Why we don’t pray

Karna Lozoya

It’s Lent, which means it’s time to intensify our prayer lives.

As good Catholics, we know we should pray, yet we often find ourselves simply not praying.

Sure, we throw up a Hail Mary when we hear bad news, or we praise God when we see a beautiful sunrise, but are we developing regular, mature prayer habits?

The Denver Catholic staff came up with a few common reasons why we don’t pray as much as we should, and then turned to Father Scott Bailey, priest-secretary for Archbishop Samuel Aquila, for advice on how to get beyond the excuses and get praying.

Denver Catholic: We just don’t get the whole idea of prayer, and why we should pray.

Father Bailey: God doesn’t need our prayers – WE need them! The Christian life is about having a relationship with the Holy Trinity and our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we can’t have a relationship without conversation and quality time together. That’s what prayer is about.

Denver Catholic: We can’t sit still. It’s boring.

Father Bailey: With our fast-paced lives, it is difficult to stop and make time for prayer. And even when we do stop, it’s difficult to stay focused and sit still.

If you are trying to pray and you can’t stop thinking about something that happened at work, or a conversation you need to have tomorrow, or your to-do list, then bring those things to God. Tell him about the things on your mind – it gets them out of your head and into conversation with the Lord. Ask for his help with those things, and thank him for the blessings.

God doesn’t need our prayers – WE need them!”

Sometimes when I am in prayer, I find that I suddenly remember something important I need to do later in the day. So I have found it helpful to bring a pad of paper to my prayer time, so that I can write down those things that I will need to do or think about later.

If sitting still is a challenge for you, then don’t sit for prayer. Stand, pace the room, go for a walk, or pray while driving. We don’t need to sit still in order to talk with God.

Denver Catholic: We don’t know how. (And advice from Mother Teresa and St. Teresa of Avila isn’t helpful. We tried just looking at Jesus, and we got nothing).

Father Bailey: Keep it simple! Start by remembering that you are in the presence of God. Then take a few minutes to thank God for the abundant blessings in your life. Open up one of the Gospels or a letter of St. Paul – read until something stands out for you as an interesting point or challenge or consolation.

Tell the Lord what is in your heart – your thoughts, emotions, worries, frustrations, disappointments, questions, etc. Give God the chance to respond. Force yourself to be in silence and rest with him, knowing that he is with you always and that he loves you. Finish with gratitude!

Denver Catholic: Nothing happens. It’s a waste of time.

Father Bailey: The living God is never doing nothing! Being with God in prayer is like laying under the sun – we are soaking up the rays whether we know it or not. And if we lay in the sun long enough, we get a tan. Same thing with God – when we spend time with him in prayer, his Love changes us and makes us more like him.

Denver Catholic: It doesn’t work.

Father Bailey: We have to be careful to not treat prayer like it is a financial transaction, as if doing something in prayer earns us the thing that we want. The Lord wants us to ask for the things on our heart. And he even wants us to be persistent about it!

But if the Lord does not answer our prayers the way that we want him to, we rest in the knowledge that he is our loving Father and knows what is best for us. He will not give us a stone if we ask him for bread. We can trust in his Providence and fatherly care.

Featured image by Daniel Petty

COMING UP: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.