We each have our own difficulties and struggles in our faith lives that we are usually loathe to share with others. This is doubly hard for people who work in parishes because we cannot burden those who come to us for help with our own struggles, but there are times when it is appropriate and helpful to share at least some of our own journey. Too often people look at us and think that we have it “all sewn up” and we have the ideal relationship with God. Well, let me tell you - Yeah right. I wish I had the perfect relationship with God, but I don’t.
My spiritual director hears all about my struggles and he gives me very good advice that I generally then struggle to follow. It helps, but I have found that there is more to it than good advice and a personal desire to overcome them.
For many years my struggle has been with prayer. Yes, I would talk with God randomly during the day and offer short aspirations, but I struggled to make consistent time to pray. When I did make the time, I struggled through prayer. I wanted to pray and I knew I should pray but I had little attraction to formal prayer outside of the Mass and sadly, often even during the Mass. This struggle is rooted in a far deeper problem with has long been overcome, thanks to the above mentioned amazing spiritual director who suggested the aspirations. I tried various forms of prayer and some worked better than others, but none really engaged me. Of all the types of prayer that I had previously loved, the rosary was the one that held the least attraction,
Through this, I have personally learned that the ability to pray is a gift. As someone who used to devote large portions of time to prayer, suddenly being unable to pray was a devastating blow, but it was also a necessary one. I knew the importance of prayer; I knew that we cannot get by with a superficial prayer life; I knew that I needed to make the time, but none of that helped.
As I wrote earlier this week, my priest mentor passed away one week ago today. He taught me the importance of prayer and he taught me how to pray. How to really pray: not just say the words, but how to put your heart into prayer and reach out to Jesus. As I was getting ready to go to his wake I felt a longing that I hadn’t felt in many, many years. I went to my desk drawer and pulled out my rosary.. I didn’t know why I was doing it, but I knew I couldn’t leave the house without it. When I worked with Fr. C, we used to pray the rosary together every day and I loved it. Oddly enough when I got to the church there was a priest leading the rosary. Of course, I joined in. The next morning I again took my rosary with me. I struggled to pray it before Mass only this time it wasn’t dryness that was keeping me from praying it was grief and tears. It took me an entire hour to pray five decades but I did it. Still, for the first time in years I was not forcing myself to pray.
Yesterday afternoon, I went to the church during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and I again prayed the rosary without any struggle and I prayed it again this morning. I plan to continue this every day and I hope it becomes a permanent part of my prayer life.
In Fr. C’s last weeks he, who always had an inspirational prayer life found himself unable to pray because of pain and illness and he fell back on short aspirations. “My Lord and my God” was the act of faith which he repeated over and over again in his last days and they were the words on his lips as he slipped away.
Looking at all this I have come to the conclusion that this experience was necessary. Fr. C. was able to fall back on those short aspirations because they had been a part of his life for so many years that they came naturally to him. He had taught many of them to me, but I never found much value in them until I found myself unable to pray. Now I see clearly how important they are. We will not always be able to pray as we may wish to for many reasons and when our bodies are breaking down and we are too weak, whether it be physically, spiritually, or mentally, if these short prayers are engrained in our minds they will get us through our darkest times.
I owe much gratitude to Fr. C and to God for this one last gift and lesson. I am sure that as time passes I will come to realize the value of so much more that he taught me and life puts it into a deeper context.