We’re talking a lot about praying in Lent. Why pray? What does it do for you?
Because we’re in an arid desert. Already, Lent is a time in the desert, so just like Jesus, we too nourish ourselves with God. Secondly, because Lent is not our only desert: the world and society within which we live is a desert, and certainly a distracting one. That’s what St Paul says to us in the first reading: there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods their god, and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think are important are earthly things. Persevering in a way of life which is and should be different to those around us – it’s not so easy, is it?
And there’s a third and most important reason. We pray because we love God. We have heard a lot about what God is asking of us for the Plenary Council. You know the first question I think God is asking us at this time: do you love me? Not programs and revolutions and regulations but first of all: do you love me?
But how does uttering a few pious niceties help us, and help us love God? Well that is not prayer – at least, not all prayer is. What is prayer? It’s the first reading: an encounter with the living God who loves us, who knows our name, who wants to speak with us and share his plans for us. That’s what Abram is doing: he’s praying. The same in the Gospel: this is what is happening when we pray. Our Creator reveals himself to us. We receive him and see him and our hearts are changed, and we go back to the world strengthened and joyful – and not alone, but with him.
That’s why even times of trouble or darkness do not distract the Christian from their way of life: because we expect such times to come, and we walk through them with this Radiant Almighty Lord who dwells among us here in our Australian society.
So how do we pray? St Teresa of Avila gives us a few good points:
- Find a place alone.
- Make a sign of the cross.
- Make an examination of conscience and act of contrition.
- Ask for the Holy Spirit to lead you on prayer.
- Forget everything else around you and look at God: either spiritually in your heart, or if it helps in a holy image, or before the Blessed Sacrament, or in the Word of God. Allow yourself to focus on his infinite beauty and goodness and majesty and love, and what he is saying to you, and forget everything else. If you are feeling joyful, focus on the risen Jesus. If sad, Jesus in Gethsemane.
- Prayer is not about forming ideas or meditating on yourself: it is first of all looking at God. Look at him. Listen to him.
- Be determined to pray. The devil flees from people determined to do good. If you’re distracted simply peacefully refocus on Jesus there in front of you.
- Stick to your time: if tempted to shorten it – go for a little longer.
- Stick to your place: once you find a good place stick to it, as constantly seeking new places is less about God and more about novelty.
- Feel nothing? Don’t worry: it is normal to go through periods of dryness. What is important is not the feeling but my act of love in being with God.