Monday, April 22, 2013

Being real in prayer

“Father, I simply cannot pray when everyone around me is so noisy, so distracting and so annoying!  Why can’t they respect that I am trying to pray?” 

Does this sentiment sound or look familiar to you?  I have heard this lament on many occasions when talking to my former parishioners (I don’t have any real ‘parishioners’ now during my medical hiatus from formal ministry).  What I suspect is happening often is that for many Catholics, there seems to be a very rigid notion of what prayer is.  For many, perhaps the “problem” lies in the notion that we can only pray to God when we feel that we are holy, when we are in a reverential mood, when everything in our life is ‘in place’, and when there are no distractions in life that steer our attention away from our ‘pure’ focus on God.  While it would be ideal that we are reverential, holy, not distracted and pure, the truth is that most of the time, we are not.  There seems to be so many ways that we are not as we should be when we place ourselves before God in prayer.  And when we find ourselves this way, it may cause many to give up on regular prayer altogether, simply because we are not ‘worthy’ when we place ourselves before God.

I wonder if this sentiment comes from the ways in which many of us communicate with our elders and those in any position of authority.  Could it be that we have been told ad nauseam that we are not to waste their precious time, and that if we were to speak with them, it had better be about something that is important, and that there is a need to observe some form of protocol?  If this were what we have been brought up on, it would be almost a ‘natural’ progression to transfer this mentality to the ways in which we communicate with God, which is what prayer essentially is. 

What are the dangers if this is our attitude towards God and prayer?  Here are a few:
  • We will not meet God unless there is a problem in life that needs God’s divine attention or help.
  • We will never see God as someone whom we really can have a relationship with, let alone someone who is truly interested in us.
  •  Communication or encounters with God will be met with a deep sense of dread and a sense of excitement comparable to a visit to the dentist.
  • It will be very hard to truly believe that God loves us unconditionally simply because there is a proper way to encounter God.

Of course, in our Catholic ritual of prayer and liturgical worship, there are very organized ways in which we bring ourselves as a community to meet God in his mercy and love.  The challenge facing every Catholic is to know that these moments of ‘organised encounter’ are very real and very good ways to meet God and to reach out to him who is present in each person at worship and prayer.  But these are not to be the only moments to do so, and certainly not the only ways to do so.  These can pave the way towards deeper and more intimate encounters with God when we decide to meet him in the realities of our hectic, frenetic, disorganized and messy lives that we all live. 

In fact, when we do pray to him not despite but because our lives are such, it makes our prayer so much more real and genuine.  Prayer no longer just becomes a ritual or a rite, but is something in which we bring our entire true selves before God who really is interested in what bugs us, what irritates us, what bores us, what excites and motivates us, and what disappoints and makes us livid and grumpy as well.  When we carry these very real feelings and sentiments with us before God, we are no longer trying to be what we think we ought to be, but begin to truly lift our hearts and minds to God who is always interested in what is going on in our hearts and minds.  And we also need to know that God, being God, may not need us to tell him all about what fills our lives, but will lovingly accept these as what are offered to him in an offering of prayer and love. 

Do I feel like praying every time I go into prayer?  To be dreadfully honest, no.  There are moments and sometimes, periods of days (even weeks) when I don’t feel like praying.  It may not come as a surprise to any of you that chemotherapy and its sometimes vile and nauseous effects can make one really want to put praying on the back burner.  But if I only depend on my feelings before praying, I would be over-dependent on my feelings alone to love God. 

Love, when dependent on feelings alone, is at worst, idolatrous, because it can become self-serving.  Imagine a married couple that only loves each other when they feel like it!  They wouldn’t remain married for long, and will most probably abandon the marriage once their ‘feelings’ wear off and become threadbare.  But, as the Marriage Encounter movement has always emphasized, when love becomes a decision, and not something that purely decided upon feelings, it becomes far more precious and valuable and genuine. 

So, if you are like my parishioners who have complained about how you are distracted by noise, and are annoyed, it could be that there is a right there a very good opportunity for real prayer which you may just be missing. 

A mystic once said that telling God our plans is a sure way of making God laugh.  Is our prayer something that only sees us making God roll with laughter?  Perhaps we should begin to make our prayer as real as possible. 


  1. Dearest Fr. Luke,

    I am a visual learner, and my mind tends to have many images and colours to help me understand and focus, which is also brought into my prayer life when communicating with God. So, blessedly, I am not so terribly affected by noise as I can “zonk” out into my imagery of Jesus, with the image of Sacred Heart as one of my favorite.

    However, just this past weekend, I was given a “wakeup call” towards my “rigidity” towards prayer. I attended a weekend course, during which, on the trainer’s own initiative, we were shown a picture of Jesus from Basilica Del Volto Santo in Manopello, Italy. It was explained that this picture of Jesus, a rather plain and unattractive looking male, was reputed to be the holy image of Jesus, imprinted on the reputed veil of Veronica. My first immediate reaction was disdain as I was too comfortable with my imagery of Jesus... but yet I was graced to be open-minded enough to catch the documentary on Holy Face of Manopello, outside of course curriculum, to find out more …

    Isaiah 53:2 kept resounding to me since... -He has no stately form or majesty. That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him …

    This new reputed image of Jesus, plus your blog this week, seems to be a successive jolt to me, a lesson to relook and rediscover, that if we are too habitual in our prayer life, or if too reliant on our senses/feelings, mayhaps we are limiting our growth, in full potential for God to reveal Himself more intimately and fully to us.

    Thank You Fr. Luke, for continuing to selflessly minister to us, even when from your temporary “cloistered hermitage”.

    God is with you always.
    United in prayers.

  2. “So, if you are like my parishioners who have complained about how ( in prayer) you are distracted by noise, and are annoyed, it could be that……..” - prayer has become a ritual………….a performance.

    This reminds me of a story…..

    “The Tzar of Russia went to attend mass at a monastery that was famous for its wonderful choir. There was one monk there who was totally out of tune. The Abbot put him under the strictest obedience not to open his mouth in song during the visit of the Tzar. However, when the choir was singing one of its most complicated pieces, the raucous voice of the out-of-tune monk broke in on the performance, The Abbot was furious, he later castigated the monk and put him on bread and water for onr month as punishment for his disobedience.

    That night the Lord appeared to the Abbot and said, “Abbot, it is you who should be fasting on bread and water. Today, while all of you were performing out of pride, one monk sang out of devotion.”

    Thus, like what you said, “Perhaps, we should begin to make our prayer as real as possible”- for it is so easy to become a performer. This is so very true in all areas of our life.
    What is meaningful and crucial is our Presence.

    “If one is not present in sincerity to a kiss it can become the kiss of Judas…..” ( Fr Pierse (C.Ss.R.)

    God bless you Fr.


  3. Prayer is thinking of God, resting in God, gossiping to God, complaining to God, confiding in God, praising Him, loving Him and sharing with Him the joys and the woes. This is my prayer (oblivious to the sound around), in thoughts, in words and in living.


  4. Begin with praise i've been told.... read this today n liked it very much

    Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen - Ephesians 3:20

  5. I will sing forever of your love, O Lord!

    "I will sing" by Don Moen, Just for you in this prayer!
    You sang so well in 1334. Music could uplift your spirit. Listen for his love for U.

    Be well to "Feed my Lamb"!

    Bless you, Father Luke!

  6. One part of mass, "lift up your heart" remind me as a creation of God, we come before God not in the same make on every mass. On other 99.9% of living, I do tend to forget that the best time for prayer is when we are what we are. Accepting we as humanly, never come in perfect packages, thus accepting the greatness of faith that we truly above other living things, are capable of dignity in prayer with God, even at times we are not at best. It is in all peril and form, we are real in God's eyes, and God's love becomes miracle with prayer. After all, I did learnt that the best prayer events has it root in one being totally open and humble to God presence, yet aware of who and what I am. I do believe sincerity, honour God and fear God, as in respect of God as advised in Word does rings true but I do acknowledge the challenge when put in different shoes and very daily living. Yet, I hope greatly that we seek faith above self; having seen Grace of God from even the last that prayed. I think too, our state is not a criteria for prayer nor a measure of our eternal relations with God. To all no matter, our prayers are one.
    Father Luke, God is with you

  7. Hi Fr Luke,

    You know, there is a story in Chinese/Buddhist (not sure which) literature that says there is an old man who governs our dreams, and we can talk to or debate with him when we are sleeping. This will then help us to clarify goals, make decisions etc.

    Anyway, the reason I came to your blog today really is because I dreamt of you in my sleep! It is so strange. You were bald, in a colourful beanie, and looking quite frail but spiritually strong. HOW R U???

    I guess I think prayer is talking to God at any time of day. He is like an ever-present friend who is there for you. The fact that He is invisible makes it easier to believe He is real and ever-present. I don't know if my prayers have been working, but there has certainly been a peace and joy to talk to God.

    Serene (Goh)

    1. Dear Serene

      I don't know about any old man who governs dreams, but you can certainly speak to God at any time of the day or night. He leaves that governing to you. I don't have a colourful beanie (yet), but thank God, I am spiritually strong. It's all grace. Continue to speak to God constantly. And just remember - you can make God laugh by telling him your plans!

      Fr Luke