The Right Time to Jumpstart Your Prayer Life
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Prayer is a lot like working out- the more you do it, the better you feel. Besides the emotional, confidence-building aspect of regular prayer, it also contributes to your intimacy with Christ.


On the flip side, the less often you pray, the less confidence you have and, on your side at least, the farther you could be from God. I say “on your side” because God never leaves us. His love is constantly poured out on us, whether we have an active prayer life or not.


Romans 8:37-39 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


St. Paul is clear- God’s love is constant. It’s God’s very nature to love people.


As a father, I can relate at least one some level. When I look at my four children, I want for their good. I want them to succeed. I want them to have good friendships. I want them to know the Lord.


Any honest question for those who want to pray more often but are hesitant to do so is this, “when is the right time to jumpstart my prayer?”


Two thoughts in response to this:


The fact that someone is asking the question implies some desire to know God more fully. This is excellent. To use a simile, it’s similar to inquiring about when someone ought to eat more healthily.

The “right time” doesn’t exist unless you consider every moment of every day to be “right”. Since God is pouring out His love on us each and every moment, now is the right time. Five minutes from now is the right time. Two years from now is the right time.


This is both good news and overwhelming. Since every moment is charged with opportunity for intimacy with God, it’s hard to know when to start.


My advice is not so much about timing but about paying attention to the moments in front of you. Notice your own spontaneous desires to pray. Then, do it.


Here are some examples that may help:


  • You notice a car accident on the side of the road. Emergency vehicles tend to a person behind the wheel. Say a prayer for that person.
  • You drive by a church and are ever-so-briefly reminded that God is worshiped there. Say a prayer to thank God for spaces in which people can pray.
  • You think of your elderly parents when you are in the middle of your day and aren’t sure why. Say a prayer for them, asking God’s provision for their health.


It’s simple: pay attention to the spontaneous moments in your life. As a response, pray. Trust that God puts people in your way and thoughts into your head. His inspiration, His “nudgings” are wonderful opportunities to grow in intimacy with Him.


This spontaneous-pray nowness is not a replacement for a daily quiet time. That is the backbone of a momentum-building life of prayer. Still, the spontaneous moments help us to answer the question- “when is the right time to jump start my prayer life?”


Right now. Pay attention to God’s work in your day.

The Church We Desperately Need
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As the parents of four children, my wife and I have often had to look our kids in the eye and remind them that we are the parents and they are the children. We have the life experience and hopefully the wisdom to make good decisions. I would assume that all parents can relate to this dynamic. Most of the time, our children agree even if their eyes roll.


In the weeks that have passed, a similar dynamic has unfolded in the American Catholic Church except one thing is different. Clerics, embroiled in another sex-abuse scandal and a subsequent set of cover-ups, have assured the faithful that they are indeed sorry for their lack of candid leadership. Most of us read the headlines with sadness but not with surprise. Once you’ve heard a “we deeply regret...” statement, often written by lawyers, you can get dismayed.

 

We’ve heard it before. 


Much of the Church’s messaging is that of a parent, along the lines of, “We’ve got this. We have the wisdom to make good decisions.” Therein lies the problem as the “we” used by many clerics is a limiting pronoun. It actually means we, the leaders of the Church rather than we, the People of God.


This people isn’t uniform. We have different roles, originating in the Early Church and then morphing into Holy Orders as they exist today. The ordained are meant to build up the rest of the Body. The rest of the Body is meant to cleave to Christ, become one with the Lord and then be sent out on mission. The Early Church articulated more formal roles such as teacher and administrator but over time, these got lost. These roles aren’t bad so long as each respects the other.  

 

One response of an American bishop, hailed by many as a firm and comprehensive “plan”, mentioned the role of the laity as a component of the Church’s solution for dealing with sex-abuse. Worth noting is that the laity is mentioned last in a list of three criterion for how the American Church can move forward.


What we have is a faulty ecclesiology in full display for all to see. Maybe faulty isn’t the right word. Incomplete might be better.


I’m convinced that many leaders simply do not value the laity as members of the People of God. They value them but only so much. If you’ve ever heard the old mantra, “pray, pay and obey”, you get the point. As a result, leaders make poor decisions and exercise a “circle the wagons” approach to crisis management. Imagine the decision-making that the Church could enjoy if it fully embraced its dignity as People of God...


