Easter people of prayer & loveBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice
The risks of prayer
When I was a junior in college seminary, I decided to be serious in the practice of prayer. I had received a copy of Treasure in Clay, by Archbishop Fulton Sheen as an Easter gift, and I remember being touched by the chapter where he recounted his discipline of a daily Holy Hour.
Since my days in the seminary, I have been further encouraged to be a man of prayer, by seminary faculty, spiritual directors, and those who care for me and who are concerned with my formation. Early on in life and often, I was told, “If you want to be a prayerful priest, you must be a prayerful seminarian.” Believe me, such prayerfulness does not magically descend upon a man on the day of ordination. It must be entrenched, thoroughly in place, long before the day of ordination. I have been given many books and articles to read, listened to many tips and “how to” conferences, all to assist me in the process of growing in prayer. But, I have seldom heard much on one very important and particular aspect of prayer: THE SERIOUS RISKS involved in being a person of prayer, especially in relation to the greatest of prayers, Our Lord’s Prayer, when we pray, “Thy will be done.”
There are a lot of things for which we pray: We pray for peace, our country, our family, for the Church, others who have asked us to pray for them, etc. In these prayers, do we simply aspire to remind God of what we need? Or, on a deeper level, do we seek, in the midst of praying our petitions, that, “Thy will be done?”
The verse, ‘Thy will be done’ is the most authentic prayer we can offer. When I get to that point, my faith is raw and authentic. When I get to that point, I have to believe that what God is offering me is best for me, and that is not an easy pill to swallow. We all pray for what we want or need, but what God gives to us is what He knows is best, and I am called to trust in that moment.
“Jesus, I trust in you”—those are the words of the Divine Mercy devotion. I think of the death of my mom. She had had cancer for two years when I was ordained a priest and then she died the following year. So often, I wish she could have been around to see many things. And I prayed her to be here, “God, give me the cancer, leave this woman alone!” That was my prayer. But God didn’t answer my prayer the way I wanted. He gave me what I needed. I don’t like it, I wish it was different, but it is what it is. And when I finally see God, He will have a lot of explaining to do! Undoubtedly, after confronting him, I will step back and come to know why things had to be the way they were and all this will make sense. You see, there is a big gap between what I ask God for in prayer and how He chooses to answer my prayers. And for some, the big gap, not getting their prayer answered the way they wanted, turns them against religion and/or God. However, when we push through it all and make an act of faith in prayer, “Thy will be done,” then we are living a life based on prayer.
First risk of prayer
When I settle into, “Thy will be done,” I become authentic and transparent, which leads to the first risk of prayer—SEEING MYSELF AS I TRULY AM. What I think about myself is often what I want to be, but not what I truly am. Genuine prayer demands that I be honest with myself. What are my motives, my desires, my attitude toward others? What are my weaknesses and strengths? When I pray, I allow God to strip me of the masks, the false self that I buy into. I want to put my best foot forward with others and have them think the best of me. SO, often very unintentionally, I HIDE the ‘TRUE SELF’ THEY MAY REJECT and PROJECT the ‘FALSE SELF’ THEY MAY WANT ME TO BE, which is not THE ‘NOT REAL’ ME. I can fool others, I can even fool myself, but I CAN’T FOOL GOD. HE SEES ME FOR WHO I AM, and HE WANTS ME TO BE THAT PERSON.
In prayer, God patiently strips away the layers of false self, giving me the grace to see myself for who and what I am, so that I might better become what I ought to be as a beloved son of God. This is such GOOD NEWS because GOD’S VIEW OF ME, GOD’S PLAN FOR ME IS SO MUCH GREATER THAN that for which I myself SETTLE!
For example, I am the bishop God intends me to be. I may not be the bishop you want me to be, but I’m trying to be the bishop God needs me to be for you. As a result, I may preach the Gospel and “comfort those afflicted and afflict those who are comfortable.”
