Tag Archives: Prayer

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 3

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 3

Genesis 26:24

The Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee.

O Lord Jesus Christ, God of Abraham, Who of stones canst raise up unto him children, give us, I entreat Thee, hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone; and make us partakers of his faith, that we may be numbered among his children in the true Israel.


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 2

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 2

Genesis 15:1

I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward.


O Lord Jesus Christ, our exceeding great Reward, make, I pray Thee, earth and her treasures exceedingly small in our eyes: that we may long for Thee most of all, and labour to obtain Thee first of all, and that where Thou art there may also Thy servants be. Amen.


365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 1

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 1

Genesis 3:15

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Seed of the woman, Thou Who hast bruised the serpent’s head, destroy in us, I entreat Thee, the power of that old serpent the devil. Give us courage to resist him, strength to overcome him; deliver the prey from between his teeth, bid his captives go free; for his kingdom, set up Thy kingdom; and for the death he brought in, bring Thou in life everlasting. Amen.

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Introduction


Editors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. Today, we begin with the opening poem in her corpus. 

Opening Poem

Alas my Lord,/How should I wrestle all the livelong night/With Thee my God, my Strength and my Delight?

How can it need/So agonized an effort and a strain/To make Thy Face of Mercy shine again?

How can it need/Such wringing out of breathless prayer to move/Thee to Thy wonted Love, when Thou art Love?

Yet Abraham/So hung about Thine Arm outstretched and bared,/That for ten righteous Sodom had been spared.

Yet Jacob did/So hold Thee by the clenched hand of prayer/That he prevailed, and Thou didst bless him there.

Elias prayed,/And sealed the founts of Heaven; he prayed again/And lo, Thy Blessing fell in showers of rain.

All Nineveh/Fasting and girt in sackcloth raised a cry,/Which moved Thee ere the day of grace went by.

Thy Church prayed on/And on for blessed Peter in his strait,/Till opening of its own accord the gate.

Yea, Thou my God/Hast prayed all night, and in the garden prayed/Even while, like melting wax, Thy strength was made.

Alas for him/Who faints, despite Thy Pattern, King of Saints:/Alas, alas, for me, the one that faints.

Lord, give us strength/To hold Thee fast, until we hear Thy Voice/Which Thine own know, who hearing It rejoice.

Lord, give us strength/To hold Thee fast until we see Thy Face,/Full Fountain of all Rapture and all Grace.

But when our strength/Shall be made weakness, and our bodies clay,/Hold Thou us fast, and give us sleep till day.


We’re Talking About Practice: The Launch of 3D Catholic

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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One summer in graduate school, I took a course in Syriac. Every day, I engaged in the practice of translating this language, whose characters are read from right to left. After a week of translating sentences from right to left, I suddenly found myself reading street signs in the same way that I read Syriac. STOP became POTS. CONSTRUCTION AHEAD became DAEHA NOITCURTSNOC. The practice of reading Syriac changed the way that I engaged in all modes of reading. Practice matters. It changes the way that we abide in the world.

The transformative nature of practice is behind a new initiative being launched through the efforts of the Institute for Church Life, together with undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame. 3D Catholic is a movement started on college campuses that unites Catholics in the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Everyday at noon, those who choose to participate in this movement, will pray the Angelus. 3D Catholics will abstain from meat every Friday. And 3D Catholics will perform one corporal work of mercy each week. The movement also has an app that enables the person to keep track of one’s progress, to pray for one another, and to see who in your immediate area also has the app. Think about it as YikYak for Catholic practice.

The goal of the movement, in the end, is to present a witness to the world that being Catholic matters; that being Catholic changes the way that one looks at the world. And the way to enter Catholicism, in the end, isn’t simply learning a series of doctrines or having some major, emotional religious experience everyday. Being Catholic is about the slow, transformative art of practice. Or as Allen Iverson reminded us not so long ago, “we’re talking about practice.”

For more on the movement, see this piece at Aleteia.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray: A Response to Prayer Shaming

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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In the heartbreaking wake of yet another mass shooting, The Atlantic published an article entitled “Prayer Shaming After a Mass Shooting in San Bernardino.” The author cited a side-by-side comparison of tweets from political leaders and candidates posted by “the liberal publication The Nation” and noted:

There’s a clear claim being made here, and one with an edge: Democrats care about doing something and taking action while Republicans waste time offering meaningless prayers. These two reactions, policy-making and praying, are portrayed as mutually exclusive, coming from totally contrasting worldviews.

This claim is one that would reiterate the false dichotomy that is often set up between action and contemplation, between doing and praying (as though praying itself is not a doing). In the Gospel of Luke, too, we have a narrative that ostensibly holds up action and contemplation—doing and praying—as two different things, but upon closer examination, they are revealed as the two sides of the same coin.

Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her.” (Lk 10:38–42, NRSV)

On the one hand, action without prayer is “worried” and “distracted.” On the other hand, we read in the letter of James a warning against prayer without action:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (Jas 2:14–17, NRSV)

In other words, prayer impels us to action, and our action ought to flow from our prayer, as Fr. James Martin, SJ articulated in his response to this morning’s cover story in The New York Daily News (a prime example of prayer shaming if there ever was one).

Perhaps the real issue at hand is the impoverished understanding of prayer that’s being splashed about in headlines and on social media. To be fair, 140 characters or less isn’t exactly a mode of communication that lends itself well to anything but impoverished expression. Nevertheless, the tweets and status updates being posted around the country and around the world since the devastating attacks in Paris serve as a symptom of an underlying condition—a spiritual anemia in which prayer has been reduced to pious platitude that is never incarnated in a life of action on behalf of the other.

Immediately after the episode at Martha and Mary’s house recounted above, Jesus’ disciples come to him and say, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1, NRSV). Perhaps, like us, they were confused by what Jesus meant when he said that Mary had chosen “the better part.” Perhaps they knew that he identified the life of prayer as that better part, but they weren’t quite sure what that entailed. And so, in response to his disciples’ earnest request to teach them to pray (which, when you’re talking to God, is really a prayer in and of itself), Jesus responds:

“When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Lk 11:2–4, NRSV)

The Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer expands the second petition, resulting in the version that is and has been recited by billions of people throughout the world and across the centuries: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6: 10). And in this petition we come to the heart of the matter, the prayer that no one would dare shame. For the point of prayer is not simply to express solidarity with those who are suffering, although through prayer God does indeed unite us with those for whom we pray; it’s also not simply to ask for things, although it does indeed allow us not only to ask, to seek, and to knock, but also to expect with hope-filled confidence that God will answer (cf. Mt 7:7–8). Rather, there is a deeper posture of prayer than solidarity or petition. Ultimately, the point of prayer is to cultivate a stance of radical openness before God. The point of prayer is to learn how to say “Your will be done.” Your will, God, not mine, no matter what it costs me.

Nowhere do we see this posture of true prayer more vividly than in Jesus’ agony in the garden just before his Passion and Death. The divine Word incarnate, the very Son of God, prays from the depths of his full humanity that his will and his Father’s continue to be one, that he possess the courage to accept and to drink the cup that has been prepared for him. Then, rising from his prayer, Jesus performs the greatest act of love in the history of the world by offering his life on the Cross. The whole Christ is his life of prayer and his life of action; the two are inseparable from one another.

When we pray, we place ourselves before God, and we learn to say “Thy will be done.” In so doing, we acknowledge that our relationship with God is one of creature and Creator, an acknowledgment that requires a spirit of humility first and foremost. Out of this humility is born openness—openness to the voice of the One who made us and openness to the conversion that enables us to silence the voice that insists on our own will. In humility we open ourselves up. In openness we listen for God’s will. And having heard God’s will, we ask God to fill us with the courage necessary to live out that which we have been asked to do. Prayer overflows into the life of action, so that just as we learn to pray “Thy will be done,” we learn to live so that God’s will might be done in and through us. Then, the false dichotomy between action and prayer melts away, and we become creatures whose entire lives are prayers offered to the Creator.

Follow Carolyn on twitter @carolyn_pirtle

‘Primetime’ and Pedagogy

unnamedScott Boyle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Vision

Coordinator, Notre Dame Catechist Academy

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I almost don’t remember the days I would wake up early to watch “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” before kindergarten. I’d usually wake up right at 7:00am and run to the TV with just enough time to catch him picking out his sweater.

Before the days of Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Go, I had one shot to catch the episode. Wake up too late, and I’d miss King Friday XIII presiding over the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

These days, almost any programming is available on demand. Plan your schedule around the most popular shows on prime time? No need. Want to watch all three seasons of House of Cards or Parks and Recreation? No problem. Now, any time is prime time.

Traditionally, prime time refers to the period when the most eyeballs are on the television, usually between 7:30 and 11:00pm. Prime time programming is designed not only to capture, but also to hold the attention and interest of the broadest section of viewership.

Advertisers have realized that more viewership and attention during prime time means greater exposure for their commercials. More attention increases the likelihood that they will have greater success educating (and convincing) us of the necessity of their latest products.Pedagogy experts have studied and applied the success of the “prime time concept” to classroom teaching. In the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, we have extended those insights to the task of catechesis.

In this piece, we explore how catechesis invites us to look at our fundamental identity as disciples, and how we train our catechists to grow in that identity using prayer in catechetical “prime time.” We have realized that prayer is the essential foundation that helps our students grow into disciples – both in the classroom and in the world.

The Concept of Prime Time

Like advertising, classroom prime time refers to the periods when the most students are paying attention and their capacity for retention is highest (normally at the beginning and end of each class session). Ideally, this is the time for teachers to share the day’s most important concepts. Catechesis, while seeking to make use of the “prime time concept,” differs from advertising and normal classroom prime time in that it moves beyond mere concept acquisition. St. John Paul addresses this in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, where he writes that “the primary and essential object of catechesis is…the mystery of Christ” (5).

Since our goal is to direct students toward mystery, catechetical prime time cannot (and does not) focus merely on a rote rehearsal of important concepts.

The Role of Mystery

St. John Paul II does not use mystery here in the normal sense of the word, that is, to refer to something that cannot (and maybe will not) be known.

Rather, he invites us to think of God as a being so “other” that we cannot think of him in terms of concepts that can traditionally be mastered or comprehended like 2 + 2 = 4 or a² +b² = c². Rather, when referring to the mystery of Christ in catechesis, St. John Paul II seems to be directing us to consider God as someone who can be “infinitely known” rather than “not known” at all.

To put it bluntly, seeking to know God does not end in a formula. It ends in discipleship.

The Model of Discipleship for Catechist Formation

In the Incarnation, Christ reveals himself to us as a human person. The truth of the fact that God comes to us as a human person demands different catechetical formation.

Let me illustrate this by means of example. No matter how well we might know another person  (our friends and family, for example), that person will always remain a mystery in some way to us. Try as we might, we will never be able to understand that person completely or know how that person will act in every given situation. Does that mean we turn away from our friends and family? No. People are not concepts to master. We would never say that we have “mastered” our friend John or our sister Stacey.

Proper catechetical formation in light of the mystery of Christ should follow in the same way, and the relationship between Jesus and his disciples can serve as a good example. Even though the disciples did not understand Jesus and his teachings all the time, they continued to walk with him. In walking with him, they gained strength for their own journey of faith.

As catechists, then, a relationship with the mystery of Christ looks like the journey of discipleship. Like those early Christians, we too should continue to place ourselves in Christ’s presence so that we can be open to the ways that we can grow in relationship and knowledge of him for our own journeys of faith.

St. John Paul II puts it this way, again in Catechesi Tradendae:

“The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (5).

In this way, we do not proclaim or merely rehearse a laundry list of Christ’s important qualities as we form our catechists in the Catechist Academy. Rather, we continue to invite them to grow as disciples, constantly inviting them deeper into intimacy with Christ, to probe the depths of his mystery in their lives and the life of the world.

Prayer in Prime Time

In the Catechist Academy, we turn to prayer most frequently as we invite catechists deeper into this life of discipleship. Pope Benedict XVI addresses the implications of this relationship during a General Audience address in 2011: “The main objective of prayer is conversion: the fire of God which transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God and living for Him and for others.”

In the Catechist Academy, then, we follow this lead. Since prayer allows us to so consciously place ourselves in the midst of the presence and mystery of God, it is the focus of our catechetical prime time. We use intentions and Lectio Divina at the beginning and end of each class to help our students become more “capable of seeing God.” By meditating on the scriptures and inviting their deeper meaning into their lives, our catechists become more capable of speaking Christ’s truths not only in their classrooms, but as disciples in their everyday lives.

Without prayer, conversion toward discipleship becomes more difficult. If catechists don’t invite God’s truth into their hearts, they close themselves off from hearing the ways he wishes to use them to become disciples and to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

For all of us too, making time for prayer not only gives us the time to share our joys and concerns with God, but the opportunity to hear his voice speaking back to us. When we can most fully hear his Word, we can then be more capacitated to act upon it (c.f. James 1:22).

In the Catechist Academy, prayer will continue to be the foundation of our pedagogy and our prime time. We have seen that a renewed focus on prayer will serve not only as the foundation for better catechesis, but for discipleship. When our catechists are better able to hear the echoes of God’s Revelation in their hearts, they are better able to respond as disciples, forming their students and themselves to be better citizens of heaven.

Christian Hope and the Holy Souls

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

“Ego sum lux mundi,” read the ancient words of Christ engraved in the weathered, grey stone above the high altar of St. Colman’s church in the quiet country parish of Ballindaggin, County Wexford, Ireland. “I am the light of the world.”

St. Colman's Church, BallindagginI was there to pay my respects for a deceased relative of a nun with whom I had become quite close over the last year. Following traditional Irish funeral observances, it seemed like the inhabitants of the entire village had packed the church for the customary removal service. These traditional Catholic prayers recited at the church in the evenings before funerals are about as ingrained in the Irish consciousness as their love for piping hot tea, spuds, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and commiserating about the weather. We were there to pray fervently for the commendation of this dearly departed soul to heaven, that she would in turn pray unceasingly for us from there with the eternal communion of saints, in the company of Christ and our Blessed Mother.Removal Pic 2

No instructions were given at any point in the ceremony about when to sit, kneel, or stand; the people around me just knew.

The parish priest sprinkled holy water over the casket, and the moment the prayers were finished, everyone leapt from their seats in a rush to shake the hands of the grieving family members, while the many conversations among the mourners elevated the noise level in the church to a dull roar. Our religious duties accomplished, we spilled out of the mid-19th century church–the men headed straight to the village pub, the women congregated outside for the latest gossip, and I strolled pensively around the small cemetery nestled against the church walls, waiting for my companions to emerge so we could make the hour’s journey home.

As we remember the souls of the faithful departed in this month of November, I find myself increasingly struck by the visceral manner in which the Irish honor, mourn, and think about the dead. Carlingford ChurchFamilies and local communities band together immediately following the death of a loved one: they fill normally-empty church pews to the brim in order to somberly commemorate “anniversary Masses,” and to pray en masse for the deceased at removal services, wakes, and funerals. Conversations about death in Ireland are quite open–almost bruisingly candid–and happen over a cup of tea, in the street, or out at the pub. The famed Irish wakes still happen–albeit less often now, due to the rising popularity of funeral homes–and are completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The open casket lies in state in the family’s living room, mourners sit in chairs around the body and take turns swapping humorous or emotional stories about the deceased, and a seemingly endless supply of scalding hot tea and coffee, and freshly-baked cakes and scones in the adjoining rooms provides much-needed spiritual and bodily nourishment, and still more cathartic conversation.irish_wake_paintingThere is a freshness in the Irish perspective towards death and dying, however unsettling it may be to a young American in her mid-twenties, who, before moving to Ireland, had attended only a couple funerals–all with closed caskets, all conducted as swiftly and discreetly as possible, the reality of death too uncomfortable for the American psyche. In Ireland, though, I see the true embodiment of Christian hope lived out each day; even in the throes of sorrow and grief, death here is no frightening spectre, but an almost-friend–a constant, quiet companion on life’s journey.

Here, mourning is a public act, and the healing process truly is communal. Churches see their numbers swell dramatically in the month of November in Ireland, as the annual remembrance of the dead draws people from all walks of life–the old, the young, the rich and poor, Travellers and settled, the faithful, and, surprisingly, those who have drifted away from the Church. They are all connected in their grief, and their desire to remember the ones they have lost. The liturgies of this month in particular somehow seem to tap into the deepest recesses of the heart, compelling all of us to congregate, remember, and pray for our loved ones, that they might, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.vigil at maynoothPope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, tenderly refers to death as a sister: “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no one living can escape.” There is an inexplicable comfort in this Month of the Holy Souls here in Ireland, for alongside the heartache of loss accompanies a lingering sense of peace, and hope.  

St. John’s University and the Playful Gravity of Time

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This week, I’m visiting St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN for a series of workshops on hosting the St. John’s Bible at Notre Dame in an upcoming academic year. Like the rest of the Midwest, St. John’s is awash with autumnal color, sign of the beautiful death that the land is presently undergoing. And of course, like many universities, the passing of time is ubiquitous on campus as midterm week gives way to the second half of the semester, which will give way to Christmas celebrations (and in this case feet of snow).

Yet, the playful gravity of time at St. John’s feels different, because of the liturgical practice of the monks, who are the illuminati among us Catholics at marking time. Morning Prayer and Noon Prayer and Evening Prayer. The bells ring out from the Abbey Church, calling all those present to awareness of time’s passage. Indeed, at other schools, bells ring constantly. But, in this case, the bells that ring are markers of a community’s actual prayer (instead of a reminder that it is in fact 8:00 PM). At St. John’s that 7:00 AM bell is an audible sign that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has sanctified all the hours of the day and week and year.

MarcelBruerSince arriving on campus, I have attended three liturgies in this Abbey Church, all at different times of day. At Sunday evening Vespers, the wall of stained glass glowed forth with the power of the Resurrection, every hue of that massive panel fulfilling the fullness of its colorful vocation. Last night, at the Eucharistic celebration of undergraduate students, the stained glass reflected the darkness of night, the only light emerging from the Eucharistic liturgy playing out within the walls of the Church. This morning, at Lauds, the stained glass windows awakened with the sleepy choir of monks and guests, once again revealing its colorful hues as the Canticle of Zechariah came forth from our lips, the daybreak from on high.

This practice of marking time intrinsic to the Benedictine charism might offer something unique to Catholic higher education in a secular age. University discourse tends to refer to some distant future in which all knowledge will be discovered, in which progress will be made, in which endowments will grow. Yet, here at St. John’s, a radical alternative time interrupts again and again. The time not of capital campaigns, of curricular reviews, but the playful gravity of time embodied in the Christo-centric Liturgy of the Hours.

If I was a student at St. John’s, perhaps, I could not help but discover that this grounding in time, in the present celebration of the mystery of Christ, might actually be the most important part of my education on this campus. That to be a young person is not to wish away time, to hope for the day in which I will have the perfect employment opportunity, the right spouse, the ideal living situation. Instead, it is to let the present be infused with the reality of God’s activity, to perceive my vocation hic et nunc, here and now. My vocation as student. As one seeking a form of life, which will give shape to a life of discipleship. The time for salvation, the time for formation, the time to be fully human in Christ is not a distant hope. It is the time that is unfolding within the rural landscape of this Abbey Church and University.

In the midst of trends in Catholic higher education that strive for increasing graduate research, international immersion for undergraduates, and constant updating of curricula to remain up to date, it is helpful to keep before our eyes the playful gravity of the time that the monks celebrate day-to-day. And perhaps wonder, in the midst of a higher education landscape full the apostolic vigor of Jesuits and Holy Cross and Dominicans, if the marking of time that the Benedictines embody might actually be the key to renewing Catholic higher education in a secular age.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that the renewal of education and the Church comes from the sons and daughters of Monte Cassino.




The Prayer of Another

IMG_0798Andy Miles
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

Growing up as an ultra-early riser, I would sometimes awake just as the sun was coming up to catch the early hours of Sports Center for no reason other than to be able to say I woke up before my younger brother – 10 year olds can be competitive about the strangest of things.

But, I was never really first up.  My mother always beat me.

No matter how early I seemed to rosary 2rise, there was my mother, in the den off to the corner, reading from a tattered book, shuffling rosary beads through her fingers: praying.

It’s a tradition she continues to this day.  She wakes up early and prays.  And for so long I didn’t get it.  I would say my prayers, but only to clock in my time, do my duty, my penance.  I’d rattle off a few Hail Mary’s, shuffle in a few Our Father’s, and cap it off with a rushed Glory Be.  What was there in prayer that was so intriguing for my mother, so urgent and important that she would wake up early and pray?

As I got older and delved into my studies more, reading the works of the great theologians, prayer time became thinking time; I would spend my time reasoning through theological issues, trying to come to conclusions, trying to fix my problems with clean explanations.

Sometimes I would marvel at myself.  Here I was exploring the “big questions,” while I remembered the naïve prayers of my younger sister long ago as she went to bed, praying about petty things that happened to her during the day.  I thought there was no way God could be remotely interested in her minuscule problems at school, her spelling quiz the next day.  The God who created the vast space of the universe had time for that?  Certainly not, I thought.

But how wrong I was.

During my second year in college, things became much less simple.  All those problems I had always chalked up as pettiness, problems of no concern to a great all-powerful God?  They were crushing me.  A break-up.  Friends that seemed to have little concern for my problems.  Trouble focusing in class.  Trouble focusing outside of class.  Gossip.  Feeling alone.  I never spoke of these problems aloud.  I certainly never spoke of them in prayer.

I never really spoke to my mother about these things either.  I was never the kind of person who shared things.  But, after going home for a weekend, it was clear she knew something was not right.

So the next week she sent me a text.  All she said was that she wanted me to know I was in her prayers.  That each morning she gets up and prays not some strange impersonal prayer, but a prayer for me, a prayer for each one of her children.  I told her thanks and tried to move on, tried not to be affected.

alarm clockBut something about that image, about waking up to a piercing alarm, about waking up in the cold of winter long before the sun rose, about walking out into the den to pray, not for some abstraction, not to figure something out, but for me?  That haunted me.

A few nights later I broke down.  I woke up in the middle of the night and could not fall back asleep.  All that petty gossip, all those troubled friendships, they were not petty at all.  I muttered in my head all those distressing trivialities that I once thought God could care less about.

I released it all then.  Part of me appreciated the humor of it all.  The same kid who once chuckled as his younger sister muttered to God her worries about who to sit by at lunch the next day sat there distraught about a break-up and college drama.  Part of me was intent to go back to bed that night angry.  I could lie there and bring this all before God and it wasn’t going to change a thing.  It wasn’t going to be fixed.  But, as I dozed off a seed of a thought hit me that would grow into greater understanding over the coming days:  maybe I was finally learning how to pray.

There was not some grand moment of clarity, no sweeping movement of peace.  But after releasing all my concerns, I had the strangest desire to pray for someone else.  Maybe I was finally discovering why my mother could wake up so early all those years.  For the strangest reason, in that moment, the only thing I could think to do was to pray for someone else.

Over the coming days I started to think about how often I had told others I would pray for them.  I used it as a meaningless phrase to convey that they were in my mind.  But had I ever really prayed for them?  Really prayed?  The kind of prayer where you feel such care and urgency that you would wake up early like my mother has all these years?

And so a few days later, I prayed for her, my moMary mother of Godther.  I prayed that above all she could know, despite how little I ever told her, how important she was to me, how she was the model for my faith.  I prayed that for one day I could bear some of her anxieties and worries, for I understood how long she had been asking to bear mine.

I count these days as one prayer in my mind—the first real prayer I might have ever prayed.

It began in bringing forth all my petty problems to God, for there are no petty problems for him.  It began in bringing those to the Cross and not trying to fix them, not trying to figure something out.  Simply allowing them to be.  Simply being in the presence of my God.

It continued as I felt love for someone other than me.  To pray for the person I always thought I was going to pray for but never really had.  This was prayer: an experience of nearness with God that is far from alone, an experience of deep communion and love.  By giving something of myself, my deepest concerns, I began to desire to be something for someone else.  I desired to pray.

God is nearer to us than we could ever imagine, so deeply attuned to the small things, our relationships with one another, and the little pieces of our life.  Was that text from my mother not an answer to the prayer I was too proud to pray?  Though I had not prayed with that level of concern and vulnerability before, the seeds had been there, a prayer was nearly there, for that text struck such a chord in my heart and touched so many worries that I had longed to express.

The response to my prayer, the answer to my problem, was the prayer of another, a sign that I was and am loved.  All those days I was too proud to come before my God with my problems?  Well, God had placed someone in my life to pray that prayer for me.

My problems were significant to my mother, and they were significant to my God.  Absolutely nothing is unimportant to him.  He never tires of our prayers.