“Rising early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed” (Mk. 1:25). This was after Jesus cured many of the sick and drove out demons—the whole town was gathered at the door. Then he went into synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
As we mourn for the 44 fallen SAF policemen and others who died at Mamasapano, as we think of the national emergencies we have to confront—massive poverty, international terrorism, climate change—we are overwhelmed. There is no better time to go off to a deserted place to pray than now.
Prayer arises from an inner need yet draws on resources beyond our own. The pray-er (the one who prays) seeks divine reality as a presence, both as the object of her appeal and as the dynamism urging her to pray.
The pray-er uses human activity—speaking, imagining, willing, loving, questioning, listening, understanding—yet discovers that these activities are graced with something more than the results of her efforts alone: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
Prayer is not merely the echo of our own voice moving within its finitude and fragility in an inescapable circle of immanence and endless monologue. We are certain through faith that God opens our destiny as partner in the divine dialogue when we lift up our hearts to him in prayer.
Fundamentally, we stand under God’s call, and our primordial orientation is towards hearing God’s word. When God calls, it is only because he hears when we respond. When Jesus gave us an example of how to pray, he did not command us to do something impossible—there is something in us that responds to the call for silence and devotion.
The prayer that God requires of us must ultimately be a patient waiting for him, a silent standing by until he, who is ever present in the inmost center of our being, opens the gate to us from within.
Thus prayer is opening to God, but it is God who opens us to Himself.
When we discover God in prayer, we discover who we are. And we will know what to do to protect life and the family, put an end to poverty and corruption, and help make the biosphere flourish for a sustainable future for coming generations.
To pray is to live, to live is to pray
To pray is to open oneself and one’s life totally to God. The loving response to his gratuitous presence and invitation is total commitment to live one’s life for and with God. It is only when we pray in this way that we are enlightened to understand what we have to do in the light of the problems that beset the country today.
Faithfulness is the act of preserving the interior sentiments which initially grounded the commitment to live our lives for God. This is what St. Paul meant when he told the Churches to pray without ceasing: “Pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17); “Pray at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph. 6:18).
When St. Paul said we should pray without ceasing, he did not mean that we should be on our knees all the time or that we should constantly be putting our devotedness to God into words. What he meant is that we walk our Godward course in constant fidelity, as people are beheaded in Iraq and put to death by burning.
The heart of prayer as opening oneself to God is the fundamental attitude that expresses the total gift of self made real in the living bond of love between the pray-er and God. Every Christian should be so mindful of his commitment to Christ that it directs and inspires her life, giving meaning to all that she does, and finding new ways of fulfilling Pope Francis mandate to protect life and serve the poor.
The desire for a more complete response to God’s call leads us to the search for new expressions. The desire for creative fidelity in new and challenging circumstances invites the renewal of the expressions of mercy and compassion in full awareness of the divine presence.
Thus, our answer to violence and misery is the vitality of our prayer life. The inward dynamism of a life of prayer will be more varied and responses to social problems wisely chosen as this dynamism dictates. We cannot declare all out war if we are commanded to turn our spears into plowshares and our Armalite rifles into pruning hooks.
As we bury the 44 fallen heroes of our nation, we are asked to slow down so that we will have time to listen. We live in the fullness of time – every moment is God’s own time. We do not have to rush out and put an end to poverty and corruption and quell the rebellion in Mindanao using methods that contradict God’s commandments.
God is patient with the world
An old Eastern legend tells of a stranger who sought shelter for the night in a man’s house. The stranger could not sleep and becoming impatient, blasphemed and cursed God. Awakened by the stranger’s blasphemies, the scandalized owner drove the man from his home. In the morning, an angel appeared to him and said, “I sent a stranger to you for shelter. Where is he?” The owner explained that he sent him away because he blasphemed God. “For fifty years, God has been patient with that man,” the angel replied, “and for a single night, you could not bear with him?”
We should also be patient with the world, because God has been very patient with it for so long. We cannot solve all the global emergencies overnight. We should most of all be patient with ourselves in our waiting for God.
When we make God our sure foundation, trust in his nearness and in his mercy and compassion, abandon concern for our own life and fulfillment, we will be set free and open to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit which alone can solve the problems of the world. The fruit of this abandonment is the liberation from anxious solicitude that only makes the problems we are facing much worse.
God does not ask us to feel secure, according to Thomas Merton, but he asks us to trust him no matter how insecure we feel. In prayer, we experience the joy of a person whose security lies in God alone, and in the midst of anguish and conflict, is at peace with the world because she expects and receives everything from God. In the midst of the griefs and the anxieties of this world, she preserves a core of interior silence where she alone experiences God’s presence.
Let it be enough then to know ourselves to be in the place where God wants us to carry on our work, to continue seeking him in light and darkness, in joy and sorrow, no matter how unforeseeable the results.
We should come before God in prayer, naked and alone into the center of that existential dread where we stand defenseless before him in our nothingness, completely dependent on him and in dire need of his grace.
And as we pray, we discover that God’s presence is given not only as an object of encounter but also as a power which inspires, sustains and actualizes our hunger for meaning and mystery.