Wednesday 21 October 2020

Trying to pray

Speaking with a number of people, both parishioners and other friends, I have been struck by how more than a few have said how difficult it was to pray during the time of lock-down. Quite a few admitted that they had thought that with nothing much else to do, there would have been ample time and scope to pray more, but as the days and weeks progressed, they had felt less and less inclined to pray at all. Most had found this inability to spend time comfortably with the Lord distressing. Why was this, they asked. It’s not an easy question, because, as with most things in life and in matters of faith, one size does not fit all. Each climbs to heaven by his or her particular stairway. Although we travel together as God’s people, this journey of faith is essentially deeply personal.

‘Prayer is the raising up of the heart and mind to God’, as the old Catechism assured us. I always rather liked the late Cardinal Hume’s tweaking of this classic definition of prayer, as ‘trying to raise our hearts and minds to God.’ This seems to express our common experience rather better.

For some of us, prayer is a matter of the Morning Offering and an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be before bed, with aspirations and other occasional prayers thrown heavenward, during our busy day. Faced with more ‘free’ time to fill, we are left wondering what on earth to say. The time we have mentally put aside for extra prayer, yawns ahead, empty and uninviting. We cast around for ideas, which are soon exhausted and give up in disgust, defeated.

So, what do we do? Should there be another lock-down, how can we try to avoid too much floundering in prayer? Well, maybe we can’t, not completely, though we might remember something St Catherine of Siena said: ‘the art of prayer is that there is no art,’ and ‘every time and place is a time and a place for prayer.’ Of course, prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament is undoubtedly the best place to pray, but if we are unable to get to a church, then we should find a quiet place and make, so to speak, our domestic oratory there.

St Francis de Sales advised those who found prayer impossible: ‘if you can’t pray, then pray.’ It may not seem very satisfactory, but it is still talking to the Lord who doesn’t require us to be raconteurs, regaling Him with stories and lengthy explanations about the situations and people for whom we are trying to offer some sort of prayer. He knows all we need and desire before we ask, but, all the same, He does like to be asked.

The key is perseverance. We must keep in mind the One with whom we are wanting to be in conversation. We must desire God. Only then, will we persevere in our efforts to pray. Remember Robert Bruce and his spider!

There will always be dryness, distractions and fatigue, but by putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak, we can keep going and shall find the Lord, who seems so elusive, as if playing hide-and-seek with us, but who does, I believe, wish to be found.

Meanwhile, plan to pray and make time to do so. Don’t look for results or try to manufacture emotions. Ultimately, prayer is a discipline and jolly hard work, but as all the saints, living and dead, know, it is well worth the effort. So, let’s keep trying to pray, no matter how badly we may feel we do it, and rather than praying for ourselves, let’s continue to pray for one another.