Jan 08, 2020 850 Deacon Jim McFadden,

Why do we need to pray?

At the beginning of Holy Mass, Catholics address a prayer that is profound in its implication: “Create in us a generous and steadfast heart, so that we may always serve you with fidelity and purity of spirit”.

This prayer cuts to the quick. We cannot give ourselves “a generous and steadfast heart” so we ask God to give it to us as His “creation.” Prayer undergirds our relationship with God and our neighbor. Without a generous and steadfast heart, we cannot do our Father’s will as His beloved children.

Constant prayer is displayed so well in Moses, who was above all a man of prayer. Indeed, the great liberator of Israel was always talking with God. In the Battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:8- 14), Moses stood atop the hill with his hands raised, imploring the Lord for assistance. The battle, a metaphor for the spiritual struggle, continued for a long time—sound familiar?! Moses’ arms got tired and began to fall to his side. However, if he stopped praying the tide of the struggle would go against his people. Notice what happened: his brother Aaron and his friend Hur perceived that Moses was in difficulty and the effect this was having on the battle. They seated Moses on a stone and held up his arms until the final victory was won.

This passage highlights the truth that spiritual struggle is too hard and demanding to be managed alone. We need each other. Commitment to prayer demands that we support one another. Journeying through life is a hard slog. Weariness is inevitable as the years unfold. We will get tired and will be tempted to throw in the towel, especially in the face of intimidating obstacles. But, with the support of our brothers and sisters, we can persevere in prayer until the Lord completes his work.

In the New Testament, Saint Paul echoed this truth. Writing to Timothy, his disciple and coworker, he urged him to hold fast to what he had learned and believed (2 Timothy 3:14). However, Timothy could not simply do this with a “stiff-upper-lip” resolve. The battle of perseverance cannot be won without prayer. Not sporadic or hesitant prayer but regularly keeping the channel between God and us open. If we pray when we feel like it, in sporadic spurts, then we lose that connection with God. Instead, we should pray just as Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to Luke: “Pray always, without ever losing heart” (Luke 18:1). Remaining steadfast in prayer, to remain steadfast in faith and testimony is central to life as a Christian.

A negative voice may arise within us: “But, Lord, how can we not grow weary? We are human … just look at all the problems that face us personally and as a community. It’s just too much!” Each of us tires of the struggle at times. Yet, we are not alone. We are part of a body: the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, whose arms are raised day and night to heaven, sustained by the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The prophet Ezekiel reminds us that “What the Lord promises, He does” (cf. Ezekiel 12:25, 28) and Jesus promises us, “God will grant justice to his chosen ones, who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7).

This is the mystery of prayer: to keep crying out, not to lose heart, and if we should grow tired asking for help to keep our hands raised. Praying is not taking refuge in a utopia (which means “nowhere” in Greek), nor escaping to a spiritualized zone where we curl up with a false, selfish sense of calm. On the contrary, to pray is to struggle.

The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray. He guides us in prayer and enables us to pray as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. By submitting to the guidance of the Holy Spirit we become conduits of divine power which can transform and renew the world.


Deacon Jim McFadden

©Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He is a teacher of theology and serves in the Adult Faith Formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.

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