Reflections by Jennifer Geach
Do we pray enough?
11th December 2018
I was astonished at my last confession to be told that when our bishops were in Rome lately for the Ad Limina visit that the Pope had asked them how much time they spend in prayer. I had naively assumed that bishops (and priests for that matter) would devote themselves at least to the minimum which the saints tell us is necessary for progress, and had supposed that there was no need to ask a priest, still less a bishop, how long he spent in prayer, for there was at least a minimum – mass and the Divine office – which priests and bishops were bound to say. Either his Holiness thought this bare minimum was insufficient for growth in the love and knowledge of God which should be the aim of every Christian, or he suspected that some of his brother bishops were falling short of this minimum. And if our priests and bishops are not men of prayer, what is to become of us?
We may all fall short of the minimum: but there must be some prayer woven into the fabric of our day, if we can expect to resist the snares of this world, of the flesh, of the devil, who is like a raging lion seeking to devour us. In a sense, there is something outrageous about talking of a minimum which we must do, when what we are seeking is relationship with God himself. Surely we will be inspired by love to keep God always in mind, and like the Psalmist have his praise always on our lips? Well, that may be so for some people or for any of us at some times: but most of us are sad sinners, and easily distracted from loving God best of all. And our feelings are never a good guide to conduct: if we were to pray only when we felt like it, then we should often be regarding our feelings, not seeking to please God. We need to have a minimum of prayer structured into our lives, so that even when we would rather not face our Maker, we do. (Even at these times, however, we must avoid regarding our prayer as a more or less unpleasant duty which we have to get through!)
Especially at mass, but also on other occasions, both public and private, we do not pray alone. Not only are the angels present at mass, but our own guardian attends us daily and hourly. Jesus himself has promised that whenever we gather in his name there he is with us. The Spirit too will give us a voice when we have none. With all these helps, there is no excuse for not seeking God, for not turning our minds and hearts to him even in the midst of the heaviest preoccupations. And failure to turn our hearts and minds to him, failure to pray would be the most significant failure of our lives. For we are here to learn how to love God best: and if we never or hardly ever spoke to him, this task would be impossible.