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May 13, 2009

Difficulties With Prayer
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

Our Early Experiences of Prayer

As Catholic Christians, we know that we are called to be people who pray. And as a matter of fact, through our earliest years we have been taught to pray. Most of us remember repeating prayers our parents taught us when we were very young as they sat on the edge of the bed. At first, we didn’t know exactly what we were saying but soon understood that we were talking to God and asking him to bless all those who were dear to us…. including our pets that were basically part of the family anyway.

We learned formal prayers as we got older, especially as we prepared for our first Holy Communion. We sang hymns in Church, which, in fact, were often prayers of faith and love and adoration of the Lord. We learned to pray an act of contrition when we approached the sacrament of confession. We prayed before meals and for our deceased when we gathered for funerals of dear loved ones. And we probably all remember praying fervently, no matter what age we were or are, when faced with a crisis or threat of some sort. In a word, prayer is part and parcel of our lives as believers. And even those who seemingly drift away probably still pray at times, though they may feel sheepish about it.

Lack of Good Feeling Can Lead to Discouragement

But let’s consider what we all run into from time to time in our journey from here to eternity. It’s the feeling that we no longer seem able to pray or that our prayers don’t really mean much or may even seem to lack sincerity. Perhaps it’s because we, for some reason or other, feel “distant” from God. Perhaps we entered a struggle with some old sin that makes us feel unworthy of the Lord, and we think, “Well, I better shape up before I pray. If I prayed the way I feel now, it would seem like an insult to God.” Not at all. It is unfortunate that we so often feel we must move away from God before we sit down and talk with him. Perhaps there is no attraction to prayer when we believe we have to feel something when we pray. I’m not talking about great thrills or ecstasy, but for heaven’s sake, shouldn’t there be just a little good feeling inside when all I feel is blah?

Prayer Is Simply Talking to God

First of all, we have to remind ourselves that prayer is simply talking to God. Prayer is not determined by grammar or vocabulary; it is not measured in terms of length and creativity. It is simply speaking to God no matter what condition we are in! It may be a simple cry, “HELP LORD!! I’M IN TROUBLE!!” It may be simple plea, “Lord, I need you” or “Lord, I’m all messed up.” It may be a simple word of thanks and gratitude for something good that has happened; it may be an awareness of some blessing we have forgotten about. It may be an expression of gratitude: “Oh, God, you are so good to me.” All those simple expressions come from the heart, can be spontaneous and are indeed prayers. Remember, God made us for himself. He knows we need him. We can’t be happy without him. Wealth, fame, pleasure, power can never finally satisfy us.

One of the most precious moments we have for prayer is when we receive the Eucharist at Mass. Imagine, we have the eucharistic Jesus in our hand or on our tongue, the same Jesus we heard about in the gospel that has just been read. What an opportunity that is to pray for our families (“Lord, take care of them”); to ask forgiveness for our failings (“I’m sorry, Lord, for hurting you in what I said to my friend”); to ask, thank or praise Jesus who died for us and rose to promise us eternal life (“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will never die” [Jn 6:51]).

Distractions at Prayer Do Not Detract From Prayer

I want to mention something that is very important in prayer. At Mass, or even in private times when we may sit and talk with the Lord, we can find our minds filled with distractions, wandering all over the place. We can be discouraged because even though we intend to pray we seem weak in our efforts. Remember, prayer is in the heart, not the head. When we find ourselves distracted, we don’t fight them, we simply “drop away” and try again to be conscious of God’s presence to us and in us. And this may happen many times. It does not matter. The times we are distracted does not mean that our prayer time is wasted. Prayer is in the heart and intention and therefore the time we give to the Lord in prayer, whether it is with the rosary or in church before Mass or perhaps at a time of quiet prayer when we are alone. Whatever it is, if it is our desire to pray, then it is prayer in spite of distractions and worries. God is always looking at our heart.
 
Perhaps you’ve felt unable to pray because you fear you can’t do it perfectly or think your efforts are not worth it or even pleasing to the Lord. Let me assure you that your desire is itself pleasing to God. God can read and understand your heart perfectly. He loves you.

Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's April E-spiration, Musing: Do Our Pets Go To Heaven?

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for this beautiful summary of why you believe we may see our beloved pets in heaven. Having recently lost our 11-year-old-dog, Annie, our three children are still prone to spontaneous tearful outbursts (as a matter of fact, my husband and I are too!). Your article will be so helpful as we have the “pets-in-heaven” conversation again. So far, the only response we had for them was, “Why would God give us something we would love so much, only to have her leave us forever? We think Annie will be waiting for us in heaven!” Jill

Dear Friar Jack: As a Protestant minister, I always find time to read the enlightened writing of Friar Jack. Your writing in regard to “pets in heaven” is right on target…. Pets provide unconditional love. If you need proof, just look at the vital job pets do in skilled nursing units. These pets…instantly know which patients need their comfort. On their own they find the residents facing crisis and preparing to return home to our maker…. In fact, cats are known to stay with residents to the very end. From personal experience I have noted this, the cat stays upon the bed until the last breath and jumps, often reaching the hallways, after the passing occurs…. God bless you as we continue to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ. Dave

Dear Friar Jack: I love animals and am in awe of all God’s creatures…. Some animals, such as dogs and cats, teach us unconditional love, loyalty, companionship, caring and love, not to mention other things…. I truly believe we will see all creatures in heaven…. I envision heaven as a place without evil, and with all the beauty we see here on earth magnified tenfold. Lucille

Dear Friar Jack: Oh come on. This is a real stretch. This is a nice thought, but even heaven is questionable. If a scholar looks at all the religions in existence, most religions ponder over the “possibility” of life after death, except maybe Buddhism. Most people believe it is a state of mind and there is no afterlife, but a creation of humans who want to feel good about the future and are naturally afraid of death. Most scholars believe that “heaven” exists in ourselves, our inward meditations and what we should strive for on earth. Larry and Sylvia

Dear Friar Jack: I am a diocesan priest and Secular Order Carmelite (Teresian). For many years as a priest, I had no pets, but a kitten entered my life and a dumped dog. These little creatures of God have helped God in his work of expanding my heart and showing me the way of goodness and compassion. [Scripture passages such as Rev 5:13 and Rom 8:19-21] show God’s creatures as included in his plan of redemption. I look forward to reading your book. Father Bill

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for the article about seeing our pets in heaven. It has always seemed mean-spirited and self-serving to believe that only people will be saved. I’ve often wondered if this attitude about salvation did not lead to the beliefs held by some Christians that we don’t have to worry about creation (just use it up)—and that only people mattered. I remember years ago that a U.S. secretary of the Interior thought we did not have to worry about our environment because “Jesus is coming.” I thought at that time, and still think, that Jesus will not want to find the delicate and beautiful world his father worked so hard to create trashed because we selfishly thought only human beings amount to anything. If we all began to see the world as being here to enrich us spiritually…what a different place this would be—the place I believe God intended it to be. I hope that more of us will start to think of creation as our brothers and sisters; perhaps then we will be able to begin the work of returning this world…to a garden well tended, awaiting our Lord’s return. All God’s work needs to be cared for and respected (seems self-evident), and I think the only way this can happen is if we believe that Christ’s sacrifice extended to all God’s creation. Yvonne

Dear Readers of Friar Jack: I want to thank not only the six of you whose letters were chosen to appear here in my inbox, but all of you who took the time to write me your thoughts on this subject. The question “Do Our Pets Go to Heaven?” triggered an unusually high number of responses. Of the first 38 letters that have come in, 35 of these supported the belief that pets and other nonhuman creatures will somehow be with us in the life yet to come, while only two or three spoke against the idea of animals in heaven. Another sign of the popularity of the belief that animals may be with us in heaven is the significant number of book orders that have come in. As of this date, more than 220 requests for autographed copies of Will I See My Dog in Heaven? have been received here at St. Anthony Messenger Press. As always, I want to take this opportunity to assure all readers of Friar Jack—wherever you are around the world—that I am praying for you and for all of your loved ones. May the risen Christ give you peace, joy and good health! Friar Jack

You can listen to an interview with Friar Jack about his book Will I See My Dog in Heaven? on “Catholic Bookmarks,” a national weekly program featuring Catholic authors and their writings, produced for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to http://www.catholiccommunicationcampaign.org/ and click on Catholic Bookmarks.

Send your feedback to friarjack@americancatholic.org

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and I hope you'll enjoy
all of the news and great features at AmericanCatholic.org as well as my own writing. By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my co-worker, Friar Jack.
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