Many observers have it right when they say that the absolute crux of the current scandal is a gravitational pull towards clericalism. It sucks the life out of even good priests, enveloping them in a system best described as an “old boys club”.


A good and faithful priest I know put it this way, “Far too many bishops and priests think they are above the laity.” The abuse of children is as much about disrespect as it is about sickness. The sin of pride is alive and well.

 

Clericalism isn’t the only culprit. It’s also a lack of faithfulness. It’s a laxity that, over time, fell out of love with Christ and turn inward towards self-preservation.


Nearly all of the current language used by the Church in its response to the current scandal is reactionary. We are in fixing mode and for now, that is probably the right pose to strike. The building is on fire and we need to put it out. What’s missing is a broader discussion of how best to eradicate clericalism and bring the Church into a fuller understanding of what it means to be the People of God.


What we currently see isn’t merely the fruit of sin and infidelity. The current storm is also produced by an ecclesial system of us vs them. So long as the Church continues to operate as the property of a few, its fruit will be short-lived and the Gospel will be short-changed.


As a layman, I long for a Church that seeks to make decisions together. I don’t want a Church that operates out of consensus or through a vote. What we need, desperately, is a Church that values all of its members to the point of involving them at the level of decision making. No change in Church teaching is needed. No slogan can capture this shift. What is needed is the deep conviction that the Church needs the perspective of the laity and not just when things hit the fan.


I look forward to the day when a Bishop stands on a stage along with a layman and considers him an equal rather than a supporting actor. I envision the next scandal, whenever it comes, being solved by laity and the clergy working together and genuinely learning from one another. 


This is the Church we need. This is the Church that can be Christ’s bride more faithfully present in the world. This is the Church that can bring the Gospel to the lost and hope to those in despair. 

 

This is the Church we so desperately need. 

Faith, CommunicationMike StPierre
Why It’s Important to Pray for Others by Name
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The other day, I did something that I was hesitant to do: I prayed for Archbishop McCarrick, the disgraced former Cardinal and leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.


I didn’t want to do it- I’ve never met the man. It felt awkward. It put a scowl on my face. I made sure that it didn’t last long. He is an enemy of young people and I don’t like him- not even a little.


And then I prayed for others who have victimized young people. If I knew their names, I mentioned them. Again, I didn’t want to do it and certainly didn’t enjoy it.


And yet, somehow, it felt right. I’ve been so angry, of late, by the emerging news about the Catholic Church. We have a problem. We don’t form our leaders all that well. We don’t have enough accountability loops in place. We need a culture of servant leaders and instead have built a system of leader idolization. It’s sad.


Praying for others by name is like that- it will depress you. It will take you to a place that you rarely visit. I learned this years ago. Someone tried to harm me and it cut me to the core. It was only by praying for them, by name, out loud, that I found peace.


In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says that we must do this:


You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”


This sounds nice... until you have to do it. Then, it provides a hesitant submission, as if to say, “Ok God, you’re right...I’ll do it.”


We don’t like having enemies.

 

Most of us would rather just get along. I know that I would. Most of my Christian friends are people pleasers, another posture of getting along. That’s not a bad thing but it does make having enemies all the more difficult.


Enemies prop up time and again, like a rash that you can’t ignore. An enemy is someone who opposes you and seeks to do you harm. This is a dark realization and one that Jesus knew full well. He had plenty of individuals who opposed his every move. I imagine that his enemies frustrated him, knowing that they were slowing down his ministry.


Imagine just for a second if Jesus’ enemies spent more time listening and less time ruining his reputation... how things would have been different.


All leaders understand this.

 

No matter what you do, some will oppose you. They may be awful human beings or stellar individuals with good character. But prepare yourself- you will be opposed at some point.


For a follow up, I suggest you spend 60 seconds thinking of your enemies. You won’t need more than that because they will come to your mind immediately. Plus, it’s likely that your enemies can be counted on one hand.


If you have more than that, you’re likely the President. That’s another conversation altogether.


Once you have those individuals in mind, it’s important to take them to prayer. Mention them, by name, to God. Ask for His mercy and provision for them. Pray for reconciliation with them. Ask for a gentle heart towards them, knowing that they are going through something in their own lives that produces resistance towards you.


Praying for others by name humanizes them. This reminds you that they too are loved by God and in need of mercy. This shortens the distance between you and them. It also reminds you of your own need for mercy and God’s love.


It’s the right thing to do.


This exercise is one of the most powerful in all of the Christian life. We are all sinners and more in need of God’s mercy than we realize at any one moment. Praying for your enemies by name is one outflow of this truth.

Why It’s Important to Pray Out Loud
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A scenario repeats itself in my adult life. A group of Catholics are gathered. They are at table or in a living room. They may be there for a meeting or for some sort of conversation. Someone recognizes the value of starting with a prayer.


And that’s when things fall apart.


Someone asks, “would someone like to start us with a prayer?” Eyes go to the floor. An awkward silence ensues. Finally, someone says, as if to put the group out of its misery, “I’ll do it.”


Then, everyone exhales and the brave soul prays as best they can. The meeting begins.


Have you been in this situation? I’ll bet you have. For Protestants, prayer out loud is not foreign. It’s something you are raised to do. But for Catholics, it’s a different story. Catholics, for the most part, are terrified of it.


When I asked friends on Facebook what they thought of this, their responses were profound:


  • “For me it was about modeling. I will also say that it takes a good deal of practice and thoughtfulness.”
  • “Lack of a strong, personal relationship with Jesus. I never felt comfortable praying from my heart out loud until I came to love Jesus. Now it’s my preferred method of prayer.”
  • “It’s not modeled for us. We’ve only ever witnessed men praying over our family with words from a book. Unless we’ve been given a model through our families or smaller communities, it’s not something we’ve seen.”
  • “Most have never seen it modeled in the home by their parents.”
  • “I just approach it as if I'm talking to a friend, respectfully but not too distant.”


These are very personal and so many other comments came through. People take their prayer seriously and have strong feelings about it. You can hear the theme of modeling over and over again. If you’ve seen someone pray spontaneously, a seed may be planted in you that will “activate” at some point later in your life.


Second, it’s important to remember, as Merton famously wrote, that “the desire to please you (God) does in fact please you”. Even if a person’s prayer life is immature, it still can catch the momentum to take it further into a relationship with God.


Prayer out loud is important for a number of reasons.

 

First, it is an expression of intimacy. I can’t think of a “human friend” that I don’t talk to. Second, praying out loud grows our praying heart. It merges our will with our spirit, molding us into more prayerful people. Third, as we’ve seen in the comments above, praying out loud can teach others about the Lord. This will then help them grow in their faith.


Specifically, what can or should we do when it comes to vocal prayer?  I suggest three things:


  1. In your own prayer life, pray out loud more often. This will feel awkward at first. You’ll wonder if people can hear you. Still, try it out. Give it time.
  2. When you are asked to pray before a meeting or event, offer to lead the prayer. Here’s the catch- don’t prepare anything. Just let it flow. Bring something honest and from your heart. Others will benefit from hearing you talk with God.
  3. Ban “canned prayers” for your meetings or events. If you are in a position of leadership and you ask someone to lead prayer, tell them not to prepare anything. Tell them to pray spontaneously, from their heart, out loud. By doing this, you’ll be practicing what you preach and modeling vocal prayer among the group.


These suggestions are not exhaustive nor are they meant to be. What they do provide are starting points and reminders.


You can do this. God can do this through you.

The Real Benefit of Solitude
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A recent podcast with Erik Fisher and Cal Newport brought to light the topic of solitude. Newport, the Georgetown professor and author of Deep Work cites Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership by Solitude by  Raymond R. Kethledge who describes solitude as “a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds”.


This makes sense. We’ve all been alone in a solitary way- you’re by yourself in a room and no one else is around. Some of us are more comfortable with this than others. Introverts in particular revel in this form of solitude- it’s a space to recharge.


There are other forms of solitude as well. Think about it- each of us can also relate to being alone but in the context of other people. You go for a run and see other people also working out, you find a coffee shop to do some work and see dozens of others walk in and out of the shop. This is a surprising sort of aloneness- alone but with others. Sort of an “alone togetherness”.


There’s alone by myself and alone in the context of others.


Newport’s point: rich solitude (i.e. “good” solitude) is that which is free from the influence of others’ minds. You’re alone, in one way or another, and free to think and pray on your own. You may be in public. You may be surrounded by hundreds of other people. Still, you have a sense of self, a space to think and pray on your own.


There is tremendous power in this. It applies very much to prayer.


The average person is quite busy. They have commitments and errands and places to be. I know that I do. Now consider the busy Christian- still running around but expected to be prayerful at the same time. This is where prayerfulness gets tested. I sat recently with a couple and their three young children. The wife, obviously a good mother, admitted that some days are just so full of this-and-thats that she forgets to pray.

 

I totally get it. Can you relate? 


The million dollar question emerges quickly enough: how do you maintain prayerfulness amidst a busy schedule? Or, in layman’s terms- how do you take your faith with you?


And here is where we apply Kethledge’s concept of solitude. The Christian, embedded in the world, is prayerful because they retain that sense of self while they are going about their day. They find moments of prayer because they have cultivated the muscle of returning to their source: their relationship with God. They know that God has loved them and grounds them in a profound sense of adoption. They bring solitude with them and then, when God-inspiration-faith strikes, they activate their solitude and reconvene with the Lord. 


This relationship with God “pops up” at various times during the day- a spontaneous thought, a recollection of something they read in the Scriptures, a vocal prayer that emerges. These are delightful and can be unexpected. The good news is that you can become a more prayerful person and these God-moments can become the norm rather than the exception. 

 

You really can practice a healthy solitude as a result of never being fully alone. God is always with you and you can revel in this truth. Now that puts new light on solitude.

_____________________

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Should You Kneel When You Pray?
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My dad grew up in rural Maine (read: very remote). He tells the story of how he would pray each night before going to bed. Kneeling at the side of his bed, he would say his prayers. This was what you did when you grew up in a large Catholic family. I doubt there was much thought as to whether or not kneeling was the most conducive posture for prayer.

At church, we often have times when we kneel as we pray.

This might include kneeling prior to Mass, kneeling during certain parts of the Mass and even after Holy Communion. Kneeling is, for Catholics, a routine physical position for praying.

A question that I’ve been thinking about lately is this- when does it make sense to kneel and when is it counterproductive to praying?

I know that some will say that you must pray kneeling, that it’s non-negotiable. The thinking goes that if God Himself appeared in your home today at 2pm, would you just give him a high-five (as if he was an ordinary guest) or would you be compelled to kneel? If that is our “frame” for answering the kneel-sit question, kneeling would be the appropriate response. The Lord deserves some gesture of respect, adoration and worship.

Still, I’m not sure it has to be a zero-sum game when it comes to kneeling during prayer.

A better way of thinking on this might be to look at prayer as having defaults and exceptions.

A default for prayer at Mass might be to kneel while an exception would make sense for someone who is aged or literally cannot kneel.

Ask yourself- is God more concerned with the posture of your kneeling or the condition of your heart? In an age of decreased piety (i.e. less kneeling), we can answer this delicately. I see, even among many religious leaders, a lack of piety. To reiterate- kneeling is the norm and should be done when possible. My point is simply to expand the conversation and recognize that there may be other times when it’s acceptable not to kneel.

Kneeling surely has benefits. It contributes to our piety. It is a gesture of humility. It speaks of surrender. It reveals vulnerability. 

In sum, kneeling is a good thing.

It’s the times when we cannot kneel or that it doesn’t make sense to kneel that we need more reflection. We’ve already mentioned the times when you physically cannot kneel. Age, an injury, etc. What about other times when kneeling might be counterproductive?

I attended a large ministry event a year ago and they had Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament one evening. The music was fantastic. The atmosphere was very reverent. The only “catch” if there was one, was that the event lasted for over two hours. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t kneel for that long on concrete. It made sense to spend some time kneeling and some time sitting quietly. Simply “bearing down” and sucking it up wasn’t going to bring me any closer to Jesus if my knees produced pain. A kneeling/sitting strategy worked best.

Both kneeling and sitting can be prayerful postures.  

The key is to pray for the gift of humble piety. Be aware of your surroundings. Notice those around you. When you come into the Lord’s presence, recognize that the space is holy and that your actions will be different as a result. A good genuflection can go a long way. If it’s appropriate to kneel, go for it. If sitting or standing quietly makes more sense and won’t distract others, that may be the best approach.

In closing, Pope Francis’ words from 2014 give us a healthy context for reflecting on kneeling and piety:

“The gift of piety that the Holy Spirit gives us makes us meek; it makes us peaceful, patient and at peace with God in gentle service to others...Some people think that being pious is closing your eyes, putting on a sweet angel face, isn’t that right?” The Holy Father went on to say that piety is “our belonging to God, our deep bond with him, a relationship that gives meaning to our whole life and keeps us resolute, in communion with him, even during the most difficult and troubled moments”.

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