Prayer – by Bishop s sipuka

Prayer: our pillar as we begin the New Year

While I was at the plenary, I shared with you both my opening address and the communique of the bishops. I am basing my message for this month on the theme of prayer that I shared at the feast of the CMMs, where some members renewed vows while others made final vows, and I congratulate them once more and assure them of my prayers.

Deep meditative personal prayer is meant for all Christians.

Prayer as silent meditation is not reserved for priests and religious. By virtue of our baptism, we are united with Christ, but this unity with Christ must find concrete expression in our daily life, where we make time to be with Christ. I, therefore, encourage lay people to learn and practice silent prayer, also called meditation, reflection or contemplation.

The theme of the synod for the Diocese is Jn 15, “Abide in me and bear much fruit”. We do this, abiding brothers and sisters, by making time for prayer, yes, our evening prayer and morning prayer and our public prayer where we pray with others like when we go to the Church on Sunday or when we attend a funeral. But we do it most importantly when we take time to be silent before God and hear him speak to us, feel him consoling us, listen to him showing us the way we must go, and feel him healing us.

Method of silent personal prayer

You can begin this prayer just by sitting down, closing your eyes, and slowly breathing in and out until your mind is quiet. After that, you can take a scripture passage, maybe the Gospel that is read at Mass for that day or on Sunday, read it slowly, and notice which words or sentences touch you.

When a word or sentence touches you, try and understand what God is saying to you through that word or sentence. When you have felt and understood what God is saying, close your eyes again and slowly breathe in and out until your mind is quiet. You can then close with a prayer of thanksgiving or request or by reading one of the prayers from the hymn book.

To have this silent prayer, we need to have a space for it. We priests and religious are fortunate because where we stay, we have a chapel or a church where we can be silent in prayer. I wish to encourage the faithful who have bigger houses to dedicate one small room for prayer, or if you do not have a big house, to create a corner with a small stand, and a holy picture or a cross and a candle and make that space your space of prayer.

Why do we need silent personal prayer?

We need personal prayer because, in that prayer, the heart is touched by God. In private prayer, we feel the love of God because if we do not feel the love of God, we will go and seek this love from other things. We will fall into the temptation of excessive, excessive need for material things, excessive use of alcohol, excessive engagement in leisure, wanting to party all the time, abuse of drugs, inappropriate and abusive sexual engagement, overeating and infidelity to our commitments. 

Yet no matter how much we overindulge in these things, we never get satisfied but end up destroying ourselves because these things cannot make up for our hearts’ needs. Our God can fully satisfy our hearts personal and silent prayer; as St. Augustine famously explained, our hearts are restless until they rest in God because our hearts are made for God. We, therefore, need personal prayer.

In personal prayer, we climb the mountain, meet God, and forget about what is surrounding us. After climbing the mountain, when we come down, we are strengthen to put up with what is around us, be it difficulties, challenges, or disappointments, because we have been empowered in the mountain of personal prayer.

Public prayer is still necessary.

On the other hand, we also need communal prayer because God is also calling us as a community to praise God together and to support each other as we walk toward God. This praying together is best expressed when we participate in Mass, where we partake of one bread and one cup and, in that way, build up our unity in Christ.

Enemies of prayer

My starting point in sharing about prayer (personal and public) is that we should be engaging in it, and I outline here some of the reasons why we are not giving our best to prayer.

We have no time.

We often have no time for personal prayer, yet we do. Personal quiet time does not need much time, 30 minutes divided by two, 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.  As we get used to it, we can increase it to an hour, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. If we spend so much time on WhatsApp and Facebook and the time we spend watching TV and socialising with friends, what is one is 30 minutes to an hour divided by two a day to spend with God? It is possible, but the devil is telling us that we do not have time; we do have time.

Thinking prayer must always be exciting.

The second enemy is to think that we must pray when it feels good to pray. One may say that when I try to sit silently, I don’t feel anything, and I get distracted, but again that is the wrong understanding of prayer to think that it must always feel exciting.

We stay with our parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, and it is not always exciting to be with them; sometimes, there are fights. Yet in that stay with them, we bond and become one. Similarly, even though we may not feel anything in prayer, something is happening, and we connect with God. As St. Peter says, in that seeming boredom, we are “being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God,”.

I sometimes hear advice from parents that to bring youth back to the Church, we must have lively music, play guitars and organ, sing hysterically, and shout “Alleluia” all the time. Some of our priests also fall into the temptation of wanting to make the liturgy an “aha experience”, doing their best to make the liturgy an exhilarating experience, and you hear people say that “Fr. So and so has a vibe in his prayer and liturgy”.

Life is not always an “Aha experience”; it has its lows and highs, but we do not give up on it. Yet we expect prayer always to be high, and we give up on it when it is low. In both the high and intense experience of prayer, God is present; we cannot be seeking him only in the “Alleluia” experience; he is also present in the sombre mood of Gethsemane. That is why we have ordinary times, time of waiting, time of Joy at Christmas, time of mourning at Lent and time of victory at Easter, and in all these times, God is present. 

St. Paul reminds us, in Romans, that even when we cannot pray, when we feel dry, the Spirit does the praying for us. We may not experience anything, but the effort itself to pray is prayer. Just as we eat every day, and sometimes we do not even taste the food. However, we still eat, and that tasteless food keeps us alive as the tasty food that we are going to eat today.  Similarly, with prayer, there will be those times when we feel nothing about prayer. Still, we must continue to pray all the time because just as we need food all the time, we also need to pray all the time. 

Thinking that we must pray when we feel good and “holy.”

The third enemy of prayer is to think that we must pray only when we think we are good or holy when we are in good behaviour and that when we are sinful, we must keep away from God and come when we have sorted ourselves out. Did not Jesus say that it is not the healthy that need the doctor but the sick?

The more we feel sinful, the more we need to pray. We need to make Peter’s words our own, “To whom we shall go? You have the words of everlasting life”. God does not want us when we are at our best; he asks us to bring our helplessness, our weaknesses, our imperfections, and our sins. Whatever shame we are carrying about ourselves, we are invited to come to God because he loved us while we were still sinners; he loves us for us and not for the good that we do. We cannot fix ourselves; it is God who will fix us. The more sinful we feel, the more we need to come closer to God in prayer because God is the doctor.

Failure to distinguish between personal and official prayer.

The religious and priests must pray to the office (breviary), which is a public prayer of the Church. One of the reasons why priests and religious renege on praying the office is that they find it dry and boring. We should not forget that praying the office is different from personal prayer, which is about us, bringing us and our feelings to God. In praying the office, we become the mouth of the world that should be praising God but is not doing so. When we pray, the office, the psalms, we give voice to all the works of the Lord and the people who do not care to pray, and we pray on their behalf so that God is given His due praise. On our account and through us, the whole creation is praising God. 

In praying the office, we also pray for the needs of the world; we pray for the suffering, for the weak and feeble; we pray for the sick and the old who cannot pray, and on their behalf, we pray. We pray for those who have forgotten about God, for those in prison, for the corrupt, for the rich who have forgotten about God, for the suffering, for the persecuted, for the lonely, for the drug addicts and alcoholics and the dead, through us all these people pray. 

So, you cannot say, “I have stopped praying the office because it is not doing anything for me”; it is not about you; it should not depend on your mood but on the commitment you make when accepting ordination and taking vows to pray for the world and doing so with whole Church at the same hour. Yes, at times when you pray the office, you may feel some affection and emotions of closeness to God, but even when you do not, you must not stop praying it because, essentially, the office is a public prayer, not a private personal prayer.

In ending, I want to make some reminders and announcements, the first about the ordination and some news of joy.

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