My Modern Catholic Take on Prayer

1 Sep

Prayer yields a beautiful spiritual fire within, a fire that destroys internal trash and purifies internal gold and silver. While we empower the spirit by performing prudent and just actions, we empower the spirit in an even higher manner by engaging in prayer.

Awesome people often cheer us up, inspire us, or otherwise positively influence us by fulfilling obligations with joy, showing tolerance, or acting in some other praiseworthy manner. To do any of these things or anything else of real value, they need to have good inner character. Impressive natural qualities have meaning when put to good use by one’s spiritual ability.

Secular society however has no shortage of people who erroneously label character as insignificant. Many among them however will likely experience a temporary shift away from that false determination when they realize that something precious to them, such as the health of one of their friends, depends heavily on moral conduct.

A personal experience of mine that demonstrates a need for character:
When I worked as a volunteer in a nursing home many years ago, I noticed that a kind elderly lady named Alice was too tall for her wheelchair and that her legs would drag. I would employ much time and careful effort to ensure that I would push her wheelchair correctly. Once I saw a clueless nurse push Alice along rapidly while Alice screamed in pain. I reported to the front desk that Alice’s legs would drag and eventually talked on the telephone to a social worker. The social worker said she talked to the staff and that they said that everything was fine. I persisted and she argued that it couldn’t be a problem because the elderly lady didn’t wheel herself but rather the staff wheeled her. Eventually she agreed to look into the situation herself. Several weeks later someone else in my group mentioned the same issue at a group meeting. I told her that I had already reported it but that she should as well, saying that if it’s reported by enough people maybe eventually the nursing home staff would listen. The lady in my group replied that maybe it was a funding issue. I replied back that they hadn’t told me that. The staff addressed the pain that they caused Alice by giving her pain killers. And that was probably not because they wanted to help her but because they were annoyed by the sounds of pain that she would make.

Now, what is the most important thing that the staff in that nursing home needed to enable them to show responsibility toward Alice? Incompetence was probably an issue, but do we really believe that none of the staff, including the social worker to whom I spoke, were sufficiently competent to understand the issue well enough to correct it? Competence won’t lead to anything by itself. There needs to be an actual decision to do good. The most important thing that the nursing home staff needed was morality.

When members of society are vulnerable, they notice more vividly the need for ethics among those with power over them. Prayer is deemed by many in current American society to cost too much effort or not to be rewarding enough. These ideas against praying seemed to be lived out in the actions of the nursing home staff: by their secular standard they saved themselves effort and found that it wouldn’t be rewarding enough to assist a vulnerable nursing home resident. Others who are vulnerable often suffer similar hazards, and that ends out including far more of us than just the unborn and the elderly. How many times has the average person suffered when someone had an incentive to consider the person powerless and disregard the person’s dignity? So many things are occurring that adversely affect many, including the heavy use of pesticides in food production. Americans are however often deemed easy to victimize when we fail to consider such things in how we spend our money or cast our votes.

What can we do that is the opposite of the harmful measures that I have been mentioning? The connection with our Creator that we call prayer enables us to give as much of ourselves as we can in the purest form that we can. Prayer is central to good, for we must first obtain His help in order to be able to give of ourselves. For as we see in Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

Catholics are called to daily prayer. This obligation can be derived Biblically:
From Jesus Himself: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus here presents us the right to demand daily bread from the Father. From John 13:16 “A servant is not greater than his master”. So if we have the right to receive daily from our Master, then we His servants have the obligation to give daily to Him. We are morally obligated to make our Faith part of our daily life.

Knowing this, that prayer is required daily, one might still wonder how much time to spend and how often to pray during the course of a day. Since we should be offering prayer on account of the call of our hearts to give, not merely as a formality, we should pray a generous amount of time and not necessarily a definitive amount of time.

And now how often? Well, how would you react if a special loved one greeted you in the morning and then declined to say anything again until the next morning? God is so central and important that we should renew the prayer during the course of the day. Typically a generous amount of morning prayer and a generous amount of prayer in the evening fulfills a person’s obligation of prayer for the day.


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