Prayer as Food
As I wrote in last week’s blast, I’ll focus on the pillars and themes of Lent for the next few weeks. This week, let’s look at how prayer can “feed” our hungering hearts.
This past weekend, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and University hosted 1,600 teenagers for an entire weekend of prayer, talks, singing, and Eucharistic Adoration. It’s an annual Mount 2008 retreat for young people. Thousands of teens and their chaperones, including several priests and religious, made tremendous sacrifices and “fasts”, such as not eating a home-cooked meal (they ate cafeteria food), not sleeping in their own comfortable beds (they slept on gym floors), not having a normal weekend routine (every minute was structured), and all of the other sacrifices that come with a true retreat. Despite all of these sacrifices, they were so excited and enthusiastic that it literally inspired me to tears at times. What was feeding them? The answer is obvious: Prayer!
Let’s admit, we can never pray enough. Let’s also admit, there are times when we don’t like to pray. Parents, as well as children, often ask advice about how to pray grace before meals. The easy and most sure answer: practice, practice, practice! We can only get good at anything if we practice. So too with prayer! Yet, there are forces – evil forces – that do not want us to pray. Our own weakness of faith makes us lack the necessary discipline for a regular prayer life. Our inability to fully say, “yes” to God means we give God the “leftover” of our day. We occupy our times with so much “stuff” that we may leave out the most important people in our lives – God and our family! If we don’t spend time with those important people in our lives, guess what will happen. Our relationships will fade away, and the lack of conversation means we will eventually become strangers to one another. Isn’t this a painful truth?
If this painful reality is true in our human life, guess what can happen to our spiritual life if we don’t take time to pray and talk with God? The young people who came to this Mount weekend were so filled up with prayer they had the energy to run the race to Heaven! Of course, they can’t run without resting (i.e. a Sabbath), and therefore, they were instructed that regular prayer (food for the soul), like regular meals (food for the body), is necessary for a healthy body and soul. Lent gives us that opportunity to pray, because our earthly life and our eternal salvation depend on it!
I know some people say prayer is “boring.” BUT, I wonder if it’s prayer or the person who prays that is boring? Prayer, if understood well, is true communication with a person you love! If two people are in love, do they have boring conversations? I hope not! If they do, they are telling the other person, “You are boring me!” If their love is truly enlivening, they can’t wait to talk with each other. They will tell each other everything – and be excited about it. And even if they don’t use words and just sit holding hands or in a loving embrace, they are still communicating important and exciting messages!
I just described prayer for people who love God with their whole minds, souls, and strength!
On Friday morning before the retreat, I was in the chapel praying, and I honestly had to express to God my concern about the weekend. I told God that if prayer can be hard for priests and seminarians, how are we going to convince teenagers prayer is valuable, good, and exciting? Then I opened my daily prayer book (called a Breviary) and read a passage written by St. John Chrysostom. I’d like to share with you some of what this Saint says about prayer. It was as if God spoke to my heart about how not to worry for young people and prayer. With this definition, God showed me young people are very capable of recognizing the soul satisfying quality of prayer!
“Prayer and conversation with God is a supreme good: it is a partnership and union with God. As the eyes of the body are enlightened when they see light, so our spirit, when it is intent on God, is illumined by his infinite light. I do not mean the prayer of outward observance but prayer from the heart, not confined to fixed times or periods but continuous throughout the day and night. Prayer stands before God as an honored ambassador. It gives joy to the spirit, peace to the heart. It is the longing for God, love too deep for words, a gift not given by man but by God’s grace…When the Lord gives this kind of prayer to man, he gives him riches that cannot be taken away, heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. One who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord: his spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity.”
If you ever have the chance to come on such retreats to pray and practice prayer, I guarantee you the sacrifices and fasts you make will be nothing compared to how authentic prayer can truly fill up your every desire!
Filipino Tortang Gulay (Vegetable Omelet)
On this past weekend retreat, we had teens from all over! I even met one person who just arrived from the Philippines a few months ago. This young teen expressed some concerns. It was becoming increasingly difficult to deal with some of the material pressures in America. According to this young person, American life is too busy, and the sense of family, respect for parents, and prayer are not seen as culturally enforced. Needless to say, this young soul began to hurt because it faced the temptations of a society that seems to elevate material possessions and wealth, while underplaying the value of family, respect for authorities, and prayer. It made me remember my impression of the Philippines when I visited there as a newly ordained priest. I went with two other priests and a former seminarian in 2001. We all agreed: The Filipino people may not have much in terms of material possessions, but they are a spiritually well-fed people! There wasn’t a church we visited at various times in the day that didn’t have lots of people just sitting or kneeling in silent prayer! Less importance on the material life, honor for family, and respect for authorities – especially parents – are lessons my family tried to instill in me, even though I’ve lived in America since I was two. In fact, are these not the same principles of our original America? Please know, I LOVE THIS COUNTRY! And I am proud of it! Yet this young person’s first impression reminds me of something I recognize as I look at culture through the eyes of a priest. It’s a “sense” that makes me want to caution this great country to not be concerned with filling ourselves up with material possessions. If there’s anything we can fill up on more, it’s prayer!
This recipe is another one that came from the Operation Rice Bowl Program from Catholic Relief Services. I’m proud to say, it’s a Filipino recipe and one I had growing up, or at least a version of it. My mom never used Parmesan cheese, but having lived in Italy for five years, I’m not going to argue with the author’s recipe! It’s a great Lenten meal. It will remind us of simpler foods. It can help us form a simpler culture. And life becomes less complicated when we take the time to pray! For the recipe, [click here].
Seek the Face of Christ
This past weekend’s retreat was called, “Seek the Face of Christ!” It’s a great scriptural line to help us remember what prayer really is: It’s gazing on the face of God and allowing God to look upon us.
For this week’s prayer, simply take a picture of your family to your chapel or parish church. Stop by on a weekday, instead of a busy Sunday Mass time. If the door is locked, call the parish office and ask if someone could let you in for a few minutes. If anyone objects to letting you pray, don’t fuss, just go to another place where you can pray. Some even have small prayer rooms in their homes for this very reason. In that silent and quiet moment – which you definitely have to work to get – look at your family picture and let God see what you see. Then look at the picture again, and let God show you what He sees! You will see how this prayer, not with words, can fill up your family with God’s love. AMEN!
Ask Fr. Leo for fatherly advice.