08 Mar Prayer
Fr. Pat McNulty
There wasn’t room for this article in Fr. Pat’s memorial issue last month, but we think it is too good for you to miss.
Why do we pray? We don’t pray in order to get God’s attention. We pray so God can get our attention.
We don’t pray as if there are certain kinds prayers that are necessarily more powerful than others—as if 260 prayers to St. Michael the Archangel as we hang upside down from an olive tree in Jerusalem at 3 p. m. is greater than the prayer of a Madonna House guest on the farm saying the name of Jesus while he is shovelling horse shit!
You don’t measure prayer. It’s either prayer or it’s not prayer. It can be one word; it can be in the Eucharist, which is a very special kind of prayer; it can be hundreds of words, or it can be in Scripture.
So, in order to be open to God—to let God know us, or for us to know God—we pray. We pray in many, many different ways. We don’t pray—this to me was the hardest lesson I ever learned—we do not pray in order to get out of life.
If I didn’t say anything else about prayer, I would want you never to forget this. We do not pray in order to get out of life. We pray in order to get into life, and to live there by faith.
Do you want to pray? Do you really, really, really want to pray? If you do, you have to ask yourself, “Do I lift up my heart and mind to God in my everyday life?”
Not only when I’m joyful, and insightful, but when I’m lonely, when I’m hurt, when I’m rejected, confused, angry.
When I fall again into my own favorite sin, where do I go? Usually alone into myself, into solitude. I lift up my poor little wounded heart and mind to God and walk with him in the cool of the evening even with everyone else all around me. My heart and mind are with God.
There are many formats of prayer within our Catholic tradition; each of them has its own merit and its own approach—with the exception of the Eucharist—which is the source and summit of them all.
Catherine Doherty did not create a new form of prayer, better than any others, which we call poustinia, but she did seek to release us from a very strange kind of “rubric of devotion,” so that when we pray we are also free to walk with God even with everybody else around us in the cool of the evening.
That’s what we mean by Nazareth spirituality: how to lift up our hearts and minds to God in our everyday, ordinary life. Catherine says it so clearly in Soul of My Soul.
She says, “By incarnating himself into our flesh, Christ divinized the ordinary.” Think about that. Divinized the ordinary. I want to scratch my nose—that’s very ordinary. Is that divinized? It is somehow.
Christ divinized the ordinary, the commonplace, “so that prayer is born…” and—I love this—”when the mystery of God and the mystery of man meet.”
And it doesn’t meet anywhere better for us than in the mystery of the incarnation and in everyday life. “The mystery of God and the mystery of man meet.”
Prayer is simply the communication which constantly passes between you and the Lord. You don’t need to understand how to talk to God. You just do it.
You are probably not used to praying as life flows along, but when you are in love with God, everything you do is prayer.
Thousands of books have been written on prayer, and I don’t suppose God minds the books, but I think God wants you and me to be the book, to become a prayer.
The Lord Jesus says to that, Amen: Come to me all you who labor and find life so burdensome, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28). Amen.
—Excerpted and adapted from a talk on prayer, MH summer program, 2012