When one stops praying

Published December 30, 2018, 12:08 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.

Yesterday, a friend who joined a group retreat for three days sent me this excerpt from a poem of Mario de Andrade, a Brazilian poet: “We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.”

Let me share with you his thoughts on how he rediscovered the value of his one life, a realization triggered by his meditation on prayer.

“I have always envied those gifted with a zeal for prayer. I wanted to be like them, but that’s not likely to happen because there have been more disappointments than fulfillment in my experience of prayer. I think I achieved and produced more in life, not by praying more, but by doing more.

“For a time, I persisted in praying, although the doubts and the hesitancy increased, compounded by distractions and emotional dryness.

“Until, one day, I just stopped doing my regular prayer routine. I imagined God asking me: ‘Why are you no longer praying as regularly as before?’  And my answer was: ‘I’ll get back to you when things have changed.’

“Yesterday, the retreat master told me he had observed that I was not joining the group in prayer. He did not scold me, but asked me to read the gospel story about St. Peter who went fishing with the other disciples the whole night. (Luke 5:1-6)

“Frustrated at having caught nothing, Peter and his companions folded up their net. But Jesus told them: ‘Launch out into the deep and cast your nets there.’ Their overnight experience told them it was an absolute waste of time and effort to continue fishing. So, Peter argued: ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing.’

“Happily, Peter did not stop there. He continued: ‘But because you say so, I will cast down the nets.’ That one word ‘but’ was crucial because, as Harold Sala writes, ‘it indicated that Peter had experienced a moment of enlightenment.’

“I think that was what happened to me after I meditated on that gospel passage. It suddenly dawned on me that after I decided to cast aside the habit of praying, I haven’t stopped praying after all. How could I stop, when I haven’t even started to pray yet?

“Yes, it was not prayer that I gave up, but its caricature, a pitiful imitation of the genuine item. I was like St. Peter casting my nets in the shallows, when God was all the while inviting me to ‘launch out into the deep’ to experience his love in a more intimate way.

“I now realized that the greatest enemy of prayer is not our disappointment with God who sometimes refuses to answer according to our specifications. Rather, it is the thought that prayer is for the weak, those who can’t make it on their own. I ceased to pray because of my arrogant claim of self-sufficiency. I felt that prayer was not necessary, just an accessory in my life, relevant functionally, but not fundamentally.

“That realization was so strong it made me kneel down. Spontaneously, I began to pray, no longer in the usual way, but in humility and faith, surrendering my wishes, wants, and preferences to God who knows what is best for me.

“I now appreciate more this one life that God has given me because it comes with a built-in lifeline—PRAYER.”