Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Praying thoughtfully, from my heart

It's easy to pray thoughtlessly, especially when praying set or fixed prayers. For those of us who pray the daily offices of the Liturgy of the Hours, it can easily become a matter of fulfilling an obligation. As part of ordination, clerics promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Secular clerics, such as myself, also known as diocesan or regular, clergy, are understood to be obligated to pray what are called the "hinge" hours (because it is on them the other 5 offices swing, as it were). One priest said to me recently after I told him the difficulty I sometimes encounter praying Evening Prayer (Vespers in the old idiom): "The office is like a difficult wife- nobody wants to put up with her." While this made me chuckle a bit and gave me some comfort in knowing that my struggle to pray Evening Prayer was widely shared, this does not describe my relationship with office.

My experience with praying the Liturgy of the Hours, especially Evening Prayer, to extend the metaphor, is more like a good, undemanding wife, who, rather than cherish, I sometimes (not always) ignore. I remember reading a kind of guilty reflection by Pater Tom (Merton) about praying the office out of obligation while he was away from the monastery. At the end of the day, like any other commitment, praying in general and praying Evening Prayer in particular is a matter of priority, of setting aside the time and, as with my wife, faithfully keeping the commitment. In other words, cultivating my spiritual life isn't that different from the rest of my life- there are no tricks or shortcuts.

What prompted these thoughts about thoughtless prayer this morning? Lent, which, like Advent, by the grace of God, never goes according to my well-laid-out plan. Because prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue, it doesn't only depend on the one praying, but also on the One to whom we pray. Therefore, sometimes it is enough simply to maintain the discipline of prayer in watchful waiting. Reading about the fifth Joyful Mystery, "The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple," from Romano Guardini's dense little book The Rosary of Our Lady, I ran across this, concerning the Blessed Virgin's maternal worry upon realizing, three days later, that he Son was not with the group traveling back to Galilee:
All of this repeats itself spiritually in the life of every believer. At first, Christ is the center; our faith in Him is firm and loving. But then He disappears for awhile, often suddenly and apparently without the slightest reason

A remoteness has been created. A void is formed. We feel forsaken. Faith seems folly. "Against all hope," we must maintain hope. Everything becomes heavy, wearisome, and senseless. We must walk alone and seek


I read this this morning just after finishing Morning Prayer (the office in Latin called Lauds). It wasn't this passage that started me thinking about how rote praying the office can become. It was the powerful Intercessions for Wednesday, Second Week of Lent, not just one of the petitions, but all of them:
Help us to receive good from your bounty with a deep sense of gratitude,
-   and to accept with patience the evil that comes to us.
Teach us to be loving not only in the great and exceptional moments,
-   but above all in the ordinary events of daily life.
May we abstain from what we do not really need,
-   and help our brothers and sisters in distress.
May we bear the wounds of your Son,
-   for through his body he gave us life
So, today, Jesus showed back up, not so much to comfort and console me, but to challenge and provoke me. In all honesty, he showed up yesterday during my silent time in a similar manner. I think these petitions go to the heart of the meaning of Lent.

To paraphrase Tolstoy: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." Among Catholics it might be said: Everyone thinks of changing the Church, seeking to move it forward or backward, but only a few think of changing themselves. It is these few who, during their time on earth, allow themselves to be sanctified, that is, made holy, made like Christ. We call them saints. One way they allow themselves to be converted is not only by persevering in prayer, but by persevering in prayer with the Church, which can be quite difficult at times.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Deacon Scott,

    I have found that 8 years after ordination, my commitment to the Hours is a priority in my life. For me, knowing not only the necessity of it vis a vis my promise at ordination, but also the necessity to over and over again go back to the psalms which invariably express where I am at in my life's experiences, is something for which I always find the time. I miss it if I don't. Admittedly, Evening Prayer often get prayed after 3 PM rather than at the 5-7 o'clock hours, or at other times it is delayed until 9 pm, but God give me the time if I am creative in its use.

    The psalms express my soul's reality so often. I like to think they express the heart of Christ also as he lives in his people.

    Thanks for your diaconal witness! Blessings in abundance.

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  2. Thank you Deacon Bob. In reality, there is not much to be gleaned from this little patch of cyberspace, but maintaining a weblog is useful for me.

    The Psalms are the stuff of the soul.

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