Have You Tried Prayer?


August 13, 2013 by lucieromarin

Seraphic shared the story of a reader told two astounding things at a Theology on Tap meeting. The first was this (and bear in mind that the speaker was a priest!):

He proceeded to tell a whole bar full of mostly single Catholics that the very best fun in the world, the only thing that’s really 100% fun, is either having married sex, or concelebrating the Eucharist if you’re a priest. 

The second was this:

He then went on to say that if you weren’t happy being single, then clearly you haven’t prayed enough about your vocation.

Seraphic’s post deals mainly with the first point; it’s worth reading in full. (I love the St Thomas image!). I fumed over her reader’s experience, too, but I found myself fuming over the second point. I remembered a conversation after Mass that went something like this:

Married Woman: Would you like to have been married?

I: Of course. Sigh. But nobody ever wants me.

Married Woman: Have you tried prayer?


What did she think I was doing during that two hours of sacred liturgy??? Likewise, did this priest really think that the only thing wrong in the lives of his devout audience members was a lack of prayer? Or was he suggesting that all the social ills that stood in the way of their vocation-fulfillment were also due to their not praying all those ills away? Was anything the fault of the young men present?

First, just think about how ignorant a Catholic would have to be to not know that she could talk to God about her stuff. Then think about what it implies when you ask her if she’s prayed about it.

Second, unless you have hard evidence that the woman (or man) in question is actually neglecting prayer in some serious way, do not assume that all her problems come from not praying enough. See, the thing is, I don’t believe that all the men and women getting married are doing so because God is rewarding their great mystical unions with Him up in the seventh mansion of the unitive way. If some people marry after a small amount of prayer, this means nothing more than that they happened to be asking for something that God already wanted to give them at that time. It does not mean that their prayers were better than the prayers of those to whom God said, “Not yet.” St Gemma asked to be admitted to the Passionist order until her dying day; God, to her dying day, said, “No.” Weirdly enough, I don’t think that this proves that her prayers were inferior to the prayers of people who got married after praying a novena.

Third, prayer is not a tactic. Prayer is not a way of bludgeoning God into giving you what you want. Prayer is not about conforming God to your will but conforming you to His. The four ends of prayer are adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition, and petition comes last. I know we get to pray for our daily bread, and obviously we have to talk to God truthfully about what’s in our hearts, but that’s because:

a) asking for the bread acknowledges Him as the source of the bread, and the acknowledgment is more the point of the petition than the bread is. In other words, someone who petitions God for fifty years and always reconciles her heart to His repeated “No” has a better prayer life than someone who says the Rosary from time to time, gets married, and then manages little more than Sunday Mass for the rest of her life, and

b) there’s no point hiding what’s in our hearts. But guess what? There’s a whole bunch of other things to talk to Him about as well, and I have to admit that occasionally I get so absorbed in the thought of the Blessed Trinity that I forget to talk about boyfriends. Mea culpa.

I remember, as I approached my thirtieth birthday, a man saying to me, “You have to storm heaven with your prayers,” i.e. to be saved from still being single at thirty. (I was depressed enough about my birthday as it was; you can imagine how much better that didn’t make me feel!) Later, I concluded that it was actually rather an insulting suggestion, because a) to me, vocation is part of our daily bread, and we’re supposed to request this routinely and calmly, not as though we’re about to be thrown off a ship into a raging sea from which only our desperate cries can save us, and b) desperate cries are for hell-bound souls, medically impossible healing, deliverance from evil spirits, persons mourning the death of babies, and persons recovering from agonising trauma. I would like to think that me being married does not fit into the category of things that require a miracle…though I do remember a woman showing me a holy card that her grandmother gave her, “So you can get married,” she said. It was St Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes.

Fourth, sometimes, the problems in the world are not meant to be solved by girls praying, but by a) guys (and other girls) being decent and b) priests not preaching weird stuff. I’m just saying.

Meanwhile, who knew that concelebration was as fun as the marriage act? Gosh. The things we miss out on in the Extraordinary Form!

**Update** Just found this, courtesy of the Babes. Exactly!

8 thoughts on “Have You Tried Prayer?

