March 30, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Prayer: Finding balance in our lives

John F. Fink(Twenty-third and last in a series)

I recall attending Mass in a parish not my own while visiting one of our children for a few days.

One priest said Mass the first day, and a different priest was the celebrant the next day. The first priest, during his homily, told the congregation that he had never had the patience to sit still long enough to meditate, that it seemed like a waste of time to him when he could be doing something he considered more important.

The next day, the second priest gave his homily on prayer (the Gospel reading was Christ teaching the Apostles the Our Father), and he spoke about how important meditation and contemplation were to him. He even had all of us sit quietly in contemplation for a couple minutes at the end of his homily.

That first priest, obviously a restless and energetic activist, certainly prayed; he led us in prayer during that Mass. He’s just the “A” type who has to be doing something all the time. And I’m not going to say that he isn’t just as close to God as the priest who practices contemplation.

Don’t we all know many people like that, people who have to be doing something all the time? I’m willing to bet they are in the majority among Catholics if we were to assume that those who arrive just in time for Mass (or even a couple minutes late) don’t like to “waste” a moment and are the type who don’t have the gift of mental prayer. That might be an unfair assumption, of course, because it’s possible that some of them meditate at home, but I wonder.

I believe that prayer is important or I wouldn’t have written this series of columns about it. But Jesus didn’t tell us that we would be judged by how well we prayed. He told us that we would be judged by how well we performed the corporal works of mercy—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, etc.

I don’t recall Jesus explicitly telling us that only those who pray a great deal will enter heaven. I do recall him saying explicitly, in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, that those who do not perform the corporal works of mercy “will go off to eternal punishment”!

Having said that, though, I will again hearken back to the consoling letters of St. Paul, who told us that, as part of the Mystical Body, we are not all expected to do the same thing. We are not all called to serve food to the hungry at soup kitchens. Perhaps feeding our families or providing warm clothing for our children is sufficient to get us off the hook.

The real answer is that there should be balance in our lives. We must keep our eyes on heaven. That’s where we hope to spend an eternity of happiness, praising and glorifying God. While we are still here on earth, let us practice doing that through our prayers.

(Fink’s book, Letters to St. Francis de Sales: Mostly on Prayer, is a greatly expanded version of this series. It’s available from Alba House. Call 800-343-ALBA.) †

Local site Links: