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March 16, 2018
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March 16, 2018

Don’t say it – pray it

A priest (partly hidden) hears confession from Pope Francis during a Lenten penance service March 9 in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

By Kaelanne Jordan,

Prayer is not just one of the pillars of the Lenten season; it is one of the pillars of Christian life.

Abbot John Pereira OSB, referring to St Benedict’s chapter on Lent, said that because of human nature and the difficulties in maintaining the traditional disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, almsgiving—a period of 40 days was set aside to “intensify” how Christians address these crucial Christian values.

The issue of time in the questions of ‘How can I pray at all times?’ or ‘How can I find time to pray?’ has always been a “conundrum”. He said that over the centuries, there have been different approaches and in explaining the tradition of prayer, he chronicled the history and origin of contemplative prayer.

“Some of the early Christians would say that it is impossible to pray consistently, so let us put aside certain times. So it began with the ‘Our Father’ three times a day and then you punctuated your day with different types of prayer. And that eventually led to what we call today the Divine Office where people would pray their morning prayer, their midday prayer and their night prayer. So you’re kind of sanctifying the day,” Abbot Pereira told Catholic News, March 3.

Another more “radical” method of prayer Abbot Pereira mentioned was used by some of the early monks in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria where they would involve themselves in work that did not require too much mental alertness.

He said that these early monks would perform monotonous tasks, such as weaving baskets, with short verses of holy scriptures interspersing their day.

He believes that any pattern of prayer should be based on the format of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Our Father’: begin with praise, and include thanksgiving, contrition, and petition to be “authentic”.  “It’s always outward looking…Jesus enters us into a realm of prayer where initially we are not thinking about ourselves.”

Abbot Pereira’s advice for Christians who may have challenges praying is to refrain from saying traditional prayers. They should instead concentrate on a small verse of a text which can be repeated from time to time during the day. He added that Christians seeking deeper spiritual growth should also consult the Conferences of John Cassian, specifically chapters nine and ten.

This book offers the modern Christian a glimpse into the lives of second- and third-century Christian monastics. It documents the thoughts of Christians who took literally Jesus’ instructions to take up our own cross, leave our family, and renounce our possessions.

Abbot Pereira also reminded Christians that there is no prayer that God refuses to hear. He clarifies, “It’s not that God is not answering you. It’s [because] your prayer is not sincere; it has to do with your lifestyle… God can discern if your prayer is authentic or if it is merely words.”

Abbot Pereira said prayer is the raising up of the mind and heart to God, adding that a sincere prayer is where the words of the mouth correspond with the desire of the heart.

‘Forgive me, Father…’

The three pillars of Lent are all facilitated by the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Prayer disposes Christians to God’s love; fasting tempers one’s natural desires, especially of legitimate needs; almsgiving allows one to focus on the needs of the other. “All these three effects of the Lenten season are facilitated by the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which helps Christians to reflect on their relations with self, other and God,” Abbot Pereira said.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession as it is more popularly referred to today, is a celebration of God’s mercy. To prepare for the sacrament, it is therefore necessary to understand that the God we believe in is a God who invites all into His love. “There is no area of darkness that the light of God cannot penetrate,” Abbot Pereira said.

To make a good Confession, Christians must recognise the ways in which they have not lived up to their dignity as children of God. “It is a useful practise to end our day by spending some time reflecting on the ways in which we may have offended those with whom we live or interact. We also identify ways in which we could have expressed the love of God in more tangible ways throughout the course of the day.”

Abbot Pereira recommended that before the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it is useful to spend time in quiet prayer and reflection thanking God for His mercy and love. At the end of the sacrament, persons are invited to pray in a spirit of thanksgiving for God’s mercy and make a firm resolve to avoid future occasions of sin.