Sunday, October 4


On Prayer

I'm told that red-haired priest Vivaldi, while saying mass in the chapel of his foundling's hospital, would often, forgoetting himself, tear himself away from the altar, and dash off into the sacristy to scribble down something good that had popped into his head. Venice has by and large followed his example in matters of faith, as the one true religion there appears to be playing the Four Seasons in deconsecrated churches to a captive audience of tourists. I suppose it could be worse. Vivaldi meant well, and probably suffered from the antsiness and racing mind that afflicts most creative types when forced to sit still. Compare this with the sometime Abbé Talleyrand almost never said mass, and when he did, managed to get an indult to use champagne for his delicate stomach, poresumably using a doctor's note signed by one Leo Spaceman. (Inside joke.)

I am not good at praying. No, scratch that. I am not good at Prayer with a capital P. Unlike Talleyrand, and like Vivaldi, I at least give it a good college try. My mind wanders, and I sit up in the choirloft trying very hard not to redesign the church or work out this week's correspondence in my head during the Canon. (And yes, I am in a chant schola, which is great fun though more than a little alarming as I cannot read sheet music. The idea is to shove me between two baritones and hope for the best.) This is probably why I enjoyed altar serving so much, because at the very least it gave me something to do, and that, too, is a prayer. Having hung up my cassock pretty much permanently since my move to Milwaukee, it requires something to fill the void. The singing helps a lot.

At the very least, though, with my rosaries and masses shot full of little distracted holes (it once took me 45 minutes to say a rosary on my own since I kept getting off-topic), I am used to thinking of prayer as a sort of sacrifice of time, especially given my perpetual tendency to keep myself busy, for better or worse. And that was enough for me. God wanted to me to do it and I know from long experience He knows what he's doing.

But then I heard something really fascinating the other day from a friend. It was at a young adults' Q-and-A session, and prayer came up, the usual thing about whether we're changing God's mind, and all that good stuff. Given God exists outside time, that whole connundrum doesn't bother me that much. But why exactly we have to ask for something we're going to get anyway, does. One can simply chalk it up to an exercise in humility, or a sort of continual remembrance of God's gifts, or the worship due to the Creator. That was good enough for me, though on some level it never quite satisfied. But then, my friend Peter A--, who was answering the questions that night, made the point that not only did God know you were going to say that prayer from all eternity, it was specifically part of His plan you would, however great or small it was. It was not just a matter of you having to humbly ask for what you would receive anyway but that God was letting you, little tiny insignificant you--play that special role within history. God wanted you to say that prayer. And it's the same with the saints. God is making their intercession part of the plan of history as well. It is a humbling act, but prayer is thus also God letting us help out in some mysterious way. Admitted, it's a bit like when a little kid sitting in the baby seat of a bicycle "pushes" his father uphill, but it's still a pretty powerful idea, that God would want to let us use our free will to bring about such changes, even if He may be doing the heavy lifting. It is--though I hate using that word--strangely empowering.

When I think and read about such things, it reminds me how ridiculously easy we have it with the Man Upstairs. He gives us everything we need to get us right with him, if we're just open to grace. For instance, God gives us, in the mass, the only acceptable sacrifice we can offer up to Him. Because God takes free will seriously--it's the only way love can be freely given, and God is Love Himself, so that in turn is pretty darn important--but he also knows because of free will we need an awful lot of help. Thank goodness Pelagius was wrong, or we'd all be doomed.

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