Christians can generally be classified into two types: those who live their faith founded on daily prayer and those who are not. Daily prayer is a priority for committed Christians, as it is an important expression of their faith and dependence on God. From my conversations with hundreds of Catholics, especially with those migrated to cities or places away from their place of birth on account of occupational or other reasons, I have come to know that most of them do not have a definite plan or routine when it comes to prayer. They just pray when the mood strikes them. This type of prayer may be good, but it is not enough to grow in relationship with God and to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Christian life is simply not sustainable without daily prayer. It is unlikely that a Christian becomes a kind, compassionate, other-oriented person without daily prayer. Deep in our heart we feel the need of God’s continuous help and protection to manage ourselves and the challenges of our daily life. We need God’s strength, support, protection and enlightenment to manage the labyrinth of problems of everyday life. Engaged Catholics have figured this out and that is the reason for their daily commitment to prayer. They have a routine of prayer. That means that they pray at the same time, same place and same way every day.
Committed Christians begin every day with some form of prayer. They feel the difference when they don’t follow that routine. They know that a day that does not start well with prayer tends not to end well; they feel unfocused, stressed, less sure of themselves, less conscious of what happens in and around them and less capable of responding to life situations with compassion. They feel disconnected from God and they know that they are unable to live a life of faith without prayer. They know that the habit of prayer helps them attain the attitudes and qualities that make them uniquely human and Christian, such as love, compassion, generosity, humility, fortitude, spirit of forgiving, etc.
Committed Christians are convinced that they are imperfect and are unable to grow in spiritual life or in personal relationship with God on their own. They know that they require God’s saving grace and that the Eucharist is the primary source of this grace. They attend the Holy Mass, every day if possible, seeking God’s grace and protection for themselves and their family. The Holy Eucharist is the central and focal point of their spiritual life and it cannot be replaced by any other form of prayer. No Christian life can be thought of without it. The liturgical prayer of Sunday Mass is the prayer of the whole Church, the congregation of the faithful gathered around Jesus in public prayer and worship.
Some say that they pray when they get around to it. But the sad fact is that most of the days that doesn’t happen. It is more likely that they fall into the habit of not praying daily or not at all. Only the deep conviction of the need of and total dependence on God’s help can lead one to overcome this habit. Good habits like daily prayer need to be sought out intentionally. Highly engaged Catholics have a definite plan when they sit down to pray. They have a routine. They have developed their routine of prayer over decades. Most of the young Catholic families have inherited their routine from their parents. However, it is sad to note that many new generation Catholic families have practically given up the tradition of family prayer due to various reasons like migration to new places, difficult living or work conditions and above all loss of faith. Some young couples also say that they don’t feel the need of prayer and that they can ‘live well’ without prayer.
It often happens that, as life becomes busier and busier, prayer life declines or disappears altogether from many Christian families. Prayer is always the first casualty of a busy family life. It is always easy to find any amount of excuses for giving up prayer. In many Catholic families, that used to pray regularly, family prayer is often put off or skipped due to various casual reasons like a TV serial, presence of a guest, difficult work conditions, absence of the head of the family, illness of a family member, etc. Prayer is not the important thing for them. They are not convinced of the need of prayer and so they pray only when it suits them. They are only Christians by name.
Prayerlessness is one of the great torments of today. Many fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent. We rush from one urgent thing to the next. It happens that for many of us the most important things are not the most urgent. So we leave out the most important things and concentrate on the urgent. As Catholics who live our faith, we should come to the conviction that prayer is one of those most important things of our life and that it should have the highest priority. What could be more important than prayer in Christian life?
The habit of daily prayer can be revived only if one undergoes some form of conversion by attending a prayer session or renewal retreat. One of the greatest helps the retreat centres can give to the retreatants is to help them develop a sustainable prayer life, a routine of prayer. They should give the Christians tools to cultivate their spiritual life and the tools to adapt their spiritual life according to the changing demands and challenges of life. It is a great blessing of God that we in India, in contrast to many Christian countries in Europe and America, have so many retreat centres that help the faithful revive their spiritual life and sustain their habit of prayer.
Personal prayer, besides family prayer, is essential and is required to deepen our relationship with God. Men of prayer pray constantly for their families and surround them with God’s protection. The world around us is desperately in need of our prayer. The Catholic Church, our country, our parish, our family members, our neighbours, the poor, the sick and the dying, those who are in despair and are in danger, etc., yes every human being requires our prayer. We must always keep in mind that we need to protect, support and strengthen them with our prayers. Commitment to the routine of prayer will deepen our faith and lead us deep into a lifelong friendship with God. Finding peace and fulfilment in life depends on developing a deep relationship with God through a routine prayer life.
Fr. James Mundackal cst