The Catholic Church has a great and beautiful tradition of prayerfulness! The family of saints in the Church who have written and taught both the art and the science of prayer is a treasure for all Catholics. The very real – substantially real – Presence of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, reserved in the Tabernacles of so many of our churches, ought to proclaim to all Catholics that the sanctuary of a church is a holy place. One would think that Catholics would greatly value the sanctuary of a Catholic church as that: a holy place, a sacred space, where God dwells and waits for us, a place of profound reverence.
It used to be this way. As a child I well remember the sense of reverence that I had – that I was taught – whenever I entered a Catholic church. We entered quietly, we entered into prayer, we knew we were in God’s House, all was different here. A whispered “Hello” might be appropriate to a friend or a relative – more likely was simply a nod or a smile in silence. Even passing a Catholic church outside, in a car or walking, evoked the sense that there inside was the sacred, the holy, the divine.
It is so very different now. The power of secularism in this country, in western culture, has done immense damage to that precious religious sense that was so common some decades ago. A far-reaching “dumbing down” has weakened us, infected us, made less of us. Not only has the religious sense suffered within us, but our very human dignity has become degraded. We in the West are not only less religious, we are less human as a culture and a people. We respect and reverence not only God less, but one another and even ourselves less. People laugh at, ridicule and mock others as common fare in popular entertainment. Cruelty grows, where respect diminishes. All this degradation is the simple consequence of secularism’s fundamental faith, that there is no God or if “it” is, “it” is irrelevant. And when He is irrelevant, all is irrelevant. Upon such godlessness, man can find nothing relevant to satisfy his incessant hunger, to fill the void left in his heart when God has been excluded from it.
All the coldness and insensitivity of the secular culture has had its effect on the members of the Catholic Church. Because we in the Church have not been formed in the Faith adequately, many of us lack the solid foundation of faith adequate to resist the advances of the enemy. We in the Church have failed to evangelize the Faith in the culture, and now the culture is evangelizing us to their ways. We have failed to broadcast light, and now darkness grows – and it is invading the Church through her members.
So I finally get to my point: we Catholics need to learn how to pray, so as to develop and live in the habit of prayerfulness. I am ashamed to say – even among those old enough to remember the prayerfulness that used to characterize us at least while in the House of God – so many Catholics have forgotten. Many younger Catholics have never learned this! But many of those who did learn as children the attitude and behavior proper to preparation before Mass, have forgotten. Catholics awaiting Mass to begin can chat away as carelessly as anyone, apparently as neglectful as an unbeliever of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle a mere few feet away, apparently as unconcerned as an unbeliever that the Sacrifice of the Mass is about to begin. And again, I am ashamed to say, apparently as ignorant as an unbeliever that when that Sacrifice occurs in the Holy Mass, we in the congregation are to offer our own personal lives in self-offering with our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to unite our lives with His, on the Cross. Ponder that, in preparation for the Holy Mass, that our presence be one with His, and that our offering may be one with His.
With His perfect Self-offering, we are to offer our works, our sufferings, our praises, our lives in union with Him! That personal self-offering deserves – He deserves from us – our full, conscious and active participation, our presence with Him in holy worship. In other words, the Mass deserves our preparation, and our preparation requires time in sincere and authentic prayer. Jesus deserves our prayerful preparation for what we are about to do with Him. God the Father deserves our rightful disposition for what we are about to receive: God Himself, in Holy Communion. Before Mass begins, we need to be in prayer – not chatting away about temporal and worldly concerns.
How can we become more prayerful? That, my friends, is a question worth considering, and worth answering to ourselves. It is not so complicated: we can become more prayerful, by praying more. We need more time of silence, not less. We need more time in solitude, not less. We need more time with His revealed Truth in Scripture, not less. And the more time we squander with unimportant things, the less time we have for the necessary one. “It is not rocket science,” as the saying goes.