my mother on the phone with her good friend. They weren't talking, but they were just in the presence of one another, through the phone.

That's the point we have to get to with God. When we know His interior presence as a result of the habit of prayer, we are not lonely. We are alive; we are in joy, although on the outside it might look to others that we are bored or lonely.

But if we have never prayed, in our old age we will be simultaneously dead and alive. We will undergo a living death. Since we don't have an interior life, we have sought our peace from the outside, but old age renders us incapable of a good exterior life – we can't travel, go hiking, we can't go for a swim or a jog, or do what we used to do when we were young. I know some seniors who because of their eyes can't read anymore or watch movies, etc. Life becomes intolerable, if we don't have an interior life. But when we have a rich interior life as a result of years of prayer, all these other external activities are really quite dull and quickly "get old" next to the intense joys that come from contemplative prayer.

The world begins to look differently. We begin to see the beauty of the world around us. And we begin to see other people from God's point of view, and when that happens, they begin to look better.

The purpose of our life is to learn how to pray, to acquire a rich interior contemplative life.

If you haven't really begun to pray regularly and wish to know how to start, just begin by setting aside a certain period of time every day, and read one psalm a day from the Old Testament – it will take 5 months to get through all 150 of them. Then offer a prayer of petition, and trust that God will necessarily grant you that prayer if it is for an increase in holiness. Then pray a prayer of intercession. God hears our prayers for others and He answers them, in His own way and in His own time, and so we should pray for others persistently – and in a spirit of trust – for our children, our relatives, our enemies – those we can't stand – those who we find it difficult to forgive, those we need to forgive. We should remember to pray for the sick,for the suffering, and for the country as a whole, that as a culture we may return to God. Then offer a prayer of thanksgiving, and spend some time in silence.

Eventually we will acquire a profound sense of God in the interior of our souls. After years of that, we'll be ready to leave this world, and we won't fear death, we'll look forward to the day when we will see God's face directly. That's eternal life, and that's what this life is a preparation for. But all this begins in the decision to pray regularly. Amen.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Deacon Douglas McManaman. "The Importance of Prayer." CERC (July 2010).

Printed with permission of Deacon Douglas McManaman.

THE AUTHOR

Doug McManaman is a Deacon and a Religion and Philosophy teacher at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He is the past president of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. He maintains the following web site for his students: A Catholic Philosophy and Theology Resource Page, in support of his students. He studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. Deacon McManaman is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2010 Douglas McManaman




Subscribe to CERC's Weekly E-Letter

 

 

Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.