Recently at one of our seminary house Masses, a student homilist asked this question: what would you do if you only had one more week to live?
I put that on my Facebook page and got all sorts of wonderful responses. A nun in Brazil said she would simply keep on doing what she was already doing. Another would thank all those who had done her favors and ask pardon from anyone she had offended. Another would tell his wife how much he appreciated her and spend as much time as possible with the grandkids. One person said that she would tell all her friends that she had finally encountered Jesus. An ex-Brother said he would go from attending one Mass a week to several each day. Finally, there was the response, I would thank the Lord for all the benefits He had given me.
The list went on and on; so many wonderful insights and suggestions worth considering. So I thought, what would happen if we started putting questions or making proposals for action into the Sunday bulletin, or as a conclusion of a homily, or creating a time of silence right after Holy Communion? As St. Peter says, “Take it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark until the dawn comes. . .” (2 Pt 1:19).
• What three things do you want to thank the Lord for? (Ask yourself what your life would be like tomorrow if you had only that which you thanked God for today.)
• What is your greatest fault or defect that needs immediate attention?
• What do you think that Jesus wants to say to you?
• What changes do I need to make TODAY?
• Who do you need to pardon and forgive?
• Who needs your help today? Your time or attention?
• What are you putting off or avoiding facing?
We all know that prayer without change or conversion is useless, of little value. Like the way pagans pray when they multiply words. We do not need any more people who pray five times a day and then go chop off someone’s head. We all know people who were daily Mass goers until a big problem struck. Now they seem to be angry with God. Estranged.
If you can get people to link those thoughts with a mantra (a way used by the Desert Fathers to keep their minds trained on God), this type of short prayer helps us to concentrate, keeps us focused and attentive to what is going on around us. There are so many ways to pray. Repeating and savoring a phrase makes prayer come alive. Here are some biblical sayings to get started:
“Thy will be done.”
“Be it done unto me.”
“My Lord and my God.”
“Speak Lord, your servant listens.”
“Come, Holy Spirit.”
The Jesus prayer — “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Lots of words do not necessarily mean praying. What makes for real prayer is another question. Prayer has to get down below the gut level and feelings to become a vital, essential part of our daily life, as much as eating or breathing. If one’s prayer does not bring about changes, modify one’s habits and life style, then it has not really begun. As The Imitation of Christ instructs us, “Teach me, Lord, to do your will. Teach me to live worthily and humbly in Your sight” (Book 3, Chapter 3).
It would be nice to have the freedom and luxury of a monk to pray all day long; most of us do not. Busy schedules and appointments crowd out quiet time and silence. So we need to find those special moments — kairos — to grow, to understand, to grapple with our weaknesses, to love more dearly, see more clearly, etc. “Enlighten me, good Jesus, with the brightness of internal light, and take away all darkness from the habitation of my heart” (The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 23).
Some people check the Internet 25 times a day. Can we not check in with the Lord at least five times in a meaningful way? A good question pushes those buttons which need to be activated, shakes a person out of indifference and self-satisfaction.
Pope Francis is asking all of us to be more apostolic, missionary and pastoral, to be out in the streets. That has to be nourished by a deeper prayer life which empowers us to dare to be different, to be counterculture. Help your people to pray more, not as recluses from the problems of this world, but as agents who go forth to make changes because their prayer life has brought about changes in their lives.
FATHER KIRCHNER, C.Ss.R., writes from SEELOS House of Formation, Hyde Park, Chicago. He received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil.