If we start with prayer and then the search for the Truth, everything else will follow; if we start with working with the poor, no one will follow – others do it better. That is a paraphrase of a conversation I had recently with a priest in charge of a major evangelisation campaign. His own record shows him to be a formidable chamption of the poor and the marginalised, so he certainly was not proceeding from the position that working for them did not matter; but he was pointing to the reason to explain why we as Catholics want to work with the poor. The sub-text to what he was saying is that too often we have begun in the wrong place – with action – rather than the right place – prayer.
This was all in the context of a conversation about an initiative involving our diocese and what can be done by way of the ‘Year of Mercy’. The priest emphasised the importance of prayer. If we do not pray, then we do not see our relationship with God develop. Do we pray, he asked, when we read Scripture? Do we pray before reading? Do we read prayerfully? Do we reflect afterwards in prayer? If not, why not? What else are we doing that is more important? That set of questions – in reality statements – made those of us there sit up and think. How often do we begin such meetings with a perfunctory prayer – as though we are almost mildly embarrassed – we’re English, after all.
We cannot rely upon our strength alone – for our strength is reall weakness; the works of human hand unaidedd are, at best buildings on foundations of sand. So we need to rest our faith in God’s help and to begin with prayer. If we begin depending on God, we shall proceed well; the opposite is also true.
In terms of searching for the truth, if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Church, rather than seeking to impose our own wishes on to its teaching, then we shall be led by the Spirit. This is hard for us because of our pride. Too often we find ourselves with a definition of what the Church believes which is narrower – or wider – than is actually the case. This is not helped by the poor catechesis which has been endemic in the Church for so long that you have to be either over 50 or a convert, not to have been hit by it. We need to do more about this if we are to give the faithful the tools they need to use the roadmap we have.
From this prayerful search the impulse to do God’s work will follow. It may not be what we had in mind, but that is why we must be quiet in prayer and listen. There is altogether too much noise, too many distractions, too much busyness. In quiet contemplation, God can get to us where we are; but we have to help by making the room and by being willing to listen rather than talk.
All of this struck me as the sort of thing I needed to hear – so I thought I’d share it all with you.