Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”  (Luke 11:1-4)

Lord, when I pray, may my words come from the depths of my heart.

More than once, my spiritual director has made the comment that we are much better at saying prayers than we are at actually praying.  As Catholics, we do have a large repertoire of prayers handed down over the centuries – the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Memorare, the Anima Christi and Suscipe prayers, to name a few.  I would have to admit that I know them all well enough to be able to recite the words and think about something else at the same time.  However, I sincerely doubt that’s what Jesus had in mind when he answered the disciples’ request that he teach them to pray.
Let’s be truthful.  When we think about what we’re saying or praying, doesn’t it make us wonder how honest we are?  Jesus tells us to pray that God’s Kingdom come.  We say the words, but to really desire that, we have to be willing to give up the ways of the world.  In God’s Kingdom, our expectations are turned upside down.  Everything that’s been deeply engrained in us about the American dream, about acquiring wealth and property and prestige goes out the window.  In God’s realm, the powerful and the rich turn out to be the least; the poor and the marginalized are the greatest.  In God’s Kingdom, the Savior of the world is born in wretched poverty and dies the death of a common criminal on a Cross. 

Jesus tells his friends to pray each day for daily bread.  Only ask for what we need.  But many of us have lost sight of the distinction between what we need and what we want.  I only have to look in my closets to know that’s true.  A couple of surveys I saw the other day on what Americans pray for showed that we pray for future prosperity,  to win the lottery, not to get a speeding ticket, or for our favorite sports team to win, among other things that aren’t exactly about having just what we need  (http://www.religionnews.com/2014/10/01/americans-pray-maybe-sports-team).

The toughest thing to pray with integrity is for forgiveness for our sins, “for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us…”  There’s more than one person in my life still waiting for my forgiveness.  In the same article mentioned above, some of us are even praying for God to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged us.  That is not at all what Jesus recommended to the disciples.

Praying vs. reciting prayers is a difficult business indeed.

What do you find the most difficult to pray with integrity in the words our Savior gave us?

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