BEFORE THE CROSS | ‘Praying always’ means doing everything in the presence of God

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Quah-kah-ka-num-ad. That's the name the Potawatomi Indians gave to St. Rose Philippine Duchesne: "Woman Who Prays Always."

We celebrate St. Rose Philippine's feast day this week (Nov. 18). We're also reading sequentially through the Gospel of Luke, and the passage that just happens to come up on her feast day tells of Jesus instructing the disciples "about the necessity for them to pray always" (Luke 18:1). Maybe this remarkable coincidence is God's way of trying to get our attention!

The first thing to note is that Luke 18 isn't the only place in the New Testament with this admonition. We also see it in Ephesians 6:18 — "Pray in the Spirit at all times" — and in First Thessalonians 5:17 — "Pray without ceasing." So there's no way around it.

But the admonition also raises a question: Is this even possible? After all, we have work to do — meals to cook, e-mails to answer, projects to complete.

Keep in mind what St. Francis de Sales taught: Our devotion, if it's going to be true to God's call, has to be appropriate to our station and stage of life. He reminds us that it's not "proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian." He reminds lay people that it's not proper "for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious." He reassures us that not everyone is called to the life of a monk or cloistered nun. But he also tells us there are ways of praying at all times that are available to people who have other work to do.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us something both instructive and helpful on the topic: "the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with Him" (2565). Now there's a glimmer of hope! I may have to go about my daily work, but if I do everything in the presence of God and in communion with Him my work can be done within the life of prayer.

The Catechism also cautions us, however, that "we cannot pray 'at all times' if we do not pray at specific times" (2697). Habits are built up from repeated acts. I won't develop the habit of being in the presence of God at all times if I don't repeat the act of being present to God at particular times.

Jesus told us to pray at all times. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne showed that it's possible. St. Francis de Sales cleared away some of the obvious objections. The Catechism gives us guidance on how to get there. The more regularly we set aside particular times for being present to God in prayer, the more we can hope to develop the habit of being in His presence, and in communion with Him, at all times. 

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