By Father Brendan McGuire
Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, San Jose,
Vicar General for Special Projects,
Diocese of San Jose
“Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit for forty days into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”
The phrase “to be tempted by the devil” is hard to hear. However, in St. Luke’s Gospel the Spirit is always leading Jesus. It is the Spirit who leads him into the desert and the Spirit who leads him out of the desert. The Spirit is always present in Christ’s life. We take this journey of forty days to mirror Jesus’ forty days in the desert and the forty years of the Israelites in the desert. Every year, it is an opportunity for us to go through a metanoia, a conversion of our own hearts; to listen to Christ in a deep and profound way inside our hearts. We emphasize three ways in Lent: fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Prayer is the foundation of all we do in Lent; we commit ourselves to a deeper prayer; a prayer of really listening to Christ in our heart because we are led by the Spirit to go to the desert of our own heart.
Why it is that we find it so hard to pray? So many of us still have not committed to daily prayer. Part of it is that we have false notions of prayer that make it difficult to pray. Our lives are so full of good distractions. We are so busy with so many things that it gives us a false sense of security that everything is good. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser calls it a “narcotic of secular society.” A narcotic can be a good or bad thing; narcotics can help us, sooth us from our struggles or problems but when taken every day, it can also numb us to the reality of life. Our busyness is a strong narcotic.
We also have endless entertainment available. We have a sport of every kind, we have smart phones, we can have literally tens of thousands of songs. On iPad or other device, we can have a library of books. We have music. We have sports. And when we get home, we even have television, hundreds of channels to choose from. Everything to absorb our time and yet, at the very center of it, we yearn for some time alone with God. At the center of it, we know that something is still missing.
My plea is to really carve out that time for prayer; to make that a commitment for these days of Lent. There are many different types of prayer: commit to any form of prayer but just show up each day.
The second thing that is a challenge for us in our prayer life is that we tend to have this false notion that prayer ought to always feel good; that we always ought to come out of prayer feeling “Wow! That was a good time in prayer! I used my time productively! I feel better!” That is just not the reality of prayer. It is not the reality of life. Not everything just always feels great. The challenge is to expect ordinariness in prayer and in the ordinariness something develops; something beautiful develops.
Let me give you an example by metaphor. Imagine that you have an elderly mother for whom you are caring, who is in a care home. You are the dutiful son or the dutiful daughter and every day after work, you drop in and spend an hour with your mother every night. When you get there some nights she has not eaten so you help feed her. There are other nights you go and she has already eaten and you kind of have to help her clean up. She hasn’t maybe done so well in eating. Other evenings you just chat. There is nothing particularly stunning or remarkable about the conversations. She asks you about the weather, how warm it is outside; you tell her about your kids and how everyone is doing in school and stuff; she tells you about all the different people in the care home; you converse about the mundane, day-to-day issues. Nothing in any one of those conversations is particularly remarkable; they are just ordinary conversations.
Yet, if you show up day after day, holding that hour sacred, you will come to get to know your mother more than anyone else in the entire world; and your mother will come to know you more than anyone else in the world. All because you shared the ordinary moments of every day with somebody you love. There is incredible intimacy shared in all those moments but none are remarkable in of themselves.
This is also the way it is with prayer. It is showing up for the ordinariness of everyday life. We share whatever it is that is going on in our day with the Lord. We listen for his reflections on our every ordinary, little thing. I promise that if you do show up day after day, week after week, you will not be the same because you will come to know Christ more and Christ will come to know you; you will experience Christ like never, ever understood in your life before. That is the power of prayer.
May this Lent be a time that is different for us. May we really cut out the time for prayer. Don’t expect anything magical to happen – just show up and listen to what Christ has to share about your day. I promise you, you will never be the same.