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www.mn.catholic.org.au Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
THE CATHOLIC THING
Jesuit Fr Richard Leonard brings his
experience and expertise to address the
question of prayer. Fr Leonard will be visiting
the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle shor tly;
see page 21.
I never thought I would write a book on
pr ayer. The Lord knows I am no mystic.
In fact, given there are three ways to
become a saint -- heroic vir tue, mysticism
and mar tyrdom -- the only way I'll make
it is the last. I share the usual desolations,
lack of discipline and focus that make my
pr ayer life a very humble offering to God
Why Bother Praying? emerged from the
responses to my earlier book, Where the
Hell is God? I discover ed that others had
very different ideas about prayer. They ar e
fully entitled to them, indeed they must
follow their own informed consciences ,
but the image of God behind some of their
positions was frightening to me. It all came
down to my saying we should 'stop praying
for rain'. For the record, I am delighted if
others want to pr ay about the weather. I
can't, because if God is a big meteorologist
in the sky, then he seems very bad at it.
matter of days !
People outlined the reasons they
are not troubled when their pr ayer
is not answered, or when things get
demonstr ably wor se. Some were familiar
"We were pr aying about the wrong
things because God knows what we
need rather than what we want."
"God has a much greater plan for all
creation and we cannot hope to see
the bigger pictur e."
"It is only in retrospect that we can see
what God wa s intending by what he
did or failed to do."
"Pr ayer is always answered, just that
we can't see how."
"We may not like it, but sometimes
God just says 'no' to whatever it is we
"God's answer to all pr ayer s is Jesus
Christ -- end of story."
"God does not listen to selfish
Other people wrote to me with sincerely
held views , but I found them less than
"Not enough people must have been
praying for that intention."
"We have not pr ayed long enough or
hard enough for God to hear us."
"We just don't have enough faith."
"God is testing us by not answering
our pr ayer to see how much we love
"God says 'no' to keep us humble so
we just rely on God's gr ace ever y day."
"God does not listen to sinner s; you
have to have a pure hear t for your
pr ayer s to be heard."
"Unless you do penance God will not
answer your prayer because you are
What image of God emerges from these
In Where the Hell is God? I came up with
a shor t definition of intercessor y prayer :
"Prayer asks an unchanging God to
change us to change the world." Some
cor respondents told
me, "This doesn't end
up saying very much
at all." This surprised
me. In any and every
impor tant way, I do
not change easily or
quickly, so asking God
to change me is not an
it is gr ace building on
All this had me thinking
more broadly about pr ayer
and how we might answer the
question, "Why bother praying? "
I came to eight conclusions.
1. One of the reasons some of us give up
on pr ayer is we've not been introduced
to its riches. Pr ayer is making space for
God to love us, for us to experience
that, and then through the community of
faith, to have the cour age to retur n the
compliment. Prayer changes lives.
2. The best of prayer engages our vivid
imaginations and a vast ar r ay of biblical
images to develop ideas reflecting various
per sonal theologies for God to suit ever y
sea son under the sun. One size does not
fit all, and this enables each of us to enter
more deeply into a relationship with God
who accompanies us through our lives.
3. Pr ayer is not just about asking for
something. The Psalms are a workshop
showing us how to explore other
responses : praising and giving thanks;
crying out in lamentation; affirming our
trust and faith; singing of our salvation and
simply waiting upon the Lord.
4. Building on the Scriptures, our Christian
heritage, has given us a super market
of ways and means to God. Ther e are
schools of prayer that have connected
many people to something that has stood
the test of time and helped millions not
just to have deeper prayer lives, but to
5. No matter what kind of prayer we
find helpful, Christian prayer is centred
on Jesus. Through him, we ar e invited
into a loving and saving relationship
with the Father, Son and Spirit that has
consequences for how we live in this world
and the next. In this relationship, nothing
is wasted in our often complex lives . We
are invited to grow from where we are, as
we are, to r ealise our full potential. Pr ayer
helps us face down fear and live in hope.
And when we feel distant from Jesus, guess
who's moved? Our prayer is not about
appeasing an angry God. Ther e is nothing
that can, or will, stop God loving us.
6. Because Christian faith is per sonal
but never private, public prayer matter s
because I am not just saved as
an individual; we are saved
as the People of God. We
need each other to rise
to that invitation as
we come together to
pr ay in an assembly
that stands before
mystery in awe and
wonder, is hospitable
and expresses ancient
faith in a contempor ar y
world. In the sacr aments,
God's greatness meets our
7. Mary, the mother of Jesus , and the
saints show us how it's done and always
lead us to Christ. And most of us need all
the help we can get! We need role models
who have said 'yes' as they made their own
pilgrimage of faith and hung in there when
the going got tough, especially when it
touched their own per sonal, spiritual and
sometimes material pover ty.
8. Prayer comes at a price. It is not a
spiritual bon-bon. We do not pr ay simply
to bring about our salvation in heaven.
We pr ay to stay on mission with Christ
in the world. Our lives may be the only
Bible some people will ever read. Our
living of the vir tues and our commitment
to justice and peace may be the only
sacr aments some people will ever witness
and celebr ate. Though we all fail, pr ayerful
people are tr aced with Christ's life a s a
result of the encounter with him and so
are compassionate, hopeful, joyful, grateful,
forgiving and loving. The world needs
prayer ful people more than ever before.
In Why Bother Praying? I have also included
a few gems of wisdom that have helped
me to keep persevering.
My novice master, Fr Des Dwyer SJ, is a
very wise and compassionate man. Like
me, he is an ex trover t. He under stood
what I meant when I said I was sure most
of the Church's tr aditions and pr ayer
practices seemed to be "the revenge of
introver ts". Sensing that it can be easy
to give up or cut corners when the way
seems unnatural and too hard for little
benefit, he used to say: "each day some
pr ayer, any pr ayer, is better than no prayer.
The per fect is the enemy of the good.
Rather than give up on pr ayer, do what we
can, from where we can, as we can."
Another piece of advice is a direct re-
working of one of Jesuit founder St Ignatius'
r ules : if it helps do it, if it doesn't, don't.
Some things ar e essential for Catholics :
pr aying over the Bible and celebr ating the
sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Apar t
from being the oldest ways for Christians
to pr ay, they bring God's presence to us in
concrete ter ms, her e and now. My concer n
is that some people in their enthusiasm
for a par ticular way, can insist that this is
the only way. It's what Patrick O'Sullivan SJ
calls the "hardening of the oughteries": we
ought to be this, we must do that. There
are many ways in and out of God. If it
helps, do it; if it doesn't, don't.
While there ar e wise guidelines, there
is only one absolute rule: is what I am
doing enabling me to love God, love my
neighbour and love myself ? Love of self has
had a mixed history in the Christian stor y,
but it's essential for pr ayer and mission. Self
love is often confused with self adoration.
Nothing could be fur ther from Jesus . If we
have no sense of our own self wor th, our
own dignity and the per sonal love God
has for each of us, it is impossible for us
to give the same to other s and to claim
from other s the dignity we deser ve. Jesus
shows us by the way he loved his Father, us
and himself, that true love always involves
sacrifice. If we love our self in the right way,
we have the self control to forgo those
things that are most destructive in our
lives, and we have the generosity to do for
others the things that will enrich their lives.
So before we pray, we better sort out who
and what we love.
Throughout Why Bother Praying?, I explore
these things, with a host of examples and
many stories, funny and sad, and I hope,
with a light touch.
Why not continue the conver sation at
"Aurora Magazine" ?
Richard Leonard SJ is a visiting professor
at the Pontifical Gregorian University,
Rome, and directs the Australian Catholic
Office for Film & Broadcasting. To learn
more about his books, please visit w w w.
mosaicresources.com.au. Aurora has
one copy of Why Bother Praying? to give
away. Send an envelope with name and
postal address to "Why Bother Praying? "
-- Aurora, PO Box 756 Newcastle 2300
before the end of February and the
winner will be randomly selected.
BY RICHARD LEONARD SJ
If it helps,
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