Prayer

Did you ever feel, at any time in your priestly life, that you were really treated very unfairly and unjustly by your “boss”? I’m sure that all of us must have felt that way at one time or another in our priestly life.

I remember feeling that way once, and it left me feeling angry and depressed. It happened after I spent seven years in a parish in Brooklyn, N.Y., looking after a Spanish community there. I loved it there. I got along well with that Spanish community. That was my first parish ministry back in the U.S. after spending 29 years in Oceania as a foreign missionary.

After those seven years in Brooklyn, my boss came up to me one day and told me that I had to move out of Brooklyn, go to Boston and find another ministry there. I couldn’t believe it. Why? He gave me no reason. “Just move on.” That was the most difficult-to-understand command I had ever been given from any of my bosses in my entire priestly life. But, although he might not have realized it, I think my boss’s decision was made because he was looking after the needs of only one of his subjects and not after the needs of both of us. And that, I thought, was unfair and unjust.

But when I look back at what happened to me then, I have to ask myself the question: Did that “unfair and unjust” command help me or hurt me in my priestly life? And my answer is: it helped me terrifically. God allowed my boss to close one door so that He could open a much better one for me.

Move Out of Brooklyn

Now I’m glad I was told to move out of Brooklyn, and even in that “unfair and unjust” way that I was. This all happened at the time when the Church in general was encouraging more time spent in private prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. My mental problems, at the time I was thrown out of Brooklyn, forced me to spend much more time in private prayer before Blessed Sacrament than I had ever spent before, looking for Jesus’ help and healing.

Really praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament was not something I was in the habit of doing. But, feeling forced to spend more time there than I had ever spent, helped me to experience something I had never experienced. My prayer became real.

I found myself not only asking Jesus for things I needed in my life. I found myself thanking Him for so many things for which I never thanked Him. I started thanking Him for the good sleep He gave me, for my life, for each member of my body, for the many times He healed my body when I was sick, for the free time He was giving me now to sit before Him to speak with Him, for my priestly and religious vocation, for His unconditional love for me which I didn’t always deserve, for His patience and understanding of my weaknesses, immaturity, ignorance and lack of attention to Him, and for so many other things.

Singular Pronouns

Another thing I also found out while praying privately before the exposed Blessed Sacrament was that I was automatically using singular pronouns, like “I” and “me” and “mine,” instead of the plural ones we find in our Rosary and Breviary, like “we” and “us,” and “our.” This made me more aware of the One to whom I was speaking and the one to whom He was speaking.

For instance, I would automatically pray: “Give me today my daily bread.” “Forgive me my trespasses as I forgive. . .” “Lead me not into temptation.” “Deliver me from evil.” “Pray for me, a sinner.” “Oh Lord, come to my assistance. Make haste to help me.” That made my prayer much more real.

I can’t remember ever really praying these words with such attention before. I simply used to say them over and over again, without thinking. It was a habit. This change made my prayers more personal. Now I find it much easier to spend more time privately praying my Breviary and Rosary before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. It is like spending time with a very good friend whom I love. That is the great door God opened for me when He allowed my boss to close the other.

And there was one more thing I learned while praying privately, and frequently, before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I found myself automatically speaking out loud to Jesus, as I would be doing if I were speaking with a friend sitting before me. That I had never done before. Now I could hear myself talking to Jesus. It made my prayers more attentive.

One Door Closed, Another Door Was opened

That is the gift I am talking about that came through my boss’s “cruel” decision. He was allowed to close one door so that Jesus would have an opportunity to open a much better one for me. And this was far more important to me than anything else in my life. It helped me to contact Jesus in a real way, like I had never been able to do before. And that helped me, not only spiritually, but also physically and emotionally.

I looked at another prayer that is most important in my priestly life, the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. I found myself automatically changing plural pronouns into singular ones when I was celebrating Mass privately, which I do often at the age of 81.

That would not be Liturgically acceptable in public Masses; but if it helps me to really pray while I am celebrating Mass privately, I guess it’s all right. I also found myself automatically speaking aloud to Christ while celebrating my Mass privately. That helped me to really pray instead of just saying words.

I can’t believe it took me over 40 years as a priest to wake up and learn how to really pray instead of just saying words. The effects from really praying have made a big difference in my life and in my connection with Jesus. They have made my relationship with Him far more personal and effective.

Lastly, by spending more time sitting quietly before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, I also found many ideas coming into my mind that, I think, would never otherwise have come to me. That is where Jesus found it easy to speak with me while I was not distracted by other things.

Often times I found Him speaking to me about the sermon I was preparing for a Sunday Mass. Or it could have been about new things He wanted me to do in my life. I don’t think many of these things would ever have come into my mind had it not been for the fact that I was sitting there quietly, face to face before Him.

And so I repeat, I’m glad I was told to move out of Brooklyn in the “unfair and unjust” way that my boss did it. God allowed one door to be closed so that He could open a much better one. He forced me to start praying to Him privately, and more often, before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. What a blessing! And I will continue to do that for the rest of my life. I love it.

Prayer for Hospitalized Patients

How this whole thing came into my life reminds me of how I used to pray for hospitalized patients who did not seem to connect with God’s goodness in their lives.

I used to pray, “God, tap them on the shoulder; and if that doesn’t wake them up, give them a shove; and if that doesn’t wake them up, knock them down.” I think someone must have been praying for me, asking Jesus to do the same for me; and I thank them for that.

FATHER BOURGEA, S.M., a Marist priest ordained in 1959, was a missionary in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji from 1962 to 1990. Since then he has been in parish and hospital ministry in Brooklyn and Boston.