February 22, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Spiritual help for busy people

John F. FinkDuring Lent, the Church encourages Catholics to be more fervent in their prayers, fasting and almsgiving. While not meaning to neglect the latter two, I’m going to write four columns on prayers. This series for the Year of Faith is meant to include Catholic practices as well as doctrine.

It’s hardly the first time that I’ve written about prayer. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it. It’s called Letters to St. Francis de Sales: Mostly on Prayer (St. Pauls, $9.95).

Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but I believe that many people realize the need for prayer today and that the number of people who pray is growing.

It’s encouraging, in fact, 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.

One of the places I see more people praying is in our parish’s adoration chapel. We are fortunate to have perpetual adoration at our parish, with people assigned to spend an hour at a time in the chapel before the exposed consecrated host in a monstrance—24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year except Good Friday and Holy Saturday. People are welcome to pray on those two days, but the consecrated host is removed.

Besides those who are assigned to certain hours, numerous other people stop in for short visits throughout the day and night as their schedules permit.

The people who come to the adoration chapel are doctors, lawyers, businessmen and women, tradesmen, married men and women, single people, mothers and fathers, the old, middle-aged and young. It really is quite inspiring to see such a variety of people. They live busy lives and understand their need for spiritual help as they go into today’s secular world.

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 before he died accidentally while he was in Bangkok.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the Catholic Church has the most to offer when it comes to prayer. Above all, of course, it has the Mass, during which Jesus himself becomes truly present in the Eucharist. But the Catholic Church offers much more besides.

It offers the other sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, and devotions to the Blessed Virgin and other saints. It proposes certain rhythms of praying throughout the day. And its liturgical year, with its various feasts, provides opportunities for prayer.

I will say more about prayers next week. †

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