Saturday, November 03, 2012

Difficulties with Prayer'

In the Gospels prayer is either 1) Jesus spending long periods in the presence of his Father, or 2) Jesus telling people to ask for things or Jesus himself for praying for healings or asking for things.
It is easy to see intercessory prayer as being a little unsophisticated or even superstitious, after all God knows what we want before we even ask for it. It is easy then to slip into simply not seeing any value in any intercession whatsoever and to simply see prayer as a rather Quietist act of resignation to God's will, which like acid eats the heart out of prayer and really destroys the relationship of son/daughter to the Father.

Children are continually asking their Father for things: everything from a cuddle or food or drink to a sports car, if they don't get one thing, they ask for another and children confident in relationship with their Father are willing to pour out their soul and ask for even embarrassing things: protection, forgiveness, help. Not asking tends to lead to a self centredness, and Independence that can eventually lead to a destruction of that fillial relationship which Jesus came to announce.


The great spiritual classics promote a gentle contemplation of God, often an imageless silence. One of the problems for us in the West is that our "contemplation" has become almost Buddhist, a stillness, an emptiness, a being in touch with "the universal energy". It is not Christian at all, and its object is the God of the Christians, it is something else. I have sympathy with that Southampton priest who banned Yoga in his hall.

I can't help wondering if our modern liturgical tendencies push rather than "active participation" a certain passivity, I mean most people at Mass join in the vocal prayers and hymnody but actually really are there to listen or witness what the priest does. The meaning of  "active participation" has been much debated, but presumably on one level at least it means we are actually praying ourselves not merely witnessing someone else's prayer.

There was lots of talk about the "priesthood of the faithful" after Vatican II, which so often degenerates into the laity doing things Father used to do, but from the Old Testament the priesthood was essentially intercessory and propitiatory, as is Jesus' priesthood. Surely the clearest way in which the faithful exercise their priesthood is by interceding, asking God for things.

At one time Catholic prayer was marked by praying "for" rather than "with" by novenas, by petitions, votive offerings, candles and money offerings. It was in that sense intercessory and propitiatory, and therefore priestly, it seems to be one of the things which we have lost. With it we have lost a sense of the power of prayer and the sense that the Mass is a time and place of miracles. It has also removed our sense that we are a people of power, that the battles of the Church are necessarily won in a Court of Law but before the Court of Heaven.

3 comments:

Mark Lambert said...

Thanks for this Fr. Ray, really valuable reflection. I find prayer has to become a habit. It takes effort to be regular, but it's worth it if you are.

wretchedwithhope said...

yes, thank you, I need the 'antiquated' way because it also reminds me that there's prayer and then there's pride; no question - it's better to kneel and ask.

Franciscus said...

Thank you, Father. I find Newman to be excellent on intercessory prayer. The good man had lists of who and what to pray for for each day of the week. If only I were as organised as he was.