Tag Archives: Prayer


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.