Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Part Three: Memories of a Grateful Daughter: My Father on Prayer

He sits at his gorgeous desk. It is a deep brown with clawed feet on each of the legs. It sits at an angle in the middle of the room facing the door. The huge leather chair rocks backward as he thinks and forward as he writes. How to answer me, what to say? During my turbulent years of college, I was in a constant state of searching. Who was I? What was I supposed to be doing with my life? Why was I unhappy? Unsatisfied? My father and I talked often on the phone, but he preferred the pen. My years of disregarding everything he said had been replaced by a constant demand for advice. He leans back staring at the cross brought from Poland on the wall. He leans over and writes:

You know that I have told you to pray when you are found with difficulties. It occurred to me that I may not have told you what I mean by prayer.

I have prayed virtually all of my life. As a child under compulsion. As an adult willingly. When I was in grade school, we prayed frequently as a part of our every day activities. It was like the air we breathed, pursued without much thought about the virtue of what we were doing. As an adult prayer fell into three general categories 1) duties owed to God-which one did no matter how dry you felt spiritually, 2) Prayer in times of adversity and 3) Thanksgiving for blessings received. While this type of prayer has sustained me in numerous trials and adversities, I also began to feel that I had reached a dead end. It was as if I had grown as much as I could even though I thought that more had to be possible. It was at that time that I began to do some reading about prayer.

Reading about how to pray can be as difficult and frustrating as praying itself. A lot of the writing is obscure. Some of it is influenced by non-Christian religions, some of it assumes experiences that the reader has never experienced. Well after a number of false starts and dead ends, I gradually came to the realization that my problem was that the focus of my prayers was me and not God. In times of adversity, I prayed for relief for me. God never denied the relief. He gave me what I wanted, but since that was all that I had requested, it was all that I got.

Even when I prayed in Thanksgiving the focus of my prayers was still me and not God. I am sure that He appreciated the gratitude, but the nature of the prayer was self limiting. It was an invitation to share in my temporary enjoyment.

Several years ago, about the time that Bridget was finishing high school, I made a commitment to get each of you through 4 years of Catholic college. I had no idea of how I would do it. Looking at my then current income and future prospects, it would have been hard to imagine how it could be done. I just said that what ever sacrifice was required, I will do it. Strange as it may seem, that goal was not the focus of my prayers. I would pray from time to time to get through particularly tough periods, I still do. No, the focus of my prayers gradually shifted to trying to learn more about God and to listen for His voice.

There have been times when I felt particularly close to God, but no voices or visions (that would scare the living daylights out of me). There have also been dry difficult times when I knock and no one answers the door. But I discovered that something was happening in my life. In the oddest and most unpredictable ways my income rose to meet the expenses associated with educating four children in Catholic schools. There was one time when business got so bad, I did not have any idea of how I would pay the rent. There was nothing in the works and nothing on the horizon. Then I got a call as a result of a contact in the past and a major client was dropped in my lap. When I look at my practice it does not conform to any of the norms suggested by the practice manuals. Yet, it produces enough to meet the heavy needs of my family. I must add that I get what I need. No more and no less. There is a part of me that would feel a lot better if God would supply a cushion, but that may not be in the cards. It might make me too independent for the current partnership.

After observing how my practice had gone, I decided to try a change in the way that I dealt with daily trials. Before when I went to mass in the morning, it was a time to get a running start on solving the day’s problems. The concern of the day was a constant distraction. I could sit through mass and not remember any of the prayers that were said because I was so self-absorbed with a deadline that had to be met, a problem solved, a battle to be fought. For a change of pace, I decided to lock out my life when I went to mass and to concentrate on God. My prayer was “for the next half hour Lord, let me only think of You.” I bought a prayer book with difficult daily prayers to assist in the task. You know what happened? The problems that normally consumed me began to solve themselves or become manageable.

It was then that I remembered Christ telling His disciples not to be anxious about their worldly needs (Luke 12:22-34). He told them to “seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be given you besides.” That had always been advice for people with religious vocations in my mind, but I discovered that I was wrong. He was talking to me and to you and to all of us. The explanation seemed pretty simple. God loves each of us, but He has given us a free will. He longs to have us near Him, but He respects what we want even when we choose to leave Him. God knows that living is a demanding and time consuming task, so He never penalizes us for spending time with Him. The time spent in prayer is never wasted. But what is prayer? It is seeking to know and to love God. It is an effort to get out of what we want for ourselves and to seek to find out what God wants with us. How do we do it? We read the scriptures and listen to what God is saying to us in them. As Catholics we frequent the Sacraments particularly the Eucharist and Confession.

The modern world and the feminists have it all wrong. Self realization is not the goal in life, “be all you can be!” is a narrow and limited ambition unworthy of man. The task is to empty ourselves of the pride and egoism that limit us. So that we can make room for God. Don’t be all that you can be, aim higher. Be all that God can make you. The paradox is that we do not become great by striving. We become great by living open to God’s will whatever it may be for us. As St. Paul said, the goal is that we should decline so that Christ can grow in us.

So in a nut shell ask yourself how much time do you spend each day in prayer. God spends every second of every day of your life thinking about you. How much time do you spend thinking about Him? Develop regular habits of prayer. Pray even when you do not feel like it. Pray even when you think that it is a waste of time. Say the rosary, read writers who have experienced God in their lives. Take your problems,
lay them on His lap and then seek to know and to love God. He will take care of both you and your problems.

You are always in my thoughts and prayers,



And I wonder as I read, how does one learn to truly love our Heavenly Father without such an earthly father as God has given me.

1 comment:

  1. This I love. Be all that God can make you. Seriously - how did we get so lucky?