2002 10 February – 17 March, Catholic Pictorial, How to succeed in praying

How to succeed in praying 1
Praying for peace

Two hundred leaders of the world religious were invited to Assisi by the Holy Father to pray for peace. At the start of the day representatives from Catholicism, Orthodoxy, the Protestant Traditions, African animist religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, all offered a witness to peace. They spoke in different languages.
The cameraman who was filming the event quietly focused on the graceful fingers of one of the Moslem delegates as they moved discreetly over his rosary.
The Islamic rosary - the Subha - has ninety nine beads. God has a litany of ninety nine names and the hundredth name is revealed to the one praying, as to a friend, by God. You do not go round the ninety nine names on your beads. Rather, you take one title, or praise, or prayer of adoration and go round with it ninety nine times.
Instinctively, we who were watching this video from EWTN’s Live Broadcast of the event, took out our own rosaries, Franciscan, Dominican and Subha, and joined him. It did not prevent our lively attention to what was being said.
All the people on the platform with the Pope, had come with love, to pray, but the thirty Moslem delegates, who included five national heads of Faith, and a Jordanian prince directly descended from the Prophet Mohammed, had, as it were, laid their life on the line. They were making an assertion of their Faith, to which a sizeable number of their co-religionists would be absolutely opposed; they stood to get a knife in the back.
This is prayer. To be willing to lay down your life for something you cannot do; something which only God can do.
We know that prayer is love. When we pray we open ourselves to let God pour his love into us. There are no real rules, no standard techniques. It is God, the lover, who teaches us how to love.
But to move from adoring love to interceding love, is another matter.
How do I influence God to give peace to the world?
Well, I don’t.
The boot is on the other foot. God is good; he is goodness personified. We unite ourselves in love to his intentions. Because the Lord is by definition, goodness, we can be certain that peace is his intent. We can be certain that neither killing the unsuspecting in New York, nor desolating a poor country like Afghanistan is part of his holy and divine order for our world.

How to succeed without trying
There is an old, classic movie, “How to succeed in business without really trying”. It opens with the aspiring executive coming into the office and laying out the scenario of a night’s vigil - empty coffee cups, cigarette stubs and a heap of scrapped paper work. The hero composes himself to exhausted sleep over the finished document, just in time for the boss to come in.
We are just a bit like that. Even if we have worked all night we cannot do the job.
No human being has any cause to be conceited about being instrumental in a miracle. If you pray and the lame walk, the blind see and humanity is moved to justice and forgiveness and peace, it won’t be your doing but God’s.
What he asks of you is your willingness to have faith; to lay down your life on the security that he is good.


How to succeed in praying 2
Praying against despair

Sally is suicidal. She is not going to sit on the roof of the Liver Building and discuss things over the phone with her psychiatrist. She no longer thinks about the worthwhileness or otherwise, of life. She no longer thinks about her brutal father, or the abortion she had when she was fifteen, or the debts she cannot pay. She is beyond thinking.
She is only alive now, because someone saw the blood seeping under the bathroom door when she last slashed her wrists - and dragged her out. The next time she walks under a bus or puts her head in a gas oven, she will not be thinking about anything: that is despair.
Yet, if Sally had someone to love her, to give her a home and pay her debts, she might just, possibly, be rescued.

A nation in despair
Palestine is a nation whose people are committing suicide.
When a human being straps explosives to himself and walks into a crowded shop, and blows himself up, he is beyond thinking about the love he bears to his people or the hatred he has for his landlord, or the initiatives of the United Nations that have never been implemented. He is beyond considering the escalating chain of violence his act will occasion. He is outside life.

