Prayer as talking and listening.
– the collated responses of the 2nd meeting to discuss the SYNOD Lenten Reflection,
- Pope Francis said: I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.
Q1 How did you feel when reflecting on Pope Francis’ invitation to have a personal encounter with Jesus every day?
First of all, I felt very warmed that the Pope has a personal concern for us. His invitation makes it feel like we have a father on earth who cares. Then I wondered, ‘What sort of encounter?’, then I thought, ‘Why not me?’.
I find that Mass and prayer books help me, but Pope Francis has made me think more about my prayer life… and I’ve clearly a long way to go! At first my heart sank because it felt like he was setting up expectations that I’m not sure I’ll measure up to, but I was encouraged by him saying
‘at least let Jesus encounter you.’
I have to be honest and say that I feel guilty about not making enough time for prayer, certainly not on a regular basis. I really like the idea of renewing my personal relationship with Jesus, in fact I would say the idea of a personal encounter with Jesus feels quite exciting, and quite a privilege to have the opportunity, and I’m certain it would benefit the way I live my daily life because it would alter the way I see people and events, knowing more certainly that God is present in my daily life.
But when I pray, it’s usually a case of me apologising for not getting it right, for not having ‘been in touch’ for a while, so often, it doesn’t feel like a worthwhile encounter. I feel that I’ve never cracked prayer – other people seem to be so joyful and confident and feel it’s so wonderful when they pray.
Somebody who is more regular in their prayer life did say to me that having these ‘dry’ feelings, these times when nothing seems to be happening, is normal. Even people who pray regularly, people who I think ‘I know what I’m doing’, experience feelings of ‘Why isn’t anything happening for me?’ ‘Why am I failing’, but if you’re used to praying, you take the highs and lows in your stride as part and parcel of a healthy prayer life.
But I think there are two aspects to this encountering Jesus. There is in the time as prayer, but we can also meet him in daily life. Our meetings with our nearest and dearest are encounters with him, and in the other people we meet. It’s a question of remembering and recognising the divine in every single person.
Meeting Christ is possible in simple everyday tasks, in the people we meet and in moments of awe, such as beautiful sunsets and other wonders of nature – God is present in all of these.
- Pope Francis, quoting Pope Paul VI, says, ‘May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ’.
Q.2 Do you feel reluctant to talk about your personal experience of prayer? Do you feel you’re not very good at it?
The short answer is ‘yes’ to both. I’m not very good at prayer, so I’m reluctant to talk about it. I suppose I’m embarrassed to talk about my difficulties, and it feels horrible to say, ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’ when people ask me questions.
My family know I pray, so they might ask me to pray, and there are times when I say to people, ‘I’ll pray for you’, (and I might ask people to pray to St. Anthony if I’ve lost something!). There has been the odd occasion when I’ve talked about prayer when – usually at a time of crisis – prayer has come from a deep place.
I’m learning that there is so much more to prayer than ‘saying’ prayers.
I know some people who are much more comfortable with their prayer life and so feel freer to talk openly about it. These are people who have been on retreats or courses where they have learned how to pray – the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius helped one person because, over the year they were completing them, they had to talk regularly about what happened during their prayer time – about how they were feeling, about what in their prayer inspired them or made them feel reluctant to respond to what God was saying to them. I was encouraged by this person’s advice when they told me ‘One thing I learned about prayer: it doesn’t matter if you’re not good at it – just pray!’
Q3 What opportunities are there already in your community for learning to pray and for growing in prayer? What else could be offered?
There are numerous opportunities to pray in different ways, in the Scripture group, the various prayer groups and Holy Hours, and of course, Mass, but it’s harder to think of where I could learn how to pray.
I’ve been taught prayers, but not how to pray.
Thinking about it, there’s the Irenaeus Community – they run lots of courses and talks – there’s Sandymount and St. Joseph’s in Freshfield, but I don’t always know what’s on there, and it’s not always easy to find the time to go. I was recommended the book, ‘God of Surprises’ by Fr. Gerard Hughes, and there must be other books – perhaps the parish could build up a library of guides, or someone could put together a pamphlet?
I would like there to be a course in learning how to pray / meditate, or prayer workshops, or weeks of guided prayer, as offered by the Jesuits for instance.
4 Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit.
Q4. Can you think of people who reflect the light of God’s goodness to you?
I could name plenty of ‘famous’ people and saints who are real inspirations, but there are also many ‘ordinary’ people – and it’s in people that God’s goodness, and his reality, is reflected. It may be when I see someone who is patient and generous with their spirit, or perhaps in the smiles that come from a deep joy and wonder. It can be in seeing how grandchildren behave with each other, e.g. the older ones looking out for the younger ones. It’s easy to not like someone when you make a judgement about someone, but then someone reminds you that Jesus is present in everyone.