Friday, February 5, 2016

Do Priests Pray Anymore?

My recent reflections on complacency in spiritual matters continued today.
I am reading a book titled: “The Contemplative Hunger,” by Fr. Donald Haggerty.  It is a follow on to his great book “Contemplative Provocations.”  Both consist of short paragraphs designed to promote contemplation on spiritual matters and therefore, to increase our prayer life.  This increase is the exact opposite of the complacency I recently have been feeling.
Early on, Fr. Haggerty notes: “Contemplative life (which he defines as quiet prayer) may be the most powerful adversary to the tides of secularization undermining religious belief in the modern culture.”  This is an important matter!  He goes on to note that contemplative prayer is an answer to our deep-seeded need for truth.  In the silence we find Truth, God.  But he also notes what we are fighting today: “In the narrowing of intelligence to a quest for utilizable truth, an egoism almost inevitably begins to dominate a person’s relation to reality.  The mind’s natural hunger to seek what is true is reduced to a pursuit of knowledge that can serve self.”  It is a great battle, this war between constantly looking at distractions in a hand-held device to serve self, versus silence.  “For many people a choice for silence can be completely absent on a typical day.  Yet it is only silence that replenishes our inner spirit.  Silence … allows us to sense that God is present.”
He implies an important point:  God is not easily found in noise; it is difficult to perceive his presence amidst our culture’s constant need for sensual distractions.
As I sat in the quiet of the chapel and contemplated these things, I further read: “Above all, there is a great need for priests and religious to return to the importance of prayer.  Their lives, if deeply prayerful, cannot but have an impact on the faith of others.”       
And then some thoughts came to me of things I noticed about the priests in my life.  Now I want to state that I am deeply blessed to have known priests whom I would nominate for sainthood.  And the priests I know around me today are in many ways what I’d want all priests to be:  dynamic speakers, community builders, and leaders of many to the faith.  But ….
Recently a friend reminded me of the words of a priest we both know.  The priest said: “I heard God speak to me, and He asked me: ‘When did you stop being my friend, and become my employee?’”  He was being reminded of how easy it was for him to let his relationship with God become one of formality, of rules, of things he was supposed to do --- or of things HE wanted to do, versus a relationship defined in friendship.  This formality is the complacency in spiritual growth, the stagnation of prayer life, which I recently wrote about.
I write these words, now, in the adoration chapel.  Over the years my hours here have increased; it almost seems like home.  I have noticed increasing numbers of people visiting the chapel, but there is one thing I also noticed through this week’s meditations:  I rarely see priests here anymore.  There was a time when I noticed one priest who always ended his day in the adoration chapel; he always visited during my late-night hours.  Now I don’t see him.  Have he and other priests become too busy, focused on other “important matters?”  Have he and other priests’ friendship with God turned into an employee relationship?  Do priests pray anymore; do they contemplate in silence?
I don’t seek to judge, but I’ve had these reflections about my complacency, and the “I know” bias that creeps into many of our relationships ---- and I even saw how it crept into the human relationships of Jesus Himself!  It is easy to fall into a rut in our daily lives, even for priests.
Our priests are our shepherds.  Fr. Haggerty notes the great importance of prayer, silent contemplative prayer especially for priests.  We need the leadership and example of our priests, not just in the sacraments and liturgy, but also in the example of their quiet prayer.
For them, and for us, it should be the natural exhibiting of a lifelong friendship with God, an on-going conversation among friends, not a job.

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