What can I do?
You are a praying person. You would not read the Pic unless you were. When you watch the next news report on Palestine, almost instinctively, you will pray and you will ask God for mercy. You can take that instinctive compassion and work with it. Say the Creed slowly; it is your act of faith in the goodness of God. You believe that God is good and that he does not will poor men and women to kill themselves with a view to destroy their neighbours. Love and adore God through whom you can reach all humankind. He is your hope. Ask him to pour on you the hope that the despairing have denied.
Then be prepared to live your prayer. You may never have met a Palestinian, but every day, tiny fragments of Sally float like flotsam across the surface of your life. Recognize the moment of prayer as it comes towards you.
As you curb your instinctive irritation with the disturbed child or the shop assistant who is trying to bate you, or the old man across the road, of whom you are afraid, this is your big chance to live with courageous faith; to say yes; to see all these things as your glorious opportunity.
When you are put to the test, take the temptation to hit back or sulk, and transform it into a bunch of red geraniums that you can put into your buttonhole.
In the face of the little death of negativity in the person who confronts you, choose God’s big life and share it. In front of the door of despair plant your conscious joy in love. Thank God for the chance to do it. And, be really brave; ask him for another opportunity....


How to succeed in praying 4
Praying with a friend

Wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst.
We - as Catholics - know that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist at Mass and we can receive his body and blood in communion. We know [it’s in the Catechism of the Catholic Church] that Jesus is truly and equally present in Sacred Scripture, and we can hear his Word when we read the Bible. And we know that Jesus is Truth, present in the Church until the end of time.
To be alive has a million dimensions. Even if you are very poor or very rich, even if you are persecuted or sick, there are still infinite threads of wonder for you to unravel and play with. The really valuable things are packed inside you. God may be infinite and eternal, but he is also in your heart. The Lord is nearer to you than you are to yourself. If you pray, your life will be a constant voyage of discovery, and the world outside you will slowly begin to conform to the world inside you as you discover and apply God’s loving plan for you. This might make you think that prayer is in fact, a hermit- thing. God and me. Alone with only you, my God, I journey on my way.
But it is not.
For the journey you need the food of God’s Eucharist and of his Word in
Sacred Scripture, and you need your fellow pilgrims.

Being in an enormous crowd of people is a human experience compared with which, seeing it on the TV, is nothing. Like when the Pope came to visit, when Everton/Liverpool scored the winning goal, or at a big public funeral. There is something about the concentration of several thousand people on one thing that is exalting or absolutely devastating. Conversely, being in a riot, or a huge milling crowd outside a station, or a packed subway, is almost the ultimate in desolation and fear.

Solidarity, by the way, is one of the reasons why we go to church; to be there with others, to close the gap in the empty crowd, and to focus the purpose on God. It is a tremendous thing, but it is not quite what Our Lord was talking about when he spoke of two three gathered together. Have you a friend with whom you can pray, share Scripture, say the Rosary, sing in the Spirit, or keep silence? Have you even thought of making time for this?
Light a candle before an icon or a holy picture, and sit round. Take it in turns to read from Sacred Scripture. Share your reflections. Allow yourself to become so trusting that you can sit in silence before the Lord [but don’t chat].
People who pray have very exciting lives [look at us!]. They never get bored with it. Meeting God is the most un-boring exercise in time and space.


How to succeed in praying 5
Praying with your will

Have you ever watched a couple of sailors arm wrestling in a docklands pub? They will be sitting at a table, hands clasped, teeth gritted, sweat pouring down their faces; their supporters cheering them on.
Now, if you only look at this scene for a split second, you can’t actually see what is happening; the effort of will and physical strength is absolutely equal. The combatants are remaining on one spot by an ultimate exercise of strength.
To hand wrestle you need to train your forearm, but to pray - no, to live, you need to train your will.
Memory, intellect and will are powers of the soul. You take them with you when you go.
You [the real and final you] do not look with your eyes or think with your brain. You look through your eyes and think through your brain. Eyes and brain are tools. Your whole body is the tool of your will. These are tools - sacred and glorious tools, admittedly, to which the Church will give Christian burial, when they are dead, and which Christ ,as he has revealed, will raise up on the Last Day. But the immortal and final you, wounded as it is , is the one who makes the decisions now.

Jesus’ willpower
The Fathers of the Church were not obsessed by how Jesus understood himself to be true man and true God as he grew up from childhood. But more modern theologians like Raymond E Brown have expended a lot of ink on the subject.
The wise agree that Our Lord from his conception, enjoyed what is called the Beatific Vision - that is, he could see and know himself to be in the heart of the Father, with the Holy Spirit. But he still had to learn to walk and read, and do woodwork. And some time before he was twelve, he must have discovered he had power to do whatever he willed. We can say, before twelve, because Our Lord is clearly exercising the power of his will [which being that of God, is absolute] by staying behind in the temple where Mary and Joseph found him with the elders - and exercising it even more remarkably [because, being God, he did not need to] by going down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and being obedient to them.
Early apocryphal stories, which the Church Fathers did not choose to make part of the Canon of Scripture, tell of the child Jesus making birds out of mud and breathing on them, so that they came to life and flew away. But in fact, Our Lord must have discovered definitively who he was, the minute he came in contact with evil. Evil simply was not in him, and he had power to make the evil ones do his will. “Even the demons obey him!” exclaimed onlookers, during his later life. But they always did.

We received access to this power when we were baptised.
We cannot, by our own strength, say to the evil things that may come into our lives, “I command you to depart.” But we can say “In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I command you to depart!”
However, if we want to confront the evil in our lives we do have to train our will - like the hand wrestlers. We have to teach ourselves the technique of freedom in the Lord. If our life depended on hand wrestling, we wouldn’t leave it to chance and hope we had the muscles in our arm.
Treat your will in the same way. Our Lord gives grace, and his giving is absolute. But it is for us to enable ourselves with the strength to use it.
It is Lent. Strengthen your response to God’s grace by fasting - by denying yourself something that is perfectly harmless. Not because God likes people to be miserable. God hates people to be miserable! The Good News of the Gospels is presented as a wedding party at which they drank one hundred and fifty gallons of wine, after the officially laid-in plonk ran out [Jn 2 1-12]. But you don’t get a party like that every day....


How to succeed in praying 6
Praying thankyou

Never take anything for granted. As G K Chesterton said, if a tube sets out from Charing Cross and arrives at Regent’s Park, it is not dull routine, - it is a miracle. The fact that the miracle is repeated every fifteen minutes does not, believe me, lessen its miraculousness.
Some of us go to Mass every day; most of us go every Sunday. The priest looks up to heaven and facing the Father’s throne says, thankyou.
That is how we get the word Eucharist. It is Greek for thanksgiving. Get a missal and photocopy, or better still, write out for yourself the four Eucharistic prayers, and ponder on them, regularly. The whole of creation is summed up in these four prayers.
The Second Eucharistic Prayer [which we hear oftenest] is taken from the Apostolic Church Order [The Didache] and is contemporary with the Apostles. The First Eucharistic Prayer was an antique by the fifth century, and some of the Church Fathers thought that it was the form used by St Peter to celebrate Mass in Antioch, before he even got to Rome.
The Third Eucharistic Prayer is a reflection of the prayer used by the Eastern Rite Christians [based on the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom] and is our way of expressing the true and ancient unity of the Church, east and west - north and south.
The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer could be justly called the greatest work of art produced in the twentieth century. It is a modern creation, but it brings in the whole of life and history in the Word. When you hear it said [and it is probably the least used of the prayers] listen with extra special awe, because it is the prayer of our age.
If you have never thought about these prayers which enshrine the central mystery of our Catholic Faith, the consecration of bread and wine through the work of the Holy Spirit, into the Body and Blood of Christ - wake up! You really are missing something!
We pray because we want to touch Jesus; to hear him and see him. We travel in prayer through time, to the point of communion. If we are trying to succeed in praying, it is precisely so that we can bring a greater awe and reality to our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, and take from it a deeper love and adoration.
We go to communion at Mass because we want to be alive, because we crave to love and be loved. Everything you will ever be comes out of this touch.
When you eat the Body of Christ, and drink his Blood, you do not turn him into yourself, he turns you into him.
Jesus has taken you into his hands and said, “This is my body; this is my blood”. And he has broken you, to feed others.
Our own life can become, in a non-ordained way, a living Eucharist. In all our daily living there is the blood of pain, a pain transformed into willing sacrifice and joy, but there is also the wine of gladness and the bread of understanding - that we have been consecrated to give to others.