Do we pray as often as we complain about other people (or scroll through social media or insert other activity here)? It is apparent that we live in dark and troubling times. That is not going to change soon, unless something miraculous happens. The West is turning away from God at an unprecedented rate. The Church is in turmoil from scandal, worldliness, confusion, and in-fighting. There is much to be frustrated and angry about. The problem is, too often we would rather rant and rave than pray, which means we—myself included—are also a part of the problem.
The answers to the major issues of our day are found in prayer. Our parishes must be deeply steeped in prayer. It must be the lifeblood of community life, not an after-thought. Our families must become true domestic churches where Christ is the absolute center, not something we check off of our weekly to-do list on Sunday. As a very prayerful and holy friend said to me recently: “Everything we do must be in the Spirit.” Our every breath must be a calling out to the Spirit and a reception of the Spirit, every single breath.
This is easier said than done. We have busy lives, but part of that busyness is because we have the wrong priorities. We place this world over and above heaven. This is where we learn how to live in heaven. If we never learn, then we will never make it. We will be those who knock at the door, but Christ will tell us He never knew us. We were too busy for Him in this life, so we will not be prepared to live in union with Him when we die.
One of the greatest distractions we face today is from modern technology. We have access to news from around the world at the touch of a button. What this has done is turn us into people who are upset about the state of the world, but too often do nothing about it except rant and rave. My friend’s advice is the answer we need. We must pray about everything. If we think that prayer accomplishes little or nothing, then we do not understand God or our Catholic faith. We do not have the power to do anything, only God does. God changes hearts and minds.
This change must begin within our hearts first. It is through prayer that we learn to see, love, and forgive as Christ does. This is how we can go out into a world of confusion and evil or even into the sinfulness present in our own families and parishes and bring about good. If we are not grounded in prayer and intimate union with Christ, then our efforts will often fail because they aren’t God’s will or we will lack the strength to persevere when we are doing the right thing, but encounter opposition, disbelief, or persecution.
It is much easier to spend hours ranting on social media or with friends than it is to fall on our knees in surrender to God. There is a sense of satisfaction from constantly voicing our discontent with others, but it doesn’t make us grow in holiness. Eventually we have to stop complaining about someone who has hurt us, the state of the culture and the Church, or whatever it is we see in social media, and fall on our knees in prayer. We have to turn our gaze heavenward if we want to be a force for good here in this life. It is also through prayer that we come to understand that this is not our ultimate home and massive losses are a part of this vale of tears.
Imagine what the world would look like if all of us spent as much time in prayer, at Mass, and Eucharistic Adoration, as we do complaining about things. What would the world look like if we truly were living in the Spirit? Seeking God’s face in everything. Seeking His will over our own. The world would begin to transform overnight.
The Changes of Prayer
Prayer first and foremost changes us. We are in need of serious transformation. We are sinful, selfish, arrogant, proud, uncompromising, and the list goes on. Prayer allows us to move from the confines of our own massive ego into the truth of things in God. It is in prayer that we discover the peace, sweetness, and love of God. St. John Vianney said of prayer:
My little children, your hearts, are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the souls and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.
We must be “stretched” because we all have small hearts that are limited by our own petty wants and desires. Prayer leads us outward, but we must be transformed interiorly in order to be able to go out and love others as God loves. We cannot give what we do not possess. If someone deeply hurts us, we cannot love as Christ loves until we are willing to forgive, even if the other person doesn’t care about the injury they have caused us. Forgiveness transforms darkness into light. This includes forgiving those people who are pushing agendas and ideologies that are dangerous and diametrically opposed to our Faith. We cannot forgive and love our enemies if we do not dwell in the secure peace of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through a life of prayer.
The answers we seek in response to the very real wounds, pain, and anger we carry living in this Fallen world in a time such as this requires us to turn from the easy road of complaining—which typically leads to inaction—to the interior road of silence in prayer. This is hugely countercultural in an age of incessant noise and the instant gratification of constant rage and division.
Romano Guardini reminds us, however, that it is in the silence of prayer where true strength is born:
The greatest things are accomplished in silence—not in the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice. Spiritual conception happens when the heart is quickened by love, and the free will stirs to action. The silent forces are the strong forces. Let us turn now to the stillest event of all, stillest because it came from the remoteness beyond the noise of any possible intrusion—from God.
So often we are content with “superficial eventfulness” in our daily lives, families, activities, and parishes. We want to tangibly feel like we are doing something. The results are superficial and typically land us right back where we started. It is only through entering into the silence of God that we can confront the difficulties we face. The transformation of our hearts prayer brings about will allow us to faithfully serve Him and His plans. That’s the change we need. That’s the path to holiness. That is where the great saints of our time will rise up: from and through a life of prayer.
It’s time to fight against our sinful tendency to want to complain and then do nothing. Instead, we must take our concerns, struggles, fears, and the people in our lives at all levels who hurt us to prayer. Not the quick prayer we offer up in between all of the more “important” stuff in our lives. Shut off social media, the smartphone, whatever else it is that distracts and use the time you would have given to those outlets to God. When we do that, the world will in fact begin to change, because we will begin to change.