Sunday, July 17, 2016

Suffering and Prayer

Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Colossae (western Turkey today) refers to the redemptive power of suffering.

Suffering, from a Christian point of view, is ultimately a mystery.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Breaking news reports the deaths and injuries in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Before that, Nice, France! Dallas!  Orlando!  Surely the families of these victims must be asking: Why?

Also, there are day-to-day sufferings: related to health, care for loved ones, etc.

There's no satisfactory answer to the age-old problem of suffering.

Yet somehow, we believe that inescapable suffering, accepted in faith, can be redemptive, for ourselves and others.  Because Jesus, through His suffering, death and resurrection, re-established for us a right relationship with God.

Vermeer's Jesus, Martha and Mary
In the Gospel according to Luke, the story of Martha and Mary symbolizes dimensions within each of us: doing and talking; serving, praying.  We have to be a combination: listening to God in prayer, serving others go together.

Often we’re busy, and we forget the one thing necessary: our friendship with God.  Our ultimate purpose is to live in relationship with God and one another forever.

There are so many different ways in which to pray, to bring to consciousness the presence of God in our lives: Familiar prayers like the Our Father or the Rosary, prayers of praise, slowly meditating on a biblical text, actively participating in Sunday liturgies.

Almost anything can be a pathway into the awesome presence of God. But there is one common denominator: prayer lifts our minds and hearts up to God.

Prayer is our longing for God and God's longing for us. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who will be canonized a saint this year, put it simply yet profoundly: I speak to God; He listens.  God speaks to me; I listen.

Begin by spending at least 15 minutes a day in prayer, in the presence of God.  Yes, take time to slow down so that you can tune into God's presence.  And on the weekend gather with your faith community.

So why don't we pray more often?  One obstacle is our addiction to distractions:  TVs, computers, “smartphones,” noise, noise everywhere.  People create so much noise that they can no longer hear the voice of God in their lives.  Finding time to pray simply depends on the importance we attach to connecting with God.

Another obstacle is the question: what's in it for me?  What's in prayer for us is that prayer will make us better human beings—better spouses, parents, professionals, neighbors, better everything.

I love St. Teresa of Avila's oft-shared prayer of advice:

Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you;
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to them who possesses God.
God alone suffices.

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