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Catholic in America: They Asked Me How I Pray

The Michigan Catholic

March 6, 2015

Al Kresta

A friend told me he had been to a blog which featured a section called, “How I Pray.” He added that another friend of mine, Steve Greydanus, a film critic whom I interview regularly, had challenged me to write a similar column. When I said that sounded a bit strange, he said it would be even stranger not to respond, since apparently this blog feature was getting a lot of traction.

The first question was: “What is your prayer routine for an average day?”

Questions about my personal prayer life make me anxious for two reasons. First, Jesus told us to beware of practicing our piety before men in order to be
seen by them. I’ve known more than one lapsed Catholic who won’t return to the Church because they don’t think they can measure up to some imagined standard of piety they think their Catholic friends are already living. Apparently they have forgotten that we are all works in progress and at very different stages of completion. This can be sinister. One young man, especially close to me, died prematurely, in part, because of repeated futile attempts to get his spiritual life together before he returned to the Church.

Second, my prayer life is not very impressive, and I’d rather not trumpet it and have people think less of me for having disclosed my deficit. But, ironically, that probably gives me permission to talk about it. You can’t be tempted to play the spiritual peacock when your feathers are few and lack any radiance.

First of all, Sally and I, as temporarily professed lay Dominicans, pledge to pray the divine office daily. She does. I don’t … at least not consistently. Yes, it really bothers me that I fail to fulfill a pledge. All the saints are clear that a rule, a routine of prayer is essential to spiritual growth. It not only enhances your conversation with God, but it gives you mastery over your impulses and distractions. One can’t be a serious Christian without praying as consistently as one eats and sleeps. Then again, I’m not that consistent an eater or sleeper, either.

I do pray throughout the day, but not on a strict schedule. Morning Prayer often gets me started while I shave, and Compline/Night Prayer is not unknown at day’s end. But throughout the day, I usually settle for prayer that runs like a repetitive bass pattern underneath a 12-bar blues rolling through the back of my mind. It is a fairly constant, inarticulate conversation filled with grunts, sighs, humphs and wows.

While poring over news stories, answering listener email and considering policy changes, this droning prayer routinely surfaces and then recedes again. Years ago, Brother Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God” first introduced me to St. Paul’s words: “Whether we eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.” Even stuffing our face has a divine purpose. In time, Brother Lawrence’s discipline became part of my operating system.

He best describes it: “A little lifting up of the heart suffices; a little remembrance of God, an interior act of adoration, even though made on the march and with sword in hand, are prayers which, short though they may be, are nevertheless very pleasing to God, and far from making a soldier lose his courage on the most dangerous occasions, bolster it. Let him then think of God as much as possible so that he will gradually become accustomed to this little but holy exercise; no one will notice it and nothing is easier than to repeat often during the day these little acts of interior adoration.”

There was another question: “How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle the moments when you don’t?”

I often fall. The only real failure, however, is to not get up. I simply try again. Our Heavenly Father takes pleasure in our efforts. Just like I delight in my children and grandchildren as they flop and drop time and again learning to walk, He finds us amusing.

In 2003, I was hospitalized for 10 weeks. I didn’t want to waste a moment of suffering, but rather offer it up. Pinned to a bed, I had daily Eucharist. Sally visited with a consistent Liturgy of the Hours and an extraordinary Litany of Suffering. Yet “offering it up” wasn’t going very well.

My best friend handed me Dom Hubert von Zeller’s soon to be republished, “The Mystery of Suffering.” Von Zeller showed that what St. Catherine of Siena said about prayer can be applied equally to suffering: “’God does not ask for a perfect work, but for infinite desire.’ So long as the soul wants … to move in a God-ward direction there is nothing to worry about. Imperfections in endurance, like distractions in prayer, are … inescapable in our fallen human state … [T]he substantial element in pain bearing as in praying, is the will to love God.” God’s mercy promises that our prayers will not be valued according to their distractions but by our intentions.

Another 10 questions followed, and I found myself pleased to have to think so concretely and publicly about how I pray. I suspect most of us never take the time to write down the concrete ways in which we pray, both formally and informally. It turned out to be a good exercise for me, whether or not anyone else will read it. But if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading; you might want to try it yourself this Lent.

Al Kresta is president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications in Ann Arbor. His radio program, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” can be heard from 4-6 p.m. daily on 990 AM-WDEO and EWTN.


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