Q: Archbishop J, How is prayer going to help us?
This is a great question! I have asked that every Catholic participate in the 40 days of prayer for our nation hosted by Emmanuel Community. This prayer is respect for life in our nation. As you know, this is what I believe to be the fundamental root challenge that is facing us—a culture of disrespect which is all pervasive.
The root of this challenge is spiritual. All the major religions observe the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This golden thread runs through all the major religions, and binds humanity together in an interdependent ecosystem. My good is dependent upon the good of others. My growth is dependent on the growth of others. My flourishing is dependent upon the flourishing of others.
This fundamental spiritual law is the basic foundation for humanity. Without this foundation, we cannot build a sustainable civilisation where people flourish. This is the deep challenge facing Trinidad and Tobago today. We want to flourish without ensuring all others flourish. It cannot happen!
Rugged individualism with its exaggerated push for human freedom has taken us to the brink of the precipice. At this existential edge of human decency, we now have very difficult decisions to make. What type of civilisation do we want to build in Trinidad and Tobago? What type of people do we want to become?
The golden rule as guide
Looking at the golden rule it seems very simple—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It may even seem self-interested. At its heart, it is being other-focused. If you want a good life you need to limit your freedoms. You need to treat others as you want to be treated.
You need to ensure others have what you dream for and aspire towards. You need to ensure all citizens in our nation have access to the dreams and aspirations that you have. You need to live exaggerated responsibility.
It is from this understanding that we begin to understand the root of our interconnectedness. Here in the Catholic tradition we speak about the common good, the good that we must all seek and work for if we are all to flourish.
3canal captured this in ‘Good Morning, Neighbour’. They say: “I have a little remedy, a guaranteed philosophy to make this a better place, healing for the human race”. Their remedy is for us to be neighbourly to each other, to acknowledge each other as human beings, and to engage each other and recognise the humanity and dignity of the other.
In South Africa they say ubuntu. Generally, it means humanity. It is translated, “I am because you are”. This lays the foundation for building a civilisation. The building blocks are not pitch, oil or concrete and steel. It is the quality of relationships among citizens. It is the interdependence that we understand in our striving for excellence and growth. My existence and happiness are dependent upon yours. This is a different foundation from our current foundation in Trinidad and Tobago.
There is a Yoruba proverb that says: “One who is going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.” Placed in the negative it puts forward the point very well. Your actions to others should be tested on yourself first.
In Hinduism the text from the Taittiriya Upanishad, reads: “Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else” (Shikshavalli, Eleventh Anuvaka).
We go after “what we can get”, or rather “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM). We put the ‘I’ and the needs and desires of the self at centre. This putting self at centre is opposed to all religious traditions, and thus opposed to all ways of being in relationship with God.
Trinidad and Tobago is a multiethnic, multireligious community. Our largest traditions are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. We have many other traditions also that make up this incredible place. We also have humanists and atheists in our land who do not believe in God but we all share a common humanity. We all occupy the 5,131 km2. We need to understand that my happiness is dependent upon your happiness. I want to ask every citizen to consider the golden rule.
The fact that the golden rule transcends culture, religions and belief, suggests it is a moral code written into the fabric of who we are—our DNA.
Value of prayer
By definition prayer turns us outwards after leading us inward, away from our self towards the Other: the wholly Other, God! By this turn of mind and consciousness, we create a new foundation for our entire being.
I am not the foundation of my being. I did not bring myself into being, I am not the origin, and I am not the end. There is one who is greater than me who brought everything into being. I am surrendering to this One. I seek communion with this One. I want to know, love and serve this One.
By turning from self, we change the basic proposition of our national consciousness. It is no longer about ‘me’. It is about God! This is the first step in our religious conversion.
There are many people who belong to religion and do not make this first conversion. To pray is to open yourself to the divine who is present to us in all things. To pray again is to be open to otherness and recognise God in the face of the other person.
To pray even more is to recognise God in all creation, then we cannot treat others and the creation as an extension of myself—they need to be reverenced and recognised for what they are, the presence of God. I treat them as I want to be treated.
The first value of prayer is to be immersed into God and the perspective of God. This immersion offers us a new way of seeing and being in this world. This change we call conversion. It is an alignment of our deeper self with the truth written into the DNA in my body. I am part of a big reality, a whole ecosystem that spans space and time. I am because you are!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2559, says: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God”. But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart?
He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.”
Let us beg God then for the humility we need to treat others as we would want to be treated.
Key Message: Prayer brings us into alignment with the moral code written into our DNA
Action Step: Enter into the 40 day prayer challenge. Every day reflect on how you treat others. Are you living the golden rule?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:12