Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why pray?

John Gattuso asks are we to understand "that prayer is a method of influencing events that are otherwise beyond our control, a way to convince God to tip the scales in our direction?" All of the great spiritual writers agree that the answer is emphatically No. Prayer is not a magical gimmick through which we win God's favor. Gattuso draws our attention to what C.S. Lewis tells us about our Lord's desperate prayer in Gethesemane, in which he asks His Father to "take this cup from me". His prayerful request was not granted, Deo gratias! Is this to write that prayer is useless, or pointless? As St. Paul might answer such a question, No! "Prayer," Gattuso observes, "works on us rather than for us".

One of the most significant ways that prayer works on us is that it helps "recognize the humanity of other people and [deepens] our capacity for compassion and forgiveness. As we come to terms with our own limitations and our own need for kindness and understanding, we see more clearly the same needs in others. Religious teachings may differ, but in the end we all live, suffer, and die in much the same way, and we pray for the same things - peace, health, patience forgiveness."

By conceiving of prayer in this way we open our eyes to see that religion can be a force for good and peace in the world, it also shows us how faith can be such a force. While irreligion, not the conflict between religions, as Pope Benedict XVI keeps pointing out in various ways, is a greater threat to humanity and led to the bloody horrors of the last century and is what is being resisted by force in the early years of this new century and millennium, the way for people of faith to show this is not by obnoxiously seeking to impose religion on others by force or even through democratic means. We more effectively do this by being compassionate, forgiving, kind, and understanding people. We become such people by forming communities of faith, hope, and love in which these virtues are practiced, taught, and lived. To borrow words from Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, we create communities "in which we may flourish and be ourselves". In addition to parishes as schools of love, we need these places and people because, as Radcliffe also observes, "one of our deepest needs is to be at home ". We must do this in the awareness that by "claiming that you have got the truth wrapped up does breed violence and intolerance".

1 comment:

  1. This is just one example of something you share here, speaking directly to what I've had on my mind. You've said before, that we don’t "conjure up God" through prayer. What a profoundly important thing to realize and let sink in! I've noticed my prayers changing. I'm finding it easier (or at least less un-comfortable) to say with more trust and faith (along will all of my pleading): "Thy Will Be Done". Hey, this is huge for me - as I imagine it is for most people. I hope this is a sign of prayer working "on us rather than for us".

    I'd never heard of John Gattuso or Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe until just now. Their thoughts, and yours, about prayer and our relationship to others, particularly the need for all of us to really practice the virtues of our faith along with tolerance of others', allowing them the same, really hit home for me this morning. Thanks!