Have you ever had that friend that you love spending time with but hardly ever get to? It’s not that you don’t make time for them or because you haven’t set plans with them. No, the problem is that when you do make plans, they always end up “flaking out.” Somehow, someway, no matter how elaborate the plan or how far in advance you’ve scheduled it, they always have some ‘last minute’ issue that they can’t possibly miss. They make absurd excuses like, “My Mom grounded me” or “I’m sick” or “ I need to go shopping for my long lost cousins first nephew’s bar mitzvah”. There is always something! Yet, despite this perpetual flakiness, you still desire to be with them and savor every moment of your time together. We all have that friend, and more than likely we have all been that friend at one point or another. I am here to tell you that for the past four months, I have been that friend. Worst of all the relationship I’ve been most flaky with has been with Jesus.
I began a course of study that in addition to reading and writing assignments, placed a high priority on spiritual growth. I was really excited that prayer was not merely encouraged, but actually required and would be a part of the grade! I was excited, because at the time I thought I had a rather impressive prayer life. This bit of pride would quickly be my downfall. I made great plans and promises to myself and to God. I was going to do Morning and Evening prayer every day from “The Liturgy of the Hours” (the prayer of the Church, for the Church, by the Church), pray a rosary on my way to work, go to daily Mass during my lunch break, and say a Divine mercy chaplet on my drive home for work. I’d be a saint by dinner, I just knew! I can now report that in the nearly 120 days that this plan has been promised, I have followed through with it for exactly zero days. Sure there have been a good number of days that I’ve done one or some of those things, but overall I sit here pretty much feeling like a failure. It’s as if I have walked through the desert of Lent but rather than feasting on the Word of God, I filled myself up on stones turned to bread. I am weighed down and exhausted. I made plans to deepen my relationship with my Creator and Savior and time and time again I had ready made excuses to flake out. “I had a paper to write” and “I had an event to speak at” or “I had friends to hang out with” and “I had to make relationship time with my girlfriend”, or my personal favorite “I’m too tired to pray!”
This sense of failure is intensified because of what has been covered in the very course I was excited about. In a document from the second Vatican Council called Lumen Gentium, the Church reminds us of our universal call to holiness. Holiness, this association with the Divine, encompasses more than I can include in this post, but in short, the prophet Micah sums it up by saying “He has shown thee, O man, what is Good and what the Lord requires of thee, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). All of that, especially prayer, just sounds (and is) exhausting. The reason for this exhaustion is that I have viewed prayer from the wrong perspective. I made prayer just another thing on my list, not the ink with which I write my list. Rather than it being something “to get done,” prayer should flow through everything that I do. Imagine you had a cup of water and you had to use it to fill up a gigantic bowl. As you pour your cup of water into it, the cup becomes empty, so you must return to the faucet to fill it back up. At this point you may jump ahead of me and think “I get it Tommy, the faucet is my prayer life so I have to keep going back and filling it up.Thanks.” But no. What I’m saying is we need to stop emptying the cup in the first place. We must place the cup in the bowl, bring the bowl under the faucet, and allow the water to continually fill the cup as it overflows into the bowl. You are the cup, the bowl is the world, and the water is the love, grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can only answer the call to holiness by having a strong, vibrant prayer life.
What does this have to do with Pentecost? EVERYTHING! The Holy Spirit knows what we will pray for and about even before we do it. It is the Spirit that speaks to the Father with inexpressible groanings. It is the Spirit that nudges and urges us to set this world on fire with the love of Christ. I want to challenge you to place yourself in the sandals of the first disciples and ask your Priests, Pastors, youth ministers and parents to teach you how to pray. I want you to use the cornucopia of prayer experiences from silent meditation, the rosary, lectio divina, and Ignatian Imaginative prayer.
Furthermore, I want to challenge you to make your prayer life about something bigger than you. In the Liturgy of the Hours you join your prayers with that of the universal Church, through song, reflection and Sacred Scripture. Every ordained minister, countless religious orders and devoted lay people are praying the same prayers, at the same times, all over the earth. Someone somewhere desperately needs you to pray for them, and Jesus wants to be with you and spend time with you and love you intimately. Will you be that friend?