Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 16, 2009
Losing Lenten enthusiasm? Give your time to prayer
Seventeen days is roughly the limit that one can sustain a new habit through one's own willpower. Good intentions will get you that far, but no further. But Lent is 40 days. More to the point, the new life on which we were launched on Ash Wednesday, continues not only to Easter, but throughout life and, ultimately, to eternity.
Here we are at 17 days into Lent and for many of us, perhaps most, the will is flagging. The cares of the world draw us away from our Lenten renewal of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. What are we to do?
The answer is to pray more. We are not only to turn to God, but to be possessed by him, to be filled up with the love of the Holy Spirit.
This means not only an increasing quantity of prayer, but prayer that is more attentive, more devout, more confident, more persevering.
It is easy to become distracted in prayer, to lose one's attentiveness. One task in prayer is to know that distractions will come, to not be frustrated by them and to gently let them go. Then, like St. Paul, we can say, "I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also" (1 Corinthians 14.15).
Prayer is more than an exercise of the mind; it is also an act of devotion. Devotion is a relationship of deep friendship. God calls us to love him with our whole heart, our whole mind and our whole being. Devotion is not to be confused with emotion. Rather, it should be seen as the giving over of one's whole self to God.
Prayer will be confident if we have but the faith of a mustard seed. With such little faith, all good things will be given. "Ask in faith, never doubting," wrote St. James, "for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed about in the wind" (1.6).
Perhaps the most difficult quality to exercise in prayer is perseverance. Members of religious orders have their community to hold them to at least daily ritual prayer. For many lay people, there is only our own discipline.
But God's call is clear: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18). "Will not God grant justice," Jesus asked rhetorically, "to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?" (Luke 18.7).
Lent is a time to deepen the holiness to which we are all called. Holiness should issue forth in action – action in charity, action for justice. But holy action is, by definition, rooted in a deep relationship with God. The transformation of our lives and the transformation of our world grow out of deep prayer.
We cannot lift ourselves up by our bootstraps. We can only be lifted up through our relationship with God. Pray. The more we pray, the more we will desire to pray. It is then that our Lent will have eternal value.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.