Prayer means different things to different people. Those who have never experienced it and have a secularist agenda will often dismiss it as ‘talking to a sky pixie’ or whatever the popular formula of the moment may be. Others will think of it in terms of talking to God (which sometimes, let’s be frank, amounts to talking at God). Others again will identify prayer with a particular form of liturgy or practice of meditation. I, however, am a simple person and my experience of prayer is very simple, too. Prayer needs no words, no special circumstances, nothing at all except the grace of God and the agreement of the will. That, however, is not what this post is about, although it is necessary to be clear what I mean by prayer. What I want to concentrate on today is another aspect of prayer: its efficacy.
For many people, prayer is a response of last resort. When everything else has failed, try prayer; and if you’re not sure about it, ask someone you think may be. I am sure that some of the requests that come to us via our email prayerline are of this nature. For others again, prayer is all right, inasmuch as it won’t do any harm, but it won’t do any good, either. It won’t actually change anything. Some of the responses to yesterday’s blog post ran along such lines. In fact, one or two made me think I was being virtually patted on the head with a kindly ‘There, there, dear, you run off and pray and we’ll get down to the serious business of dealing with abuse.’ What such an attitude fails to take into account is that prayer allows/invites God into situations that are otherwise closed to him. When we make evil choices, we close ourselves against God; prayer opens us up to him. In the context of abuse and other challenges that the Catholic Church faces, that is very pertinent. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is easy, that simply saying ‘Lord, Lord’ will be enough. The kind of prayer I am talking about is often hard. It requires perseverance, tenacity, sacrifice. It is the kind of prayer that seeks to become one with the prayer of Christ, and there is only one place where that can be done: on the Cross.
It may be that the language of prayer and sacrifice means nothing to those who are unfamiliar with it, but the fact that something is unfamiliar does not mean that it is not valid or efficacious. There are many things in life I do not understand and will never be able to explain, but they do not cease to be just because my brain or imagination cannot cope with them. God is infinite, so is it any wonder that our finite minds cannot grasp his infinitude?