February 20, 2012
“Let us pray.”
We’ve gotten so used to hearing that phrase, and losing ourselves in the prayer that typically follows, that it’s almost second nature. Not literally thought-less, perhaps, but close to it. Maybe it’s time to do something about it, and the thought occurs that right now, as we mark the beginning of Lent, is the perfect occasion.
Here at The Christophers, we tend to think of our founder, Maryknoll Father James Keller, as a man of action rather than a man of prayer. After all, he inspired countless Christophers to become men and women of action themselves, lighting a candle and changing the world by what they did. But yet when it came time to list the 20 “reminders” that Christophers should always keep before them, Father Keller put prayer first.
“Depend more on God, less on self,” he wrote in You Can Change the World. “All of us should pray as if all depended on God and should work as if everything depended on ourselves.”
Of course, praying isn’t as easy as it used to be, particularly in public. We’ve become conditioned to toning down our prayers and even our religious expressions, fearing that someone who hears them might become “offended.” None other than Andy Rooney, the long-time resident curmudgeon at CBS Television, wrote about that a couple of years before his death last November. Said Andy:
“Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game. So what’s the big deal? It’s not like somebody is up there reading the entire Book of Acts. They’re just talking to a God they believe in and asking Him to grant safety to the players on the field and the fans going home from the game...Our parents and grandparents taught us to pray before eating, to pray before we go to sleep. Our Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Now a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying.”
The Bible indeed tells us to “pray without ceasing,” but it has a lot more to offer on the subject. Matthew teaches us, for example, a style of praying (“...go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father”); tells us to pray without using “a lot of meaningless words”, and reminds us that “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” And most famously, in chapter 6, verse 9, Matthew tells us how to pray and what to say. What follows are the beautiful and timeless words of the “Our Father.”
Father Keller had a favorite prayer of his own, and designated it the prayer of The Christophers. You might know it as the Prayer of St. Francis. It’s probably familiar to you, and it’s been called the perfect prayer. Could it be improved on? Maybe, but I simply don’t know how:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”