-Tristan Lopus, '14
There was a boy with whom I went to school for five years before coming to U of D Jesuit. This particular young man had the reputation of being the holy man of our class. He had an expansive knowledge of the Church and its celebrations, had committed a vast array of prayers and scripture passages to memory, and he always raved about how he never missed a week of mass and was definitely going to be a priest some day. However, he rarely seemed to practice his faith. He was obnoxious and defiant in class, disrespectful to teachers, and the only assignments he turned in were the ones he managed to copy from someone else. This young man had quite a reputation for being religious and, indeed, he prayed frequently and went frequently mass. However, he failed to act on anything he prayed about. His prayers had little meaning.
In some ways it is unfair to pick on this particular guy for praying mindlessly, because the vast majority us do it. We are so used to saying certain prayers that, when we say them, we simply recite words without thinking about their meaning. In the gospel reading today, Jesus tells his disciples not to “babble like the pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words.” He does not want his disciples praying long, memorized prayers just for the sake of praying. He tells them “this is how you are to pray,” and teaches them the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer beautifully outlines so many essential facets of Catholic faith in only 55 words. In its simplicity, it was new and different from the long prayers the pagans recited without any thought or intention behind them. Ironic that, today, the Lord’s Prayer can easily become a long, meaningless prayer just like the ones it was meant to replace.
Today, the Lord’s Prayer has suffered a great deal of overuse. It is recited in daily Church masses, in classrooms, in team huddles before sports competitions, backstage before musicals, and often at family dinner tables before meals. Just as money has less gold value every time it is printed, or art loses monetary value every time a new copy is produced, so too can prayer lose meaning and value every time it is recited. Every time we recite a prayer, it becomes more like a memorized verse and less of a heartfelt statement glorifying God and helping us grow closer to Him. However, unlike money and art losing value with repeated printing, prayer losing value with repletion is not inevitable. We must simply pray with all of our hearts and minds when we pray. Prayer must be a conscious activity, not something we do while picking at our fingernails and thinking about what we have on our schedules tomorrow. If we consciously think about what the words of the Lord’s Prayer mean and make an effort to apply them to our own lives, then the Lord’s Prayer can continue to serve the purpose it was created for: preventing long, drawn-out, meaningless prayer that does nothing for our relationship with God.
It is easy for Lent to befall the same fate as a repeated prayer. The first thing that comes to mind when we think of Lent is often, “what should I give up this year?” or “how much money should I put in my rice bowl?” or sometimes “I wonder what fish fries I’ll go to.” Lent is associated with sacrifices like gum, candy, or Facebook. We sacrifice our delicious chicken or steak dinners and avoid eating meat on Friday. We sacrifice our money and donate to Lenten charities, and we sacrifice our time for reconciliation or Stations of the Cross services. Lent is most definitely a season of sacrifice and anyone who sacrifices some or all of the aforementioned things that are such essential parts of our lives is to be commended.
Nevertheless, Lent is not meant to be forty days of pure sacrifice for the sake of making ourselves suffer. Lent is meant to be a season when we sacrifice things in order to grow closer to God. It better to not simply abstain from eating candy or visiting Facebook, but to use this time to have a heartfelt, prayerful conversation with God. It is better not only to avoid eating meat, but to use the money we save to help those in desperate need. We should not attend Stations of the Cross simply to say we did. We should go because we want to grow closer to God.
This year, instead of wishing we could check our Facebooks, how about we turn the lights off, kneel down, close our eyes, and pray for a resolution to the conflicts in Libya? Instead of saving the money we don’t spend now on steak so we can splurge on a fine dinner after Lent, why not donate to charities helping the devastated people of Japan or New Zealand? Instead of going to Stations of the Cross just to set an example, go to deepen our appreciation for all that Jesus sacrificed for us and to grow in our love for Him. This Lenten season, let us make our prayers and our sacrifices meaningful. That, or simply not bother sacrificing anything at all.