Throughout history, people have puzzled over fundamental questions: Why was I born? What happens after I die? Does life have meaning? In 2006, Every Day Catholic will address these questions and explore the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith.

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Why Do We Talk to God?
By Phyllis Zagano

The first thing we need to know and believe is that prayer—any type of prayer—is real, and that God knows our needs and always answers our prayers

Most times, when we think of prayer the prayer of petition first comes to mind. It is a commonplace to say that sometimes God’s answer to our prayerful pleas is “no,” but that, come to think of it, the “no” we seem to hear is in fact a “yes.”

God always affirms who we are as humans. That is, when we pray in petition for things we want, God kindly teaches us who we are by supplying what we truly need. In other words, we may want a new car to impress friends and neighbors, but what we need is a security in God’s creation of us as loved in his eyes. Once we accept that gift—a gift born of prayer—then the rest becomes easy

So the first petition we must present to the Lord is a genuine petition to see ourselves as God sees us. And God sees us, always, as perfect for what we are to do and how we are to be, so long as we cooperate in God’s plan and with God’s will.

Often, people want to know what the “best” type of prayer is. I do not believe there is any “best” prayer, provided that every prayer is rooted in an understanding of our dependence on God and his unconditional love for us.

There are four essential movements of the heart that follow our accepting that God exists and God loves us. They are adoration, petition, contrition and thanksgiving. Each is a separate movement of the heart and of the head, and each is “best” for a certain time of life, or even for a certain time of day.


Loving and Being Loved

Adoration is at once the easiest and the hardest type of prayer because it requires that we do nothing but love and be loved. That involves giving up control, which most of us do not like to do.

But think of the wonder in a baby’s eyes as the child looks at you. And think of the wonder in your eyes as you look at the child. This is how you are with God, and God with you, in the prayer of adoration. No words—at least not many—just a sharing of love between two beings for whom there is nothing and no one else in the world at that moment.

Contrition is another familiar type of prayer. With contrition we acknowledge that we have made a mistake, denied God’s perfect creation of us and tried to remedy the pain of that denial.

Sometimes we do this with excessive alcohol or food, or sometimes we misuse our sexual faculties. Sometimes our insecurities cause us to lie or cheat or steal. These are real forces in everyone’s life, and we need to apologize to God for denying who we are and forgetting that our real security is with God, not with creatures or with creature comforts. So we say “sorry” in a deep and genuine way, and move on.

Answered ‘in Love’

Petition, as we said earlier, involves simply asking a favor of God. Sometimes the favor we ask cannot be granted—the loved one will die, the job will end, the illness will return. Here we can feel quite angry with God. That is actually very healthy, for we have the right as God’s beloved to complain and to complain loudly. As we do, we might hear more clearly how God has answered our prayers in love (albeit in the negative), and how God wants us to have lives that mirror his love for the world.

Thanksgiving is the final mode of prayer, and one that deserves much more attention than we give it. Thanksgiving is more than simple manners—like the thank-you notes after birthdays and Christmas. Thanksgiving is a minute-by-minute attitude that brings us to the place of conscious dependence upon the Lord and joyful acceptance of God’s will in our lives. “Thank you” must always be in our hearts and on our lips, from morning until night.

The attitude of gratitude makes sense of adoration, petition, contrition and thanksgiving, and brings us joyfully to the understanding that everything we know and have is given by God in love.

So when we pray, we find God’s gift of joy in life—without our even asking for it.

Phyllis Zagano is the author of On Prayer: A Letter for My Godchild (Liguori Publications), which has been translated into Spanish, Italian and Bahasa Indonesian.

Next: ‘Who Then Can Be Saved?’

Questions for Reflection:

• What are your favorite prayers or ways of praying?

• How has your prayer life affected your faith? How has your faith affected your prayer life?

Jesus and Prayer
By Judith Dunlap

Whenever my children asked if God answers our prayers, I would tell them, “Yes. When we ask God for anything, we will always receive exactly what we need.” And then I would tell them the story of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The story begins right after the Last Supper. Jesus knows that the people in power are very angry with him, and he knows what they do to people who anger them. So he goes to his favorite spot in the garden to pray. Jesus is really, really afraid. In St. Luke’s Gospel, it even says he sweats blood. (You would have to be very scared to sweat blood.) Jesus does not want to suffer. He does not want to die, and he prays with all his heart that God will not let that happen. Three times he prays, letting God know exactly what he wants. Finally, he tells God he trusts him and will accept whatever happens.

God answers Jesus’ prayer, not by removing his suffering or his death but by giving him just what he needs. The Jesus who gets up after praying is not the same as he was before. I’m sure Jesus is still afraid, but after his prayer he stands up strong and confident. God has given him enough courage to face whatever is to come.

Let your children know that God is always with them, just as he was with Jesus. But remind them that having courage does not mean being without fear. Our bravest heroes and heroines are people who did the right thing even though they were scared. Teach your children to pray for what they want and to trust God to give them what they need. Pray with them; and then talk about how their prayers were answered.

For Family Response:

Take some time this week to talk about how God answers your prayers. Pray together for the things you need and then come together to talk about how God answered your prayers.

Media Watch
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
By Frank Frost

We tend to think of “family films” as being suitable for children. But Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is a family film that’s actually better suited for adults—those who can claim enough life experience to really understand the value of friendship and the connections that create and bind a family, whether or not they share the same bloodlines.

Residential hotels like the Claremont are less common now, with the rise of assisted living homes. But elderly people with enough money sometimes still take up long-term residence at places like the Claremont, where they can get housekeeping and meals. Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) first learns of the Claremont Hotel in London through an ad, but the reality does not meet her expectations. When she first moves in, her repeated reactions of “Oh, dear” reveal her disappointment.

As she assesses the dining room, its sparse and subdued population and the unremarkable food, she is, in turn, assessed by current residents. They are all a bit dotty. With a light touch the film walks a careful line between humor and sensitivity, never making fun of the elderly characters but still enjoying their eccentricities.

The story rotates around her offbeat friendship with a young man, Ludo (Rupert Friend), which springs from an accident: When she falls on the street, he helps her out and sees her home. The Claremont residents all believe he is the grandson who has, until now, been failing to visit her, and Mrs. Palfrey does nothing to change their minds. Her momentary deception becomes an ongoing charade, with Ludo’s cooperation, as their unlikely friendship continues and deepens.

Ludo becomes a friend who helps Mrs. Palfrey to escape the trap of living a life confined to the Claremont. Meanwhile, he has his own ongoing struggles with his mother and girlfriends as he fails to get traction in his life as an aspiring writer. As Ludo and Mrs. Palfrey recognize the loneliness each faces, their friendship deepens. Ludo helps Mrs. Palfrey to acknowledge the wonderful life she led with her late husband and to face a satisfying present, while she helps him feel valued and validated, inspiring him to write.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is remarkable for its openness about old age and death, and the loneliness we all face, regardless of age, when we lack meaningful personal connections in our lives. Mrs. Palfrey tries to maintain her connection to her daughter and grandson, while also trying to stay independent and not become a burden to them. Though they are the actual blood relatives, they are cold and uncaring people. When they finally come to visit, they see her only as a reflection of their own needs.

It is in the unlikely characters of young Ludo as well as her friends in residence at the Claremont that Mrs. Palfrey finds family and unselfish friendship.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1562-1641)

Jane Frances de Chantal’s life was filled with many tragedies and struggles, but God blessed her with the gift of fortitude and a deep desire to stay close to him.

Born into a wealthy French family, Jane lost her mother at 18 months. Her father nurtured and guided her, and she grew into a woman of refinement and beauty known for her cheerful temperament. She married at 21, and adored her husband and their three children. Her idyllic family life was shattered when her husband was killed in a hunting accident. She determined she would not remarry. But what was she to do with her life?

She went through years of depression before she met the man who would serve as her spiritual director—Francis de Sales, then bishop of Geneva—and help her discover what to do with the rest of her life.

In 1610, Jane and Francis founded a new religious congregation, the Order of the Visitation of Mary. Its members would dedicate themselves to prayer and works of charity while seeking to imitate Mary’s humility and meekness. Initially, it was agreed the women would live in community but be free to work beyond convent walls. But Church officials objected, and the new congregation became a cloistered community.

Happy in her new life, Jane still faced challenges: Her beloved spiritual director died; her son was killed in war; a plague ravaged France; she endured years of spiritual struggles. Meanwhile, the new congregation grew to 80 communities across several countries (and continues to this day).

Jane Frances de Chantal died at the age of 69 and was buried near St. Francis de Sales. Her feast day is celebrated on August 18.

Pat Stockton

Friends tease Pat Stockton that “tell me all about yourself” is written all over her face. “People just seem to feel like telling me their stories,” the trained spiritual director told Every Day Catholic.

The stories Ms. Stockton most likes to hear are about God’s movement in people’s lives, including the priests and laywomen now seeing her for spiritual direction. Her full-time work is as director of campus ministry for the Archdiocese of Miami.

A native of Peru, Ms. Stockton knew early in life that she wanted to use her talents and energies helping others. While she has found many ways to fulfill that goal—as community organizer for migrant workers, as social worker and as hospital chaplain—she takes special delight in the role of spiritual director. She likens it to “serving as a mirror to the presence of God in someone’s life” and helping a person “ become conscious of how God is longing to be present in his or her life.”

Spiritual direction, she said, involves “sitting in a very privileged place. It’s almost like sitting in God’s chair—being fully loving and attentive—and, often, hearing things never shared with anybody else.”

Though spiritual direction doesn’t necessarily lead to dramatic changes in someone’s life—such as the new direction that Jane Frances de Chantal took with hers after working with Francis de Sales—Ms. Stockton has witnessed quiet transformations that are profound and life-altering.

And, in the process, she has enriched her own sense of solidarity with humankind. “There is more that unites us than separates us. We are all searching to live life at its core level. It’s about being the person God has created us to be.”

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