Second risk of prayer
Once I am the person God intends me to be, stripped of all falsehood, the second risk of prayer becomes possible—I risk BECOMING MORE LIKE CHRIST. This is so risky in a world that often rejects His values. In the very beginning of Christ’s ministry, he rejected the temptations to use His personal power for worldly purposes. His integrity brought Him not fame or acceptance or fortune, but rather loneliness and the Cross. As disciples, WE ARE ASKED TO WALK IN HIS FOOTSTEPS. And in prayer, I am compelled to measure up to that challenge in every aspect of my life. Here, the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience apply to ALL. Living out a spirit of poverty in a materialistic world; chastity according to one’s state in life while immersed in the chaos of a sexually-crazed world, and finally, an obedience where my heart and ears are open and formed by the Word of God. Yes, as we grow in prayer we will risk the danger of BECOMING MORE LIKE CHRIST. When that happens, things that were once acceptable in my life are no longer so. My priorities and focus change—I become more like Christ in my thoughts, my words, and actions.
Final risk of prayer
Lastly, in prayer, I RUN THE RISK OF HAVING MY PRAYERS ANSWERED. In our prayers, we often pray for peace and we wonder when will come the day that peace will break out instead of war? Maybe God is looking down at us and thinking, “I’ve given you INTELLIGENCE, RESOURCES, and THE ABILITY for PEACE. Peace will come when all of you come together as instruments of peace and unity. … Peace is within your grasp, you bunch of knuckle-heads!”
We often pray to love our neighbor, and in the next instance we refuse to be inconvenienced by the demands of that love and retreat into our own selfish worlds. God has given us hearts to love, hands to embrace, words to comfort others, and what do we do? WE MAKE THE CHOICE TO TURN OUR HEARTS TO STONE, OUR HANDS INTO FISTS, and OUR WORDS INTO WEAPONS.
In prayer (hopefully), we come in honesty and poverty before God, with open hands and an open heart, and in so doing we seek to be an INSTRUMENT OF HIS DIVINE LOVE. And we never give up. Remember the widow in Gospel? She never gave up. Against all odds, she persevered. Can we not see that is so with many of the saints? Men and women, who against all odds with no resources, continued to be faithful—they never gave up. Each of us probably know people like this in our daily lives today, too.
I can fool others, I can even fool myself, but I can’t fool God.
Why do they persevere and not give up, despite all the odds and disappointments? BECAUSE OF LOVE. LOVE IS A CHOICE. LOVE IS SOMETHING WE DECIDE TO OFFER. LOVE IS SOMETHING WE DECIDE TO EXPERIENCE. LOVE IS SOMETHING WE DECIDE TO LIVE BY. WE CHOOSE TO TAKE ON THE YOKE OF LOVE, KNOWING THAT THIS YOKE IS EASY AND THE BURDEN OF LOVE is LIGHT!
Love then, is not what I feel, love is a decision. Did not the Thérèse the Little Flower discover the same: “In the midst of the Church, I shall be love.”
We choose to accept the love God has for us in accepting His will, in accepting that His loving plan for me is better than my plan. We see this absolutely embraced by the saints. They accepted God’s will because they knew it was His loving plan for them. With total confidence in Jesus, the saints—and each of us—can choose to abandon ourselves to Him and THEN STEP BACK and WATCH HOW GOD WILL CARE FOR US.
Saint Jean Jugan, the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, said, “God wants me for Himself. He is keeping me for a work which is not yet known, not yet founded. SHE DID NOT KNOW ‘WHAT,’ SHE DID NOT KNOW ‘WHEN.’ She didn’t need to know what it was or when it would be. SHE HAD THE LOVE OF GOD IN HER HEART and THAT WAS ENOUGH. What she did do was keep the flame of love alive, burning bright, so that when that decisive moment did arrive, she was able to respond by carrying a blind, destitute, elderly women into her home, carrying her on her back, placing the woman in her own bed.
Father Pedro Arrupe, SJ, deceased, former Superior General of the Jesuit Order, wrote a reflection on the importance of falling in love with God and staying in love to the end. He wrote: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything: It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
I ask you, isn’t this true?
I find it interesting that Fr. Arrupe chose the word “practical.” Not very religious, his words simply remind us that love for God is natural to us as humans. We are made by God and for God, so to love God is as practical for us as breathing or eating. And the more we love God, the abandonment this requires of us becomes an act of even greater love.
I think Christ has shown us that ABANDONMENT to LOVE will ALWAYS END in TRIUMPH. PERSEVERANCE will ALWAYS WIN the DAY!
In our vocation, whatever God calls us to in our lives, we must make the decision to love God, to serve God, and persevere to the end. So pray—and when you pray, pray, “Thy will be done,” then hold on for the ride. God just may answer your prayer!