Fr Charbel shares about why and how to pray, especially when it becomes difficult...

Not a question of duty but a question of truth

Why do we pray? This question comes up one day or another with the temptation to give up, maybe when the pressure of other occupations grows greater and the faith more lukewarm. According to St. Teresa of Avila, prayer demands two things: desire and perseverance (because the desire is not always felt). Prayer is not only a duty. It is a question of truth, of remembering who we are –creatures and beloved children of God- and remembering that he is with us, that we are never alone. Pope Francis, contrasting the attitude of King Herod (who does not really adore God) and the Magi (who do adore) said on the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord this year: “When we do not worship God, we end up worshiping ourselves. So too, the Christian life, when it fails to worship the Lord, can become a discreet way of affirming ourselves and our own abilities: Christians who do not know how to worship, who do not know how to pray by worshiping. This is a grave risk: we use God instead of serving him”.1 Adoring God is to kneel down in front of him, acknowledging joyfully and freely our complete dependence on him, as his beloved children.

Prayer is not compulsory, it is necessary.

In one of the prayers during the Holy Mass we say: “for, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness, but profit us for salvation, through Christ our Lord”2. God does not need our advices on what he has to do. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. But we need to pray in order to let him change our lives and our hearts. He can do everything without us, but he chose to make us his cooperators for our own salvation and the salvation of others. We need to pray, even if we do not feel this need. One famous Dominican preacher titled one of his books “Adoration or despair”3. This is the real alternative: either I find the only true hope in God who is my creator, my loving Father and my saviour; or I find only short-sighted and disappointing “hopes” leading to despair.

How to pray beyond routine and duty?

Prayer is a dialogue and it is meeting God. This happens in the darkness of faith and usually does not bring any feelings or an extraordinary sensory experience. These may or may not happen at the beginning of our spiritual journey; but they usually do not last. St. John of the Cross explains that there is a real temptation in giving too much importance to them, because the only path to a real union with God is faith. Prayer demands accepting and choosing the path of faith, this path which leads to developing a real personal relationship with God. Pope Francis continues in his homily that “once we worship, we come to realise that faith is not simply a set of fine doctrines, but a relationship with a living person whom we are called to love. It is in encountering Jesus face to face that we come to see him as he is. Through worship, we discover that the Christian life is a love story with God, where what really matters is not our fine ideas, but our ability to make him the centre of our lives, as lovers do with those whom they love. This is what the Church ought to be, a worshipper in love with Jesus her spouse.” 4 We sometimes hear the objection, “how can you call prayer a dialogue? It is a monologue: I speak to God but I do not hear any answer”. Here comes the relation between prayer and the Word of God contained in the Holy Scripture. To be alive in our prayer, we need to listen to God speaking to us in the Bible, to listen to Jesus speaking to us in the gospel. For this we need to give time to silence in our life, to a silent listening of what God has to tell us. We are sometimes too talkative in prayer. We also need to take time for a prayerful reading of the Bible, begging the Holy Spirit to help us open our minds and hearts to God’s word.

“We do not know how to pray”

According to St. Paul, in Romans 8, “the Holy Spirit comes to our help because we do not know how to pray as we ought”. In our prayer life, we are always children, beginners. There is never a moment when we can say: “now I know” or “now I can do it by myself, I am qualified.” There are no degrees and diplomas in prayer. The point is to become more and more like “little children”; that is to accept more dependency on God’s grace, while doing our best to open our hearts to this grace and to cooperate with it. Let us call on the Holy Spirit humbly. He is the Paraclete, the one who comes to our help if we call him. “If you who are evil are able to give good things to your children, how much more your heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11). Mary is the perfect example of this docility to the Spirit and littleness in front of God

When prayer becomes difficult, let us ask Mother Mary to play for us the same part she played at Cana; presenting our poverty to Jesus; “they have no wine” and directing us to “do whatever He tells [us].”

1.http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200106_omelia-epifania.html

2.Common preface IV, Roman Missal

3.Marie Dominique Molinie, Adoration ou desespoir.

4. http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200106_omelia-epifania.html


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Fr Charbel, originally from France and from the community of St John, is currently living in Pondicherry, India. He goes around preaching retreats and actively supporting youth and young families, especially with marriage issues and discerning vocation. He is currently the Chaplain for JY Tamilnadu.