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Why do you pray?

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If there is a God, I believe that God created me and I must be in relationship with the origin of my being. I become more whole and more complete as a human person only when I am in relationship with this God. I pray, because I believe God exists.

Father James J.
Ronan

In a recent article in the Catholic weekly, America, the author poses the interesting question, "Why do you pray?" It is a question any of us might benefit from reflecting upon. I guess a good place to start might be our history: When did you first pray? Why?

Perhaps for most of us, we first began to pray as children, and in our families our parents taught us to pray. Likely our first prayers were for giving thanks -- for example learning to say grace before meals. A close second is probably the prayer of petition, asking God to bless and take care of someone special. This often happened when that someone was ill and in need. So as a child I learned to pray as I was taught and, therefore, became aware of God and my simple, yet profound, relationship with Him. Maybe your experience was similar.

If you can, try to remember the quality of that prayer. Remember the sincerity, purity and honesty of childhood prayer. As a child it was not at all difficult to think thoughts of God -- that God is loving, all powerful and knows everything. Well, that sort of meant that God was sort of a super Mom or Dad, and that was not too hard to believe! On the other hand, there are those unfortunate family situations in which mom or dad is not super at all. Perhaps alcoholism or some illness brought anger, violence and problems into the home. Thoughts of God as similar to a parent in this setting did not make belief easy.

In most situations we came through childhood having learned to pray in one way or another. We grew through the teen years and our prayer became more private -- sometimes having its own style different from formal religion. Most young adults today say they pray and an astonishing number of adults say they pray and have a relationship with Jesus. Although that number does not correspond with the number of attendees in our churches each Sunday, it does not diminish the fact that people do pray.

Why do you pray today? For me, as I have grown through the years, I cannot see how to live without God. I have seen enough of life to know and believe in God, and once I chose to believe, prayer is the next response. If there is a God, I have to pray! If there is a God, I believe that God created me and I must be in relationship with the origin of my being. I become more whole and more complete as a human person only when I am in relationship with this God. I pray, because I believe God exists.

For all of us, the stern parent aspect of God was surely a part of our understanding of God at one time. For example, the idea that God punishes me when I do wrong is often part of our thinking. However, I believe such a point of view is too small for God. The prophets have told us, "My ways are not your ways and your ways are not My ways, says the Lord." God is too big for my limited mind to grasp. And God is, above all, love.

God, who is Love, is the source of all creation, including you and me. This love calls out to each of us, creatures of a loving God, who hunger for love and meaning. Prayer is our response -- a prayer of praise, of thanksgiving, of petition and especially of gratitude for the very gift of life and love. If we are alive and we love, we have to pray.

FATHER JAMES RONAN IS PASTOR OF ST. MARY-ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA PARISH IN CHARLESTOWN.

Father James Ronan is pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena parish in Charlestown, Massachusetts

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