Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Prayer in uncertain times should focus on relationship with God

Published: April 18, 2020

By Judy Hoelzeman
St. Edward Church, Little Rock

It is hard to conceive how many prayers God has listened to in this time of the COVID-19 crisis. Surely God’s prayer load has increased beyond our imagination. Be reassured that God has the capacity to hear all prayers, even as they come simultaneously, furiously and desperately from all over the world.

At times, it is good to stop and reflect on prayer itself, on what it is and isn’t, on our prayer habits and our expectations of prayer. This seems like a good time to do that. The Church has long defined prayer as “raising the heart and mind to God,” and this is a good definition. Another is found in the book “Opening to God,” by Father Thomas H. Greene, SJ. He defines prayer as “an opening of the mind and heart to God.”

That one word change gives us a more realistic understanding of prayer. The word “raising” implies that prayer is largely our effort, as if our prayer is heavy, something we must push upward to where God is — distant and separate. But “opening” suggests that we need only to become willing, that our own effort is not the most important thing, but that God is the dominant partner in prayer. We pray calmly, open ourselves to receive God’s love and then respond to it.

If we call on a friend only when we need help from that person, it is unlikely the relationship will go very far. It’s the same way with God. The more time we commit to prayer, the stronger the relationship will be.

This might be frightening because we make ourselves vulnerable when we pray with open hands and wait for God. After all, we don’t know how God will respond.

As adults, we also need to try to form a more mature prayer life, with the goal of a closer union with God. Prayer should not be only asking for things, then thanking God for doing what we asked. To quote Father Jerome Kodell, OSB, of Subiaco Abbey, “God taught us to pray ‘Thy will be done,’ but we may more often pray ‘My will be thine.’”

Sometimes our prayer is like a list of needs and wants. This kind of prayer is somewhat like a child putting money into a vending machine, then pushing a button for the candy or trinket of his choice. But we are adults, and God is not a vending machine. Roberta Bondi says this, “If we let prayer be only a means to something we want, it will not be what it can be, and we will not be what we can be.”

Church tradition includes four types of prayer: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and petition. All prayer is good, because any time spent with God is good. As adult Christians, we are committed to centering our lives on Jesus Christ. To do that, we must form and feed a faithful relationship with him.

If we call on a friend only when we need help from that person, it is unlikely the relationship will go very far. It’s the same way with God. The more time we commit to prayer, the stronger the relationship will be.

The Church speaks of prayer as “a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ,” and a life of prayer as the habit of being in the presence of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2564, 65). In baptism, we were united in Christ, and so given the strength to nurture a relationship with him.

Another key piece of advice in these times and always, is this: “Pray as you can and do not pray as you can’t.” Pray in full trust that God will hear you.