  1. Seraphic says:

    Well said! This whole post is a spot-on theological and devotional exercise. St. Jude, indeed.

    • lucieromarin says:

      Thank you! It did occur to me some hours after posting that it’s probably fair to say that in many cases, the prayer-suggester really only means, “I wish you well, but have no real practical insights to offer, so…” and prayer is just the default response when we want to help but are not really sure how. Even so…

  2. Amanda says:

    Ugh. You do meet some ghastly people. The flip side of the roadkill business is just how fabulous religious institutions seem to make the successful conformists of the world feel about their little lives. Mind you, I suppose it isn’t surprising, when you consider that, from a socio-historical perspective, such institutions chiefly exist to create and enforce standardised social practices and values. They’re not really set up to deal with anything else and don’t actually want to be – hence the deeply (and purposefully?) inadequate handling of anyone who doesn’t fit into a prescribed category. It’s not supposed to be attractive. You’re suppose to look miserable and unfulfilled if you haven’t conformed. And every time someone pities or patronises you, the social norms are strengthened that little bit more; the teenaged girls who witness it resolve that bit harder to be pleasing and submissive, and get married to the first clean Catholic boy who asks them. It sounds brutal, but a bit of roadkill probably comes in handy to keep everyone else obeying the street signs.

    Perhaps, indeed, that is one of the fundamental problems of combining in one organisation the administration of all human access to the divine and a specific social order contained in rules about sex, marriage, reproduction and social/gender roles. Aside from being very damaging to individuals, it makes the whole thing terribly implausible. Many people can accept the notion that the unimaginably vast universe with its billions upon billions of habitable planets was created by Something, but to claim further that that Something is pathetically obsessed with ideas such as Human Females On This Planet Can’t Be Priests and so on, reduces the extraordinary vision of a universe moved by perfect love and justice (to paraphrase a bit from Dante) to an embarrassing muddle that just looks self-serving on the part of the male hierarchy.

    Out of interest, has the Catholic church addressed the question of how its theology works given our now radically different understanding of the size and nature of the universe? I would be very interested to read it if it existed.

    BTW, how did the priest know that celebrating the mass was just as good as married sex, and secondly, how did he know that married sex was better than unmarried sex? I hope he had experienced all three before commenting!

    • Amanda says:

      Oops – should have looked at Seraphic’s post before replying – my last question is redundant. What an idiot of a priest.

      • Seraphic says:

        To be merciful to the priest, guilt-free sex IS touted in just about every medium as the greatest fun in life, and to a person who believes only married sex and be guilt-free, it would follow that married sex must be more fun than unmarried sex. Usually only sexually experienced people–indeed, only currently sexually active and satisfied people–can be blasé about sex in the face of so much pro-sex propaganda.

        As for his claim that the great fun a priest can have is to concelebrate Mass…. Well, that does smack of “the party line”. But maybe that really is his own experience. Perhaps he is terribly lonely, or was always picked last for teams, so the experience of being on a team, or maybe the actual experience of concelebrating Mass (for I certainly wouldn’t know) is really just that fun for him.

        Without having been there myself, I would suspect the priest’s biggest fault was imprudence. Of course, having said that I also want to say crashing stupidity, but who knows what agonies of mind he suffered on the way home. Depending on how old he is, he might have felt uncomfortable to have gotten into a thought bog about sex in public, in mixed company, and amid people who look up to him not because he is he, but because he is a priest–someone whose prestige relies rather a lot on his being an example of chastity.

      • lucieromarin says:

        “…who knows what agonies of mind he suffered on the way home.” Seraphic, you’re right. And for all we know it may have been one of those happy faults that lead to grace-filled improvements in the repentant person’s behaviour!

      • lucieromarin says:

        Also, this reminds me that I know that it pays to be careful what you say about cloth. I once gave a seminarian a mild serve for his – to my mind – inadequacies. Seven years later, not only had he turned into one of the coolest priests on the planet, he was also my spiritual director and I was under obedience to him. I remarked on this, and he said, “God has a sense of humour.”

      • lucieromarin says:

        No worries – if I don’t answer your other question here (which I’m obviously not doing!) it’s only because it’s not really related to the post, and comboxes that go spiraling away from the original topic are undisciplined and annoying.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: