Tag Archives: Prayer


It’s quite obvious that most of the praying done by us Christians is prayer of petition – asking God to grant favors or work miracles or support us in our plans. That’s quite natural: we are always in need of more than we think we can accomplish on our own and so we appeal to God, as pagans appeal to the forces of nature or to their invented gods, or as others resort to lucky charms and superstitious practices. It can’t be wrong to ask God to act on our behalf: the history of the human race’s relationship with God is filled with such requests. Even Jesus left us, his followers, an asking prayer, the “Our Father,” as we call it and which we’ll be saying again together in just a few minutes.

However, while recognizing the legitimate place of petitionary prayer in the life of a Christian, we must emphasize that its most perfect expression is what we find in that beautiful prayer of King Solomon, which we just heard in the excerpt from the Hebrew Book of Kings. Solomon asked but one favor of God, and that was the power to know always what would be the right thing to do in order to serve the people well and to please God. Solomon was overwhelmed by the enormity and the complexity of the kingly office he had inherited from his father, King David, and saw himself as too young, too inexperienced, too lacking in knowledge to rule wisely. And so he begged, not for personal riches or for victory in battle or even for a long and healthy life, but for wisdom and understanding so that he could rule with justice and compassion. To this day he is honored for that remarkable goodness of character.

Have you ever been told by someone that he or she has prayed for you for a long time? I have, often. I remember that, when I reported for my 20-year assignment as pastor at St. Brendan’s in Clifton 39 years ago, among the lovely greetings of welcome I received was that of a woman who told me that she had prayed for me every day of the previous eleven years, ever since the day we first met. I can’t tell you, as I couldn’t tell her way back then, how much that meant to me. Many times since, I’ve wondered how much of the strength and wisdom that job demanded came through the caring prayers of people like her.

Was it Plato or Aristotle or some other Greek (I can never keep those sages straight) who said that we do not achieve wisdom until we reach the age of 50? But we pray, and others pray for us, and we ask the Spirit of God within us to guide us in the way of wisdom even before we have attained it sufficiently ourselves. We ask to be able to interpret the events of our life more objectively, freer of personal prejudice. We ask to understand the meaning and eventual purpose of everything we experience. We ask to remain confident, patient, peaceful, especially in times of great personal stress and bewilderment, in times of sorrow and fear and disappointment. Prayers like these are answered always – but we have to trust enough to voice them.

The Gospel passage today is about the Kingdom of God – hidden among and within us, found by persons of faith — the Kingdom about which Jesus said, Seek it first and everything else will be given to you. How do we pray? What do we ask for? The Kingdom of God is recognized wherever there are justice and mercy and kindness and forgiveness and peace and patience and love. Our prayer should always reflect those concerns above all others. Jesus assures us that every particular need of our own complicated lives will be provided if we ask first for wisdom and understanding as the underpinnings of justice and love.



Our technological achievements are not evil, as some extremists say they are. Pope Pius XII, back in the mid-1950s, when I was in seminary, said that modern technology is a tool of the Spirit of God that had the potential to bring the peoples of the world together in mutual respect and love as never before. Well, that potential still exists; it’s not the machines and the technology that get in the way, it’s we humans.

Modern marvels, from iPhones to supersonic jets, deliver, of course, convenience, pleasure, comfort; but inner peace and deep down joy they cannot possibly give us. No machine, however sophisticated it may be, can ever bring two hearts together. Nothing that is not spiritual (and I don’t mean only religious) can bring whole peoples together. No house, however luxurious, can unite a family or strengthen a marriage.

What Jesus shared with us was his awareness that we can reach unity and lasting peace only when they are based on an active, intentional attachment to the God who lives within each of us – only when we open our minds and hearts to God’s wisdom and God’s love. We experience true peace and unity by becoming contemplatives who are also active in the world.

I heard a TV talk show host say that, one evening when everything was set up for an interview, he looked around for his celebrity guest and saw him standing several yards away, leaning on a camera, his head resting in the crook of his arm, his eyes closed. After several seconds the guest moved up to the set and took his seat at the table just in time for the interview to begin. The host asked him after the taping what he was doing for that short time, and the man answered, “I was praying.”

