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By Jeffrey Stevens, Catholic Stand, January 5, AD2018
As someone who is in the process of converting to the Catholic Church, the prayers of the saints have been something I’ve cherished. Although I have yet to receive communion, the Church has been a part of my life since attending private Catholic schools as an adolescent. Throughout the previous five years, the prayers of St. Jude, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Dominic are just a few that have been a part of daily life throughout one season or another. Along with reciting a Catholic prayer upon awakening and before going to bed, I pray the rosary on almost a daily basis.
I don’t bring all of this up to sound like the ultimate prayer warrior. Matter of fact, I mention this to show just how weak my prayer life actually is.
“That’s All You’ve Got?”
I think as Catholics, it’s easy to become so caught up in the words of the saints that we find ourselves lacking in intimacy when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. We spend weeks, months, even years of our lives memorizing the prayers of the Church’s past. When we’re not careful about this, it’s easy to forget telling Jesus what it is that’s really in our heart.
I don’t want to give the wrong idea here. Regardless of whether they’re our words or the thoughts of someone else, every prayer we offer has meaning to God. He’s a good Dad. If it means something to us, it means something to Him. That being said, I think there comes a point when He has to think to Himself, “Really? That’s all you got? All of the uncertainty in your life right now that is creating frustration and all you have for Me is an Our Father and a Hail Mary?”
I’ll be the first to admit it. I say more “Our Fathers” and Hail Marys” throughout the day than I can count, even on the days when I don’t pray the Rosary. But while studying the Gospel of St. Matthew the other night, something caught my attention that I had to think about for a while.
Learning from Scripture
In chapter six of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is instructing his disciples how they should pray. The result is what is now known as the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.” Because of the fact that we are given this prayer by Jesus, it has to be a significant part of our daily lives. In Matthew 6:9, Jesus goes as far as to say, “This is how you are to pray.”.
Fast forward just a little bit. In chapter 14, St. Peter has one of his many “five minutes of fame” moments when Jesus calls him to walk out onto the water (Matthew 14:22-33). If you’re not familiar with the story, the disciples are caught in the midst of strong winds in a boat just a few miles offshore from the place where Jesus is praying.
As if the strong waves and fierce wind gusts were not terrifying enough, the disciples then see a ghost-like figure walking towards them on the water. After they begin crying out in fear, Jesus tells them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” St. Peter, who is well known for speaking when he should have just listened, says in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Praying from the Heart
Now up to this point, I’ve been as accurate as possible with Scripture. This is where I have to let my imagination take over a little. I can’t help but picture Jesus saying, “What, are you serious? Couldn’t you simply ask me for a secret password or something? You’re wanting to walk on water so I can prove to you that I am who I say? Okay, big boy, get out of the boat and let’s go.”
Okay, back to my original point. Peter is called out of the boat to come to Jesus. Everything goes great until he starts to focus on his surroundings instead of God. Although it’s not the same form of praying as we have now, St. Peter calling out to Jesus is the same principle. In his time of need, Peter isn’t praying the “Our Father” the way Jesus instructs them to pray a few chapters back. He cries out, “Lord, save me!”
Earlier, I mentioned that the Catholic Church has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have also experienced the blessing of being a member of a non-denominational church. I refer to this as a blessing because this non-Catholic church saved my life. In the midst of an addiction that almost took my life on several occasions, this church taught me what it meant to discover and deepen a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It brought back the fire and passion inside of me for God that has led me back home to the Catholic faith.
Developing a Relationship
When I speak with other Catholic men in my parish and the audience of the few Catholic websites I write for, discovering this relationship with Jesus is something I am questioned about on a regular basis. Now, I am not saying this is the case for all Catholics. For all I know, I am simply talking to the wrong ones. However, I’ve noticed there are several Catholics who ask me how they can experience this same relationship with God.
One of the first questions I will ask when the topic is brought up is, “Are you praying? Or are you simply reciting prayers?” Yes, the prayers we have as Catholics are beautiful. They are some of the most amazing phrases and statements that have ever been written. However, it’s hard to build intimacy with anyone when you’re only repeating someone else’s words. Eventually, we have to learn to speak for ourselves.
I think one of the main issues people have when they are unable to discover a relationship with God personal to them is they never reach a point where all there is to say is, “Lord, save me!” There is a need for prayers such as the “Hail Mary” and the ones from other saints. That being said, we’ll never reach the personal level with Jesus he wants us to encounter until we learn to speak to him with an open heart. An open heart that is in such desperate need that we have no clue what to say, so we just start muttering the only thing we are able to feel.
Turning Circumstances into Prayer
There are two specific seasons in my life when I have experienced growing the closest to Jesus. During one of them, I had spent three nights in a row on my knees with a bottle in one hand and a pistol in the other. While I can’t remember the exact words, I guarantee you “full of grace” weren’t three of them. I spent months reminding Jesus that if he didn’t take this obsession away it was going to kill me. Those first three nights of prayer began a life that has been amazing. Yes, there are still extremely difficult times. But I have learned when to cry out, begging Jesus to save me in between mysteries during the Rosary.
I’m not gullible enough to assume that I’m the only one who prays the way I do. But, if it’s been a while since you have prayed bold, authentic prayers, I completely understand why you’d say you don’t experience God in your life.
Praying with authenticity isn’t difficult for me simply because of a few situations I have been through in life. The waves surrounding your boat may not look the way the waves surrounding mine do. That being said, I’m sure they have felt just as fierce a time or two. One of the best lessons I have learned praying from the heart instead of saying prayers is the more I am doing this, the easier it is to identify Jesus when the water starts getting choppy.