Why we don’t pray

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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: Opinion: There is cause for hope amid dire reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors

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By Vincent Carroll

This Dec. 13, 2019 opinion column was originally published by the Denver Post.

When will it end, many Catholics must wearily wonder. And not only Catholics. Anyone who reads or listens to the news must wonder when the Catholic church sex scandals will ever be over.

But in one major sense, the crisis already has passed and what we’re witnessing — and will continue to witness for years — is the aftermath.

To see what I mean, go to Appendix 4 in the report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Colorado issued in October by investigators led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. There’s a bar graph highlighting the “number of victims by decade the abuse or misconduct began.” Towering above all other decades for the archdiocese of Denver is the bar for the 1960s, representing 74 victims. In second place is the 1970s with 25 victims, and the 1950s is third with 14. The 1990s had 11 victims and the 1980s three.

As the report observes, “Roman Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Colorado peaked in the 1960s and appears to have declined since. In fact, the last of the Colorado child sex abuse incidents we saw in the files were 1 in July 1990 and 4 in May 1998.”

In other words, nearly 70 percent of all the abuse documented in the attorney general’s report within the Denver archdiocese occurred a half-century or more ago.

Denver’s history differs somewhat from the national experience, but not wildly so. Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded in 2004 after examining the national data on accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002 that “more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade.” The 1960s were also atrocious years for Catholic youth and so was the first half or so of the 1980s.

It appears that accusations in the years since have held to the same chronological profile. Mark Gray, a survey researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, reported recently that CARA has analyzed 8,694 accusations of abuse made between 2004 and 2017 (compared to 10,667 earlier allegations studied by John Jay researchers). The result: The distribution of cases is “nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results.”

In other words, a large majority of the accusations of abuse that have surfaced in this century are also dated to the horrible era of 1960 to 1985.

This pattern even holds for incidents in last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, although news coverage often left the impression that it recounted a fresh flood of new incidents. The report’s scope and details were certainly new and devastating, but most (not all) of the incidents and perpetrators were old (or dead). Those accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania report, for example, were on average “ordained as priests in 1961,” according to Gray.

Given this context, it’s hardly surprising that “the most prolific clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” according to the special investigator’s report, namely Father Harold Robert White, was also ordained in 1961.  His depredations “continued for at least 21 years,” the heyday of sexual abuse and church complacency, during which time he “sexually abused at least 63 children.”

Chilling.

I am perfectly aware that the Colorado investigation hardly exhausts the number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It covers diocesan priests but not those who served in religious orders. Records are likely incomplete and some perhaps destroyed. And the actual number of victims certainly exceeds the number who have come forward.

There is also the question of a reporting time lag — the fact that victims often don’t muster the courage to come forward for years. But if this had been a major factor in the reduced number of incidents after 1985 at the time of John Jay College’s 2004 report, that number would surely have seen a disproportionate surge by now. And yet it has not.

The authors of the state investigation emphasize that they are unable to reliably say that “no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998,” and warn against concluding that clergy child sexual abuse is “solved” given ongoing weaknesses they outline regarding how the church handles allegations.

Their caution is understandable given the church’s history in the past century (in the report’s words) of “silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism,” and their recommendations to strengthen the diocese’s procedures are for the most part on point. But it is also true that child sexual abuse will never be “solved” in the sense of it being eradicated — not in religious denominations, and not in schools, daycare centers, scout troops, youth sports, and juvenile social service and detention facilities, to cite just some of the venues that predators unfortunately exploit and where an accounting for the lax standards of the past has not been undertaken.

John Jay College researchers also released a followup study in 2011 in which they noted, “the available evidence suggests that sexual abuse in institutional settings . . .  is a serious and underestimated problem, although it is substantially understudied.” Meanwhile, “no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church.”

Early this month, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned from the Buffalo Diocese over gross mishandling of sexual abuse claims. He likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, Catholics still await the Vatican’s promised explanation for how defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly preyed on seminarians for decades, could have been promoted time and again. Is there any credible defense?

So the bad news hasn’t stopped. But behavior in the priestly trenches actually is much improved, and that is surely cause for hope.

Email Vincent Carroll at [email protected]