Seeking the wisdom of God, who lives within us, can be as simple as that. Bishop Fulton Sheen said that whenever he was about to converse with someone who had come to him for counsel he always paused for a minute or two to open his mind & heart to direction by the Spirit of God.

When we listen eagerly to God, as God’s word comes to us in worship, in prayer, in moments of silence, we become more & more disposed to listening to each other as well, because we learn to expect God’s message there, too. There is never a time or a circumstance in which dialog with God is not readily available. Driving alone to give a retreat in Chicago some years ago I found it easy to commune with the Creator both in nature and in the many interesting people I met along the way, whose stories of love and courage and generous service revealed the presence of God to me. In my home or in someone else’s, at the table, in my comings & goings, there is never a doubt in my mind that God is there more completely than I am.

The Christian church began with controversy and confrontation at every level of its early organization. It’s too bad that today uniformity is so overstressed. It’s not our differences that tear us apart; quite the opposite: diversity, even in matters of faith, can be a help toward unity. It keeps us thinking and probing and dialoguing in the effort to get closer to God’s truth.

It’s when we are not paying sufficient attention to the source of our life that we drift farther and farther apart from each other. That must be why Jesus stressed what he did in those last days of his earthly life: that we follow his example of listening to God always so that we would have increasingly more life to share with those we love – and those we still don’t love.


Getting accustomed to looking beneath and beyond the words of bible readings to find their real meaning, what would you say is the message of the three we just heard – the first from the Hebrew bible, the next from a letter of St. Paul, and the third from the gospel, this particular excerpt from St. Luke’s version?  The word urgency came to my mind from all three: that we resolve now to remain conscious of the presence of the Spirit of God in whatever we are doing, saying or thinking.  That’s a fairly good definition of a spiritual person: not a holier-than-thou fanatic who goes around in a daze of personal devotion that makes everyone uncomfortable, but a person who views life and all its parts through the lens of the Spirit within and around him or her.

I recall in this connection that it was Pope Celestine the First who, in one of the earliest centuries of the church heard that some priests were dressing in distinctive ways to distinguish them from ordinary people.  He wrote to them and said he found this disturbing because priests should be distinguished not by what they wear but by their conversation and their love.

But, we all ask, where is God when a bloody war is raging, as is still happening today all over the globe?  Where is God in the drug-abuse scene?  Where is God when conflict tears a family apart?  Where is God on Death Row?  Where is God in AIDS or cancer?  Countless millions of persons have found reason to say, “I turned to you, Lord, but you did not answer me.”

It’s our concept, our image of God that is the problem.  God is not a person like us, however bigger and better.  God is pure spirit; God is force; God is energy, God is love.  When we deliberately align ourselves with that benign force, with that energy, that love, our own human powers are enhanced, they are magnified.

How God “answers” and when God answers are not for us to say or even to know.  Our part in the pact is to maintain unyielding faith in the goodness and the love of God.

A high school classmate of mine, at the funeral of his young daughter many years ago, said to the overflowing crowd of mourners assembled in the church that day, “My wife and children and I thank you for being here today to celebrate the life and mourn the death of our beautiful daughter.  It must be that God loves her more than we do, because God gave her to us in the first place for these too-short 19 years.  At this time of sorrow, God asks of us only faith and love.  In this tragedy, too, God is only good.”

Who would dare to limit the power of God especially in the troubles of our life?

There may be no time or circumstance in our ordinary lives when we more need that awareness of Jesus’ presence than when things are not going well for us or for those we love.  He says to us, “Come to me, you who are burdened, and I will refresh you.”  The “refreshment,” by that or any other name, may be just the vision of light at the end of the tunnel, and restored confidence because Jesus is leading the way — Jesus, who called himself “the way.”

Faith can falter even in the most convinced and loyal believer.  There’s no shame in that.  We are, after all, only human and very limited.  We live in a kind of darkness, a shadow in which not everything is perfectly clear.  To trust in a Jesus we have never seen is no small challenge at times.  But, if we make the commitment, no matter how feeble it may occasionally be, our faith in him will grow by experience.  We will increasingly sense his real presence in and with us and we will be only the stronger and the more at peace for it.


Back in the 1960’s, when I was a recently ordained priest assigned to full-time hospital chaplaincy, I came to know a Polish Franciscan priest who had been imprisoned by the Nazis in the concentration camp at Dachau during World War II.  He told me that after more than two years of cruel incarceration, he was emaciated and literally starving to death.  One day – the day he was certain would be his last – he was clinging to the cyclone fence at the edge of the camp, staring aimlessly out into the surrounding woods, praying and preparing himself to die, when a young American soldier stepped out halfway from behind a tree.  One arm carried his rifle; the other lifted a finger to his lips signaling for silence, since he was afraid to be seen by others.

The youthful GI, Father Karas said, appeared to him like a god sent from on high to save him.  He had to take care that he not cause his own death by unbridled excitement at the thought of imminent liberation.  Over the years of our association, he told me much about his hellish 2-year ordeal.

That whole image, that I have carried with me for more than 50 years, has helped me to understand the phenomenon of longing in suffering, of expectation and its ultimate fulfillment.  I associate it always with the theme of Advent.  It’s difficult for us to get into the skin of those who have been ruthlessly stripped of their human dignity and are powerless to regain it.  But to live vicariously what they have endured, as my Franciscan friend enabled me to do, we can appreciate so much more what it means to long for a savior.

The promises we heard again in today’s first reading were made originally to a people who had for generations suffered poverty, homelessness, and political oppression.  They knew that all they could pass on to their children was the same misery.  They prayed, and the answer kept coming back: “Rejoice!  God loves you.  God is just and merciful.  Do not despair.  Live in anticipation of the great day of your salvation, the Day of the Lord.”  And to this day, that faith has sustained the People of God.

Think back, please, to a time, or a moment, in your life when you were virtually without hope, when you were fully aware that you could do nothing to reverse or erase the terrible thing that had befallen you or someone you loved.  You remember what you did: you prayed!  I can attest to such a scene I witnessed several years ago, when the 4-year-old son of friends of mine sustained a badly fractured skull and was rushed to the hospital, where it appeared that he was dying.  All the technical armory of that excellent hospital and the tender care of its competent and caring staff were not enough to sustain the frantic parents.  They were, as never before in their young lives, face to face with the frailty of human life, its smallness and vulnerability.  They prayed constantly for days as the best medical care available brought recovery to their little one in three weeks’ time.

But this is what Advent is about.  In the end, as we are breathing our last, what will we do, what can we do, but place ourselves in the care of the One who created us?  At that point, we will have no doubt about the limits of our human powers!  Advent is meant to stoke that awareness now so that for the rest of our journey we will daily be more conscious that we are merely creatures — and then live joyfully, peacefully, in good times and in bad, knowing that God is love and that we are created to bask in that love for all eternity!



That was an interesting dialog we heard in today’s Gospel passage.  It begins with a complaint, a criticism from Jesus.  He says to the crowds, including his closest followers, Your enthusiasm for me is not based on your understanding of who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish.  So far, you don’t seem to be grasping either.  The truth is that you’re coming to me again and again so excitedly because I’ve given you plenty of free food when you were hungry and your cupboard was empty.  You’ve gone out of your way, you’ve pushed and shoved and spent your energy only to get here for more.  But you don’t hear what I’m saying to you even when you’ve taken the lesser part of what I offer.  Your sense of values is upside down.  If you had your heads on straight, you’d be breaking your backs to get the bread that gives permanent life, not just the bread that can only tide you over until tomorrow.

And the people, still not understanding him, asked how they could get this marvelous food.

Jesus answered, Put your complete trust in me.

They reply, We will, if you give us some kind of proof that you are from God.  We’re not asking for any more than our ancestors got when the manna came to them from heaven in the desert.  That’s the reason they trusted in Moses.

And Jesus wraps things up by saying, Get this into your heads now and don’t ever forget it.  I myself am the bread that has come from heaven.  I don’t need to give a sign: I am the sign.  Anyone who comes to me shall never hunger or thirst again.

As we today use every human skill we possess to resolve the never-ending series of problems in our lives, we mustn’t forget for one minute that all our deepest desires, all our hopes, all our hungers, will be fulfilled through personal union with Jesus.

I purchased and listened twice to the CD version of a book by Mark Shriver, son of President Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, in which he celebrates the thoroughly Catholic life of his father, not only on the world stage where he spent much of his life, but especially as a husband and father.  One of his many tributes reads –

In his final letter to us, Dad wrote about his parents (these words) — “Their experience [of bankruptcy and despondence during the Great Depression] helped convince me that putting trust in money or in any economic system is absurd.  It is wiser and safer to trust in the Lord than in banks or gold or the New York Stock Exchange.” 

It was (Dad’s) faith in a different system that kept his eyes on a richer wealth, a bigger prize.  He went to Mass every day and had a daily relationship with God, even a minute-by-minute relationship with God – that’s what gave Dad “power,” gave him his hope. 

He kept us believing; he kept us hopeful.  When he walked into a room, you just felt better.  You felt ready for the day. 

+ We have to reach out to Jesus actively, not merely accept him passively.

+ We must expect that in his teachings and example we will find reliable guidelines for the best way of living a really human life.

+ We must pray daily – not in many words or formulas – but in sentiments that come from our heart and mind and will, starting with prayer of gratitude…

+ We must develop an on-going conversation with him – with or without words – as the events of our day suggest.

+ We must celebrate his presence with us in the countless ways he is to be found and encountered, especially in other persons and in the Eucharist, where we can know him better in the breaking of the bread.

+ When bad things happen to us, we should join our sufferings with his, confident that these too will be swallowed up in his victory over death on that cross.

It’s all about personal relationship – with God, with Jesus, with each other.


For many years of my adult life I was not at all concerned about something that came to my attention much later on: that I was not a good listener.  I simply was not aware that I had a problem in that regard.  But at some point along the way I learned that listening intently with open ears and open mind is an extremely important element in human relationships — and that I had yet to develop that skill.

Forty years ago, on a typical day off, I’d spend the evening in the home of my widowed mother.  Sitting comfortably in the living room in what used to be my father’s TV chair, I would, all at the same time, read TIME Magazine, watch TV, talk on the phone, and listen – I use the word loosely — to news about the family that Mother was trying to share with me from across the room.  How often that scenario ended with her saying sweetly, “Dick, dear, I know you didn’t hear a word I said; but that’s alright.  I’ll tell you again later.”

And then, long after, I realized that, if we did to our computers and word processors what some of us do to our minds, they would be of no use to us.  We foolishly take in data simultaneously from a half dozen sources and think we can adequately process it and store it securely, while the truth is that we can’t.  When we don’t really listen, when we don’t turn to the person who is speaking to us and give our undivided attention (the way David Frost used to), we are depriving ourselves of the gift that person is offering and hurting him or her with the response that we don’t consider the message worth our time or energy.

One of the most valuable gifts we can give to persons in our lives is to listen to them and to give clear signs that we are eager to hear and to understand what they are saying, to let them know that we very much want to receive their message.  If you think of the persons that make you feel best about yourself, I believe that you will find that they all are good listeners.

Prayer is primarily listening to the Spirit of God.  Great people of every station in life listen with their whole hearts and minds to God.

They ask for wisdom and understanding, and then they listen.

They ask for direction and faith, and they listen.

They ask for a loving, forgiving heart, and they listen.

They build that listening into their lives by taking some time each day to be alone and more conscious of the presence of God in them. The aloneness can be in the cocoon of one’s car or of an empty room at home.  They learn not to forget or ignore the constant presence of the Divine Spirit within them wherever they are, whatever they are doing.

The readings of today’s liturgy are an excellent case in point.  In the first, a boy, David by name, is told that he will be a powerful instrument of God for the good of the people; however, he must first learn to discern the divine message and to prepare to listen to it.

And in the Gospel we heard about the beginnings of Christian discipleship: young people, rugged people of the earth and the sea, called by Jesus and daring to listen to this man who will turn their lives upside down and assure them that in return they will gain far more than what they are asked to give.

It is actually quite simple.  But living as we do, in a sandstorm of words and images that seem never to stop or to slow down, we, maybe more than people at any other time in history, have to commit ourselves, with firm intention and determination, to become good listeners.