Friday, September 23, 2011

Prayer is a Risk

Published this a few years ago and came across it in my files. Thought some would enjoy it. Peace, Rick


Prayer is a Risk

Rick Malloy, S.J.

(Printed in Review for Religious, Vol. 66 #2. 2007)

Are We Praying? When I was a Jesuit novice, I remember a community meeting during which someone asked our Provincial about the biggest problem he faced. His blunt and honest answer startled me: “Jesuits not praying.” As novices, our lives were structured in such a way that not praying was impossible. Still, once out of the structured life of the novitiate, I have learned, painfully at times, that the demands of the apostolic works can too easily crowd out the time set aside for prayer (although I always seem to find the ten minutes to catch Jay Leno’s monologue…). Why is it so difficult to engage in the demanding practice of deep and transformative contemplative prayer?

What is prayer? We know that many people pray, that prayer is something we as Catholic Christians ought to do, and we hear that prayer can change things. But many of us feel conflicted and confused when we go to pray. Does God really respond to our prayers? Does God really listen to, or care about, what we say? If we prayed some other way, or prayed more regularly and faithfully, would we be better people? Can our praying make the world a better place? In our age, which tends to elevate activism to ethereal heights, wouldn’t our time be better spent serving the poor, or doing something for somebody in need? Wouldn’t God be interested more in our doing something “worthwhile” than in our sitting in silence, trying not to pay attention to the random thoughts rumbling endlessly around in our heads? And when we get right down to it, don’t we all sometimes ask ourselves, “Does prayer really work? Does prayer really do anything?”

The way to move forward and avoid getting stuck in the spiritual whirlpool such questions generate is to realize that prayer is a risk. There is no science of prayer. Just as you cannot prove scientifically the worth or effects of real love, the day in and day out loving and caring and living with other persons, you cannot prove the worth of prayer, the day in and day out practice of paying attention to God. If we could scientifically prove prayer’s value, it wouldn’t be prayer. Prayer is a risk because prayer is a lifelong, life changing, act of faith. The word “believe” comes from the Geman belieben, meaning “to belove.” Prayer is all about the risks involved in loving.

Much of our reluctance and resistance to risk prayer is rooted in our fear of God’s really responding to us. On one hand, we fear God won’t take us seriously. On the other hand, we are quite afraid that God will take us very seriously, as seriously as we take ourselves and our loved ones. Prayer is a risk because the God who calls us to conversion and transformation takes us up on the invitation to get involved in our lives. And when that happens, the adventure begins.

To be Catholic is to be aware of one's involvement in a series of great transformations: the transformation of one's self over a lifetime into a person incorporated into the reality of God, the promise made to us all that we may “come to share in the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4. NAB). Our personal transformations are part of larger cosmic processes: the promised transformation of all human history and all creation (Rom 8:21) into the coming Kingdom of God, wherein God will be “all in all” (I Cor 15:28). Right at the beginning of Lumen Gentium, the great document of Vatican II that describes what the Church is and ought to be, we are told what Catholicism is all about. God's plan is “to dignify men and women with a participation in His own divine life” (Lumen Gentium, 2). This isn't some radical, unorthodox, crazy, Jesuit spin on spirituality. Back in the early days of the church St. Athanasius said the same thing I'm saying here: “For the Son of God became Man so that we might become God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #460). Prayer makes us aware of, and committed, to this transformation in Christ. The risk comes in refusing to cooperate in the offered transformations. There’s also risk in the yielding to the transformation, the freely accepting who and what God is making of us and our lives.

Prayer is Relational: All prayer is relational. By praying, we relate to God, our God who loves us passionately, consistently, challengingly. When we truly relate to one we love, especially when that one is Jesus, we may be called to change. The parent who loves a child suffering from cystic fibrosis changes in many ways. The son or daughter loving an aging mother or father makes many unexpected life changes. Such changes always call us to deeper, more active love. Knowing that extreme poverty in Africa can be alleviated, changes one who prays about it. Witness Bono and the ONE campaign to eradicate extreme poverty ( When we pray we risk changing and being changed. Prayer may make us know that we need to change. Prayer may make us able to change things, from addictions to relationships to social problems. Prayer may make us willing and able to do something for God and others we never imagined doing.

Prayer is relational because we relate to God on both personal and communal levels of reality. We never pray alone. Always, and in all ways, you/we and someone else are praying. As soon as we try to pray, God takes us up on the offer. Prayer is not a competition, or a "goal" oriented activity. To pray is to already have "won." Prayer is much more like making love, or hitting a baseball, or learning to play a musical instrument (sometimes loudly and badly!), then it is like getting a promotion, or achieving a goal, or mastering a skill. Prayer is more like floating on water, than paddling stridently to get somewhere. Prayer is more “Letting Go” than “Holding On.” Prayer is a journey wherein we're simply “being there” while somewhat paradoxically always being “on the road.” Prayer is allowing our lives to be harmonized. Prayer is getting our lives and loves in order, and prayer is inviting God's ordering of our loves and lives.

We are all being divinized. Pray-ers know this truth. To be aware of and cooperate with divinization takes work. Real prayer is work, i.e., disciplined spirituality, as is Catholicism. We need to recognize that consolation is not always comfortable, and desolation is not always disagreeable. Being disciplined about prayer is essential if we want to see the benefits of prayer, just as regular physical exercise is necessary to get and keep our bodies in shape. The more in shape we are spiritually, the more we are likely to realize and recognize God in our lives. Prayer is the effort to consciously experience God. Praying is consciously paying attention to the central relationships of our lives, our relationship with ourselves, others and God. Our relationship with God is the one that makes all these other relationships possible. Prayer is focusing conscious attention on out relationship with God, and finding the whispers of God’s presence in the relationships of our lives. We speak to God in prayer and the word God speaks back is our life.

Prayer is paying attention to what is really real. Prayer isn’t just finding God in all things. It’s more than that. Prayer is seeking God in all realities, realities that were, are, and are to come. The awareness of God and the processes of divinization in our hearts and minds is evident in how we make choices.

On a moral level, prayer leads us to wisdom and correct choosing. When I was a little kid, in wintertime, my mother used to dress us up in those bulky, blue snowsuits that made us look like midget Michelin men. She’d let me and my siblings out along with the dog. As soon as I’d run out to play in the snow, I’d reach down and grab a mitten full of the cold, delicious snow and begin to eat. My mom would yell, “Ricky, don’t eat the yellow snow!” Prayer is learning what is, and is not, “yellow snow.” What is not good for us is whatever frustrates and foils our transformation in Christ. For serious pray-ers, life becomes a series of exercises wherein we discern what we truly and deeply desire. Such holy desires reveal God’s will for us, and prayer mediates the grace that helps us choose what we deeply desire and thus make the right choices.

Prayer, practiced regularly and faithfully, can become a centering fulcrum of our daily lives, keeping us on plan and focused. Prayer, even engaged in sporadically and frenetically, is valuable. Annie Lamott, one of the most refreshing if iconoclastic contemporary writers on prayer, says the two best prayers are “Thank You” and “Help.”

How to Pray: Prayer doesn’t have to be elaborate to function as a current carrying us through life to life eternal. There are many methods of praying: prayers of petition (probably the most common form of prayer), daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours; daily spiritual reading; systematically and slowly working one’s way through various books of the Bible; taking some time during the week to read through the readings for the upcoming Sunday; the Rosary; Eucharistic adoration; the utterly simple practice of Centering prayer. These are all valid methods of praying. Prayer groups are helpful for many people. The main thing is to choose freely a method you find agreeable. No one stays with a prayer practice they find tedious and frustrating. Experiment with unconventional methods that utilize and stimulate the imagination: See a movie with Jesus; write someone a letter while in prayer mode; create a dialogue with the Holy Spirit, draw pictures for God. The imagination is the arena wherein we can often most powerfully experience God. Ignatian contemplation of Gospel scenes is a tried and true example of using our graced imagination in prayer.

Prayer Guides: Many have traversed the paths through the forest of prayer. Don’t feel you have to reinvent the wheel. For the beginner, Jesuit Mark Thibodeaux’s Armchair Mystic is a great starter book. Pushing Jesuit works on prayer may seem too much like I’m pushing the family business, but anyone who knows about free and freeing spirituality will agree that anything by Tony DeMello, S.J., is worth reading and pondering. Franciscan Richard Rohr’s amazingly brief and deceptively simple Everything Belongs is the best book I’ve ever read on prayer. Rohr orients the 21st century person to what prayer is and can be. The Cloud of Unknowing is a classic on prayer, and is the inspiration for the contemporary Trappist method of Centering Prayer. Annie Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, is a wild zany take on everything from prayer to writing to parenting to eating disorders. Kurtz and Ketchem’s The Spirituality of Imperfection is a real jewel. There are many more good books one can read. Magazines like America and Commonweal are an excellent sources and guide for spiritual reading. The internet, where so many young adults spend their reading time, offers great sites like the Irish Jesuits' "Sacred Space" ( ) to orient one to prayer.

What Does Prayer Do? Ultimately the practice of real and consistent prayer changes our desires. When we find ourselves wanting what God wants we are in right relationship with God, and that is the experience of justice on the personal level. Prayer practiced over time will lead us through the processes the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius aim to elicit: prayer will free us from, free us for and free us to be with. Free from all that frustrates our transformation in Christ, from addictions to personality faults. Free for service and the righting of relationships on many levels, which ultimately is the work of constructing social justice for all. Free to be with God as the Holy Spirit works our transformation in Christ, thus actualizing our freely being our deepest, truest selves in relation with others. Real prayer is much more about deep transformation and everyday mysticism than it is magic and cheap grace.

Prayer doesn’t do anything if we don’t pray. I go to the gym three times a week, once a year. The results, or lack thereof, are rather predictable. Regular, consistent, committed prayer is worth the effort, but we’ll never know it until you do it. Go ahead. Take the risk. Then we can authentically urge others to follow our example.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Even BusinessWeek says Attitudes towards Poor Need to Change

BusinessWeek Reports

Agencies: Negative mindset about poor must change

More from BusinessWeek

The mindset that all poor people are lazy and don't deserve help -- especially from the government -- must be changed if society and the economy are going to improve, some charitable organizations said Monday at the first National Poverty Summit.

Catholic Charities USA is hosting the two-day event in Fort Worth. About a dozen nonprofit organizations met to discuss ways to stop poverty, from helping single mothers to homeless veterans to laid-off workers who cannot find other jobs.

"When you put a face on poverty, you have a whole different perspective," said the Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. He said the "prevailing mindset" that needy people should simply work harder to get out of poverty is dishonest and not helpful.

Recently released Census Bureau figures show that a record 46.2 million people live in poverty -- nearly one in six Americans. The overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, from 14.3 percent the previous year, as the recession leaves millions still struggling and out of work.

Many experts believe America's poverty rate -- now the highest of any major industrialized nation -- could get worse before it abates. The nation's poverty level stands at $22,314 annually for a family of four.

People from all walks of life now find themselves in need of help, many for the first time in their lives. Those at the summit are exploring new ways people can get the skills and resources to move out of poverty, so they can have a "trampoline" instead of a safety net, Snyder said.

Andrea Levere, president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, said all children need to have a savings account for college, because even low-income families and teens with part-time jobs can start saving.

Such a program started last year for low-income kindergarteners in San Francisco public schools -- where the city makes an initial $50 deposit and matching funds are provided by EARN, a nonprofit organization that also provides matched savings accounts for low-income workers. Similar programs to help children open bank accounts are in place in other cities.

While a four-year university is not the best option for all students, these savings programs motivate low-income children to stay in school, which ultimately increases their chances of ending the cycle of poverty, Levere said.

"Nobody thought a low-income family could save ... but it's the price of hope," she said.

The Pew Research Center said its recent polling shows that a majority of Americans -- for the first time in 15 years of being surveyed on the question -- oppose more government spending to help the poor.

The deep budget cuts by the U.S. House earlier this year included programs that helped the poor.

"We do have a deficit, but we can't reduce the budget on the backs of vulnerable people," said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. "It's a false savings when we allow so many more people to become homeless and stay poor."

David Beckman, president of Bread for the World, said it will take a grass-roots effort to convince Congress that cutting these programs will lead to more poverty.

"We have got to beat them back," Beckman said. "These programs were working ... and don't cut the legs out from under them."

On Monday, President Barack Obama vowed to veto any deficit reduction package that cuts benefits to Medicare recipients but does not raise taxes on the wealthy and big corporations. Obama's proposal includes no changes in Social Security and no increase in the Medicare eligibility age, which the president had been willing to accept this summer during negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner to avoid a government default.


Some Thoughts from Dorothy Day, Catholic peace activist and lover of the Poor. Foundress of the Catholic Worker Movement.


“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart.”
Dorothy Day

“What we would like to do is change the world--make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute--the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words--we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”
Dorothy Day

“Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed. ”
Dorothy Day

“The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.”
Dorothy Day

“Charity is only as warm as those who administer it.”

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

46 million in Poverty. 2010 USA Poverty Rates Highest Since 1993

Number of U.S. poor in 2010 largest on record

* Poverty rate rose for third year to 15.1 percent

* Median income declined 2.3 percent (Adds background)

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (Reuters) - A record 46 million Americans were living in poverty in 2010, pushing the U.S. poverty rate to its highest level since 1993, according to a government report on Tuesday on the grim effects of stubbornly high unemployment.

Underscoring the economic challenges that face President Barack Obama and Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau said the poverty rate rose for a third consecutive year to hit 15.1 percent in 2010. The number in poverty was the largest since the government first began publishing estimates in 1959.

The report surfaces at a time when the economic straits of ordinary Americans are at the forefront of the 2012 election campaign.

Obama is suffering from low job approval ratings on the economy and evidence of rising poverty could give popular momentum to the $450 billion job-creation program he unveiled last week.

The Census data also could come into play in the deliberations of a bipartisan super committee in Congress, which has been charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings over 10 years by Nov. 23.

The United States has the highest poverty rate among developed countries, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The poverty line for an American family of four with two children is an income $22,113 a year.

The data showed that children under 18 suffered the highest poverty rate, 22 percent, compared with adults and the elderly.

In a sign of decline for middle-income Americans, the figures showed continued decline in the number of Americans with employer-provided health insurance, while the ranks of the uninsured hovered just below the 50 million mark.

Underlying the Census data was a rate of economic growth too meager to compensate for the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs from 2009 to 2010, as the recession officially ended but the jobless rate shot up from 9.3 percent to 9.6 percent.

"All of this deterioration in the labor market caused incomes to drop, poverty to rise and people to lose their health insurance," said Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute think tank. "One of the immediately obvious issues this brings up is that there is no relief in sight."


The numbers would have been worse, analysts said, but for government assistance programs including extended unemployment compensation, stimulus spending and Obama's health reforms, which appeared to reduce the number of uninsured young adults.

In Obama's hometown of Chicago, Salvation Army Major David Harvey knows well the effects of grinding poverty on the city's South Side, where he attended a food giveaway on Tuesday.

"There are more families falling into poverty," he said. "That's multiplied on the South Side of Chicago where there are pockets with 20 percent, or more, unemployment."

You've got people crying for jobs. They move out of state to get jobs because employers are leaving because of the tax increases here," Harvey said.

The poverty rate increased for non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Hispanics but did not differ significantly for Asians. Blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 54 percent of the poor with whites at 9.9 percent and Asians at 12.1 percent.

The South fared worst among U.S. regions, recording the highest poverty rate, a significant drop in median income and the largest number of residents without health insurance.

The administration was quick to seize on data showing a 2.1 percent drop in uninsured young adults, aged 18 to 24, as evidence that families were benefiting from an Obama healthcare reform that allows parents to extend their coverage to children as old as 25.

The Affordable Care Act is the centerpiece of Obama's domestic policy agenda but has come under fierce attack from Republicans including presidential candidates who hope to challenge the president in the 2012 general election.

"We expect even more will gain coverage in 2011 when the policy is fully phased in," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog posting. (Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago; Editing by Ross Colvin, Doina Chiacu and Bill Trott)


"If someone who has the riches of this world sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 Jn 3:17). It is well known how strong were the words used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the proper attitude of persons who possess anything towards persons in need. To quote Saint Ambrose: "You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich." On the Development of Peoples, #23

"The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; the production to meet social needs over production for military purposes". Economic Justice for All, #94

"As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental "option