“…Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22: 31-32).
Christians have an especially significant means of communication, a vehicle for societal change and a methodology for transformation so extraordinary, yet the world dismisses it as something ineffective. That vehicle is prayer.
In the light (rather, the darkness) of recent efforts to categorize prayer as empty, baseless, or ineffective, we Catholic men must remind ourselves and others that without prayer, there is no speaking with God. We must, like Simon Peter, strengthen our brothers through prayer. Many thoughts which are inspired by God become actions. Prayer is action. Therefore, without prayer, we effectively eliminate our dialogue with the Almighty, ignoring every covenant established with God over millennia.
“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…” (Mt 5: 44).
Make no mistake. Do not be deceived. Our thoughts and prayers are dearly precious to our heavenly Father. He hears our prayers, but only if we pray. Apart from God, we can do nothing.
In a hurting world rocked by sin and death, dominated by relativism, secular humanism and atheism, scores of people agonize over various tragedies in life as a result of what Pope St. John Paul II referred to as mysterium inequitatis, the mystery of evil. We should certainly have recourse to our elected representatives, encouraging them to work toward establishing laws ultimately leading to bettering the common good. But our obligation, my brothers, is to make people understand prayer is the first step in any process which seeks to impact necessary, positive change.
In those days, he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God (Lk 6: 12).
Blessed (soon to be Saint) Pope Paul VI understood this when he wrote “Gaudium et Spes” (“Hope and Joy: The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”) in 1965. He saw the advent of a fast-paced increase of industrialization, wealth and power changing the world’s economy while, simultaneously, poverty and suffering were increasing at an alarming rate. The need for the Church to pray for and work for the dignity of mankind through the profound revelation of sacred scripture was keenly felt in the 1960’s as much as it is today. The Holy Father’s prayerful message in this document states Christ is the answer to all the world’s problems.
We need to readily counter the message of those who would dismiss thoughts and prayers as fruitless actions. We are men of prayer collaborating to construct a world of justice and peace, thereby building up the Body of Christ. Human aspirations and plans are strengthened and vivified only after they are conceived as thoughts. When these thoughts are joined together with prayer, if they are God’s holy will, truly good and pleasing and perfect in the Lord’s sight, they become the seed that, “…indeed, bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold” (Mt 13: 23).
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray” (Mt 26: 36).
Spreading the gospel message of hope will not come about by dismissing the efficacious spiritual battle plan of prayer. Thoughts and prayers are an inestimable force, even more so when they are combined with solidarity and action. It is a “Both-And” relationship, not an “Either-Or” dichotomy. Venerable Fr. Patrick Peyton always said, “A world at prayer is a world at peace.” Those who would disdain our thoughts and prayers might very well be, in the spiritual order, those who need them the most.
“Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name…” (Lk 11: 1-2).
Asking why tragedy, suffering and death exist cannot result in a reasonable answer to satisfy the human heart. The only wordless answer providing the hope we so desperately need in life is found looking at a crucifix. For there, in the image of the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice, we find the answer. He is the role model we as men are supposed to become. He has been where we are, “…one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hb 4: 15). Developing a relationship with the Crucified One through our daily prayer lives is the way we will find the courage and strength to respond to Christ’s declarations, “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5: 13), “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5: 14).
Engaging in prayer is not doing nothing. It is the active engagement of St. Peter’s admonition: “So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Ptr 5: 6). And silent prayer can occur any time, anywhere. God is found in silence, and silence offers us the perfect opportunity to pray (see The Power of Silence (2017) by Robert Cardinal Sarah).
So we should never despair, no matter how dark the day nor the hour. We disciples are no better than our master. Jesus taught and showed us how to pray, even to the last. The world may not recognize the importance of prayer, but Christ does. So must we. His words on the importance of prayer echo down through the ages.
Let us then pray, offering our thoughts and prayers for a suffering world because it does not know Christ. Like our master, may our lives be filled with guarded thoughts and fervent prayers right down to our last breath.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit”; and when he had said these words, he breathed his last (Lk 23: 46).
Willingham, A.J. (03-24-2018). “How ‘thoughts and prayers’ went from common condolence to cynical meme,” cnn.com.