October 13, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayer: From a layman’s point of view

John F. Fink(First in a series)

Having finished my series of columns about St. Paul, I decided to write next about prayer from a layman’s point of view—or, at least, from this layman’s view.

One of my books is Letters to St. Francis de Sales: Mostly on Prayer (Alba House, $9.95). I chose St. Francis de Sales because his masterpiece, Introduction to the Devout Life, was written specifically for lay people, a practical guide for anyone who wants to improve his or her devotional life.

Before getting to the subject of prayer, I must say that, while not all Christians can practice their religion the same way, it’s important that we all live a devout life.

St. Francis wrote, “Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl, and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, activities and duties of each particular person.”

He, of course, was writing for the people of the 17th century, and he couldn’t have imagined how hectic life would be in the future.

One might think that modern conveniences might give us more time to pray, but it seems to be just the opposite.

The Internet and cell phones put us in constant touch with others. Never before, I believe, have we needed to learn how to pray as much as we do today.

Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but I believe that the number of people who pray is growing.

It’s encouraging that surveys indicate that most people do pray every day. I’m not sure that everyone has the same idea of what prayer is—and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if most people pray prayers of petition almost exclusively—but at least people are praying.

People’s prayer life must change as they age or their circumstances change. I’m putting it mildly when I say that I have considerably more time to pray today than I did during the years when our seven children were at home.

For those of us who are not in a monastery, routine is not always best, and it’s probably good for us to get chased out of our prayer routine from time to time. That’s not an excuse, though, for living a less devout life. Even in the midst of the busiest lives, we can aspire to a good prayer life.

Prayer seems to be a universal action, a natural aspiration. We know of no culture in the history of the world that didn’t include prayer of one type or another.

Prayer is an important element of every religion, be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or whatever. Many of those religions have things to teach us Christians.

Indeed, it’s interesting that Thomas Merton, who knew and wrote a great deal about prayer, was trying to learn more about Eastern methods of contemplation when he died accidentally while he was in Bangkok, Thailand. †

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