September 3, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Set aside distractions and make prayer part of your daily routine

When a sixth-grade fellow wrote to me that he loves God with all his heart, he was expressing a fundamental source of prayer, namely the human heart.

Somewhere I read—I cannot remember where—that the longing for God in the human heart finds expression in more than a thousand ways in the Scriptures. The composer of Psalm 27, my favorite, prays, “of you my heart has spoken: I seek your face O Lord” (Ps 27). This sentiment suggests several helpful motivations for our prayer.

If the Holy Spirit inspires our hearts to seek and interact with God in love, then we need to make room in our everyday lives to listen. In other words, silence is an important aid to help us listen to our hearts’ longing for God.

Seeking times of silence in our culture is not easy. For most of us, there are so much noise and so many voices that easily overpower the authentic longings of our hearts. I think it is accurate to say that without some space for silence in heart (and mind), faith and the call to holiness are in jeopardy.

We long for God and a relationship with Jesus, but without “going apart” alone with him we may begin to doubt that we can truly find him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction. It can affect words and their meaning in vocal prayer; it can concern, more profoundly, him to whom we are praying, in vocal prayer [liturgical or personal], meditation and contemplative prayer. To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart—for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified” (#2729).

I admit that distraction is a habitual challenge. I also agree that turning back to one’s heart and asking for the Holy Spirit’s purification is an antidote that works. The underlying conviction that we need is an honest desire to pray. And here is where an established non-negotiable habit of prayer sets the pace for me.

We are all different, and our prayer lives are going to reflect that difference. All I know is that, in my case, my routine of prayer is set as the priority of every day and everywhere.

An hour of prayer begins my day, and everything else is adjusted accordingly. I learned that is the way it has to be. A part of that first hour is praying the Liturgy of the Hours, which I promised to do when I was first ordained. Often, Holy Mass concludes that hour of prayer if I am not scheduled elsewhere.

After my mom’s going home to God, I came across a prayer book she had as a young woman. In 1988 in Rome, I had the prayer book rebound and I have used that book of prayers every day since. Some of these prayers shape my vocal prayer. For meditation, I always use a spiritual book. This is a help I need to keep recollected—and to cope with the inevitable distractions.

Over the years, I have trained myself to say short prayers throughout the day. For example, I pray to the Holy Spirit or to a favorite saint before an appointment or meeting in the chancery. Meetings for which I am present always begin with a prayer and the invocation of saints like St. Francis Xavier and Mother Theodore Guérin. It is a rare day that I do not pray at least two or three rosaries, a favorite devotion of mine.

During Lent, I pray the Way of the Cross, sometimes in my car if I am on the run. In other words, prayer is threaded through my day and reminds me why I am doing what I am doing as bishop-pastor.

If at all possible, in the early evening I set aside a half hour before the Blessed Sacrament as the special time of intercessory prayer for the intentions that folks send to me. It is also an especially peaceful time. I suppose this is the closest I come to contemplative prayer on a regular basis.

My devotions to our Blessed Mother and to St. Joseph go back to minor seminary. I pray to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and to St. Theodora Guérin. Since turning 50, I have prayed Cardinal John Henry Newman’s “Prayer for a Happy Death.” I pray some prayers authored by St. Ignatius and St. Francis of Assisi.

I have described how I pray because some of you asked me to and because it is simple and not very extraordinary. I hope it helps. †

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