A Summary of the Meetings of the Caritas Christi Conference
The subject of “Prayer” was adopted by the Caritas Christi Conference as its focus for the year. Here is a summary of the three sessions.
The Workshop on Prayer began with the notion that the subject of prayer is fundamentally wrapped up with the subject of God. If prayer has become a problem for the religious, it must be understood that the underlying issue is a problem with God. Thus the workshops have tended to focus on credible insights into the mystery of God, as well as some reflective perceptions humans as spiritual beings. Perhaps the most eloquent statement in this regard is credited to Rabbi Abraham Heschel who wrote, “The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue with prayer is God.”
“Who is God?” was one of the first questions posed to us as children attending catechism classes. Now we focused our attention on breaking down some of our false ideas of God, and attempted to elevate some of our understandings as to who God is. We tried to divert our attention away from a notion of God as rigid, unbending, demanding, hard to please to a notion much closer to Jesus’ teachings that portrayed God in the Gospels as Father and Mother, forgiving and reconciling, an unconditional lover. In fact, we emphasized the Credo of the Five Adjectives that describe God according to the summary by scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann that he gleaned from his biblical studies: “God is merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving and steadfast in love.”
We emphasized the need to recognize and channel our natural gifts of appreciation of, and wonder at, both the Divine Creator and God’s creation as building blocks to our prayer life. A lack of wonder and appreciation are perceived by some spiritual writers to be anathema to the spiritual life.
After a thorough investigation of the mystery of God, and our human response, we investigated the human act of prayer. We said that prayer is the essence of spiritual living. We said that the Sacred is a necessity in our lives, but the impetus to pray comes from Grace, that is, God moves the human heart to desire a relationship with the Divine.
We turned our attention to the need to heed the warnings of some of the spiritual masters who deplored the cerebral embrace of God without the experiential relationship. We used the thoughts of Karl Rahner in this regard, recalling his famous statement that the future believer will either be a mystic, or no believer at all.
We also looked at the various kinds of prayer, including the prayer of reminiscence as a special tool for retired religious, and also developed a suggested protocol for our private prayer.
We spoke of the tradition of Christians to perceive religious and clerics as prayerful people. For example, how often people turn to us in need and ask for our prayer. They have confidence that we have a special relationship with the Lord. And we promise such prayerful remembrances in response. It is easy, we said, to appear as prayerful persons, but are we? We considered that comment that “the priest or religious who does not pray is not really a priest or a religious.”
Our final morning was focused on the parables of Jesus, especially that of the Storm-at-Sea. This exercise was an attempt to see in the confusion and chaos that causes disaffection with both the nation and the church as moments for us to address the Christ who seems asleep on his cushion, who seems silent in the face of our cries, who seems distant to us when our struggles seem beyond our strength. Citing the classic The Diary of a Country Priest, we are summoned to believe that Grace is sufficient for us, but also that Grace abounds, Grace is everywhere, Grace is the gentle source that powers our prayer life.