In the silence of our hearts, filled with faith, we experience the presence of God. We contemplate Him in the beauty of the sunrise, the power of the wind, the majesty of the ocean, the voice of the Scriptures, the presence of the Eucharist and each encounter with our neighbor. St. Augustine once said that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
We experience God through our life of prayer — conversation with God. Prayer is a state of continually being in love with the God Who is a real Person. No matter what might be going on in our lives, we must always pray, and pray daily. Prayer is the air that we breathe.
One of the greatest challenges that we encounter is our inability to see and to listen to God. We are caught up in the distractions of daily life that prevent us from really encountering God. But it is because of the very busyness of our lives that we require refreshing times of prayer throughout the day. If we fail to incorporate prayer into our schedules, we will live our lives as if God does not even exist.
A serious life of prayer is very important for the times in which we live. The traditional structures of support that have made our lives comfortable and easy are presently engulfed in confusion, but transformation is slowly taking place. God is moving us away from clinging to things, people, and institutions. He is calling us to detachment, to the desert, to the journey into the night of naked faith. He is calling us to cling to Him, and only Him. This journey is difficult, frightening at times, and even risky. But, those who embark upon the journey will be transformed into living witnesses of the God of love.
However, without daily contemplative prayer and daily Mass, or at least a prolonged visit before the Blessed Sacrament, anxiety and fear may overwhelm us. If we are a people who live truly spiritual lives, we will be filled with peace and joy no matter what may be going on around us. And this is so, because we will always be able to trust God.
St. Teresa of Avila, the famous Spanish mystic, once wrote: "Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes. God never changes. Patience obtains all. Whoever has God, wants for nothing. God alone is enough" (Poesías 30).
St. Teresa provides us profound words of wisdom for our present times. The staggering number of prescription drugs available for the many forms of uneasiness and tension illustrates that many of our contemporaries suffer deep anxiety due to guilt and fear.
It is true that we are experiencing profound challenges: wars, continual threats of terrorism, the crisis unfolding within our Catholic Church which continues unchecked in many circles, the rapidly accelerating unraveling of moral decency in our society, and the terrible wounds caused by the dismantling of family life. Nevertheless, challenges such as these should remind us that we must always trust in God Who is omnipotent.
As a parish priest, I am concerned that many good people do not have a serious life of prayer. I have often asked myself what is the root cause of this problem?
Prayer can not be simply based upon need. God is not a soft drink machine. Nor is God a candy store. It is time to get out of the spiritual nursery school and grow up.
Some day suffering will knock on the door and we may not be spiritually equipped to handle the difficulties of life. But why do we have to come to God through suffering? Is not that the hard way to learn how to love and to trust?
Perhaps our lack of dependence upon God is rooted in pride. Autonomy rooted in pride does not allow God to enter into our lives. In our journey towards eternal life, the exercise of human freedom is essential. However, let us remember that freedom and autonomy are not one and the same.
The virtue of humility permits us to recognize who we really are and helps to bring us to a deep and personal relationship with God. Humility allows us to be dependent upon God. Dependence does not take away from personal freedom. Dependence means that we can cry out "Abba, Father!" Only through practicing this humility, will prayer and the sacraments become an integral and convincing way of life.
Again, allow me to underscore the fact that prayer is essentially a continual state of being in love. God is love. Prayer is simply a continual relationship with the God of unconditional love. Christianity is about a Who not a what. God is personal. He is so personal that He is three persons in one God — personal to the 3rd power! What a mystery!
Without a doubt prayer is a gift. The Apostles turned to Jesus and asked him to teach them how to pray. Perhaps we also should beg, "Lord, teach us to pray" for a serious life of prayer is not easy. It requires personal discipline, order, perseverance, patience, and the on-going guidance of a good and qualified priest or spiritual director. We must become a prayerful people. Prayer is essential if we really want to live happy lives filled with peace.