Monday, February 17, 2014

Prayers

The day after I began this post, I became discouraged, and that delayed the completion of this post on prayer for obvious reasons.

G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:

In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell.

The devil's currency is fear and discouragement. What is one of our greatest tools of rebellion against these?

Prayer.

I've read that Satan will do much to keep our prayer life idling and fruitless, and I believe it. The Catholic Catechism states (CCC 2752) that prayer presupposes effort, a fight against ourselves and the wiles of the Tempter. Many holy people have described it as a battle. Yes, in part the battle is against our own selfishness, lack of faith, and downright laziness, but it is also a battle of wills. Will we persist despite the many distractions the devil sets in our path to turn us from God? He will try to convince us that God does not love us, is indifferent and deaf, if he can.

Lately I have come across many short verses that can become, and often already are, prayers: prayers that can be said daily while we do chores, run errands, sit in our offices scanning emails, during our interactions with our spouse and children. Let me share a couple of these inspirations with you.

 

When we are feeling frustrated, disappointed, judgmental; have lost our temper; or have lost faith in humanity:


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This prayer has scriptural roots, echoing the words of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who cries out persistently to Jesus, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:46-52). It is also very similar to what the tax collector utters in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. It is called the Jesus Prayer, and, as I understand, is part of the faith tradition of Eastern Orthodox Catholics.

I know a gentleman who said that when he finds himself getting too frustrated at work, he pushes his chair back from his desk and utters this prayer. I think that's a wonderful idea. Imagine what good might come if I paused just a moment and silently prayed this every time I was frustrated with my children.

When we are struggling against our own fears, feeling burdened or hopeless, lacking in faith:


Jesus, I do believe, help my unbelief!

These simple words come from the story of the man whose son was possessed by a demon. Jesus' disciples could not help the boy, so the man says to Christ, "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Christ replies, "If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith." The boy's dad cries out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:14-24)

Oh, I understand! I know exactly what that distressed father meant. I often feel that way. As a child it seemed so easy to have faith. Now as adults we talk about cultivating faith, but we often feel that if you've got it, you've got it. If you don't, well...you don't, and there's not much you can do about it. But, indeed, there is something. We can say to Jesus exactly what the apostles said to him, "Increase our faith."

I prayed this prayer quite recently a few days ago before beginning this post. Later I found myself reading several passages from the middle part of the Gospel of Mark for my morning scripture reflection. I was reading backwards through the chapters, and it was just as I began to read about the calming of the storm at sea that I had an Aha! moment. I thought, God, I know what you're doing. I see what you're doing. I had asked him to increase my faith, and nearly everything I had read detailed Jesus' miracles - the feeding of the five thousand, walking on the water, the healings at Gennesaret, the healing of the deaf man, the feeding of the four thousand, the blind man of Bethsaida, and even how he could not perform many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Mark 4-8).

How many times did Christ say, "Have faith." To which we can reply when we are struggling, "I do believe, Lord, help me!"

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