In my blog post on God as Infinite Love posted last Thursday, I reflected on praying as an active participation with God as the infinitely loving Father. What it did not address, however, were the practical realities concerning one’s life of prayer. To put it another way, it didn’t mention that such a task was hard to live out! With all the distractions and chaos of everyday life, it is too easy to fall into the trap of forgetting one’s dependence on God for all things. This trap, due to the human condition of sin, is in a way inevitable. So how does one persevere in praying when such distractions and forgetfulness occur?
The easy answer would be “don’t get distracted and don’t forget you depend on God for all things!” But let’s be honest with ourselves. Is that really practical? In a world of social media, can we, as humans, keep our focus on God at all times? I think most people, if sincerely evaluating their own lives, would say no. What do we do, then, to refocus on God and return to encountering His ceaseless love?
I think there is a two-fold answer to this question that has been answered by Pope Francis and Blessed John Paul II. The only way we are even capable of persevering, that is, getting ourselves back on route, is to realize and always remember God as Infinite Mercy. In addition, we must also humbly accept his never-ending forgiveness, for doing such is an act of recognizing that we need Him (and not the other way around!).
Blessed John Paul II dedicates an entire encyclical for reflecting on God’s Mercy. In Dives in Misericordia, he uses the parable of the prodigal son as an analogy (which was the Gospel reading two Sundays ago, if you recall). The son, who received a portion of his father’s inheritance, decided to spend it on a “loose lifestyle.” However, he soon realized what he had done, and how it had left him hungry. He reached such a point of guilt and hunger that he made the decision to go back to his father and say ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of you hired servants.”
But when the son heads back to his father’s house, before he can even finish his prepared statement, the father orders his servants to put the best robe on him and prepare a feast of celebration. This scripture passage shows that God’s mercy is an act of faithful love. God is faithful to his fatherhood and faithful to the Infinite Love He offers us in prayer. This is His Mercy, and it is a reminder to us all that God’s Love will never fail us.
Think how generous this is! Looking back at the parable, the generosity of the father (when the son returns home) is so great, it angers the oldest son. The father responds, saying, “but now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again.” The father’s fidelity to his lost son is totally and completely concentrated on the dignity of the son. This is the same way with God, our Father. The parable reveals that God’s Mercy is, in itself, an act of renewing His gift to us, our humanity.
What does this have to do with our sought-out questions? This understanding of God’s Mercy, that is, as the prodigal son’s father, explains to us why we need God’s Love and Mercy. God’s Love and Mercy give us our human dignity. When we lose sight of God in our life, we lose sight of our human dignity. We lose it to such an extent that, deep down, we realize we are missing something. We realize we need God’s Mercy and Love to renew our human worth.
It makes perseverance in a life of prayer that much easier, because we don’t have to worry about God abandoning us! However, it also makes it that much harder, because acknowledging our need of God requires a deep sense of humility. In his first Angelus, Pope Francis reminds the crowd that God never gets tired of forgiving, but we get tired of asking for His forgiveness. We must strive to come to God with an open and humble heart, as God will be eagerly waiting to offer His Forgiveness.
Pope Francis does not just remind us to never tire of asking for God’s forgiveness, but he is a living testimony to that message. Just look at his interview with America Magazine. Before he talks about the Church needing to be a hospital of mercy, he first answers the question concerning who Pope Francis is. His answer: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” Before encouraging others to be merciful, he recognizes that he himself is in need of God’s mercy. He humbly accepts God’s Mercy
Like the prodigal son, we wander off in our lives until a certain point hits us where we realize we are missing something. What do we need to do to ensure that we are able to get back to prayer, that encounter with God’s love? We first need to obtain the virtue of humility, like Pope Francis, to realize that we are lost and in need of God to renew us. To persevere in praying, all we need to do is say the words Pope Francis said in the interview: “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” Out of that humility, we can accept God’s Infinite Mercy, because we know, that like the prodigal son’s father, He will always be faithful.
For some simple reflection, listen to this song by Matt Maher. It has helped me many times:
Andrew St. Hilaire is the Assistant to the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center