Second Sunday of Lent

On Prayer  

I have written about prayer in the past and thought that since the Lenten Season is normally the time when Mother Church invites us to intensify our prayer life, I would expand more on the topic and share my own experience of encounter with God in prayer. Prayer, our personal communication with God, defines and characterizes our concept of God. Our manner of praying is our personal or communal affirmation of the role of God in our lives.

We have learned from history that every ethnic group of people learned their concept of the divine from various expressions of worship. Religious rituals and public prayers were expressions of beliefs and convictions of certain spiritualities that were anchored in ancestral traditions. Our Catholic Faith, which introduces to the world the One True God in the Person of Jesus Christ, is one of those traditions that is rich in ritualistic expressions of worship. Our sacramental celebrations are great expressions of a much deeper spiritual reality behind the visible symbols associated with the prayers and chants recited during the sacred rituals. However, we are challenged to truly understand the meaning of our expression of faith according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We know that He taught His first disciples to pray the “Our Father” as an indication of an attitude as well as a knowledge of God’s true role in the life of each person. I think it is important to ask ourselves and to raise the question about how we envision the identity of God and His role in the manner we express our faith through private and public prayer.  For example, do I believe that bringing flowers to church will appease Him for not showing up for a long time? Would I be truly reconciled with Him (if I knew that I did something wrong) if I were to give a bigger donation, as a kind of bribe, in the collection basket?  Would the voluminous number of votive candles that I place by the shrines convince God to grant me the favor that I have been praying for over the last five years? Would my lengthy recitation of vocal prayers, that I say in rush so I can finish the entire booklet of novenas, truly save my soul and spare me from hell?

Sometimes, there is something problematic in our definition of religiosity. Sometimes, we also discredit the importance of spirituality. The rituals that we do in common are great manifestations of our conviction that God exists and that He is Who He says He is.  Our public liturgical gatherings, especially Sunday Mass, are indicative of something sacred. Yet, there is also a great danger in our religious practices of simply being caught up in the rituals without going deeper into the meaning and the realities they represent. In the long run, we also tend to spiritualize a lot of things without understanding the foundation of our expressions of spiritual beliefs. Religiosity and spirituality complement each other. I cannot be spiritual without any religious foundation and I cannot be religious without any spiritual expression. Prayer brings the two together because it is in one’s discovery and understanding of the divine, the Holy Trinity, that both religiosity and spirituality find the fullness of expression.  True reflective prayer is essential to knowing God in the depths of our being.

I am not inviting anyone to stop saying public prayers. I am not discouraging anyone from lighting votive candles or offering flowers at the shrines. I am not encouraging anyone to stop their public devotions and veneration of the saints. What I am inviting everyone to is to consider taking some time to meditate on the role of God in our personal lives as well as our unique relationship with Him.

If I only pray whenever I am undergoing a certain crisis in life, who is God, then, for me and what role do I want Him to be involved with in my daily affairs? If I am convinced that I love God, and yet I never spend or make time to connect with Him in quiet private prayer or to recognize my blessings at the end of the day, then how do I define love and how do I make love real? Like our human relationships, we believe that the gift of time is the best expression of love.  We spend time with the people and things that are closest to our heart.  We spend time on projects and activities that are important to us. Giving our time is indicative of worth. The clock that represents time simply moves forward, and it never goes back. We prioritize things and people that are valuable to us by giving them our time. That is why prayer takes time. And while prayer takes our time away, and we often don’t see the result of our prayer nor the things that we have accomplished in prayer, though in reality much is accomplished by God in secret. Of this we can be assured. Simply because, once our time is spent with God – it becomes a moment, and a moment with God is our experience of eternity. A true expression of prayer brings us to an experience of eternity because God is Eternal.

As prayer is one of our Lenten disciplines, I ask that we all discover how this powerful tool can usher us to the real meaning of fasting, another special discipline of Lent which I will reflect upon with you in an upcoming open letter.

Your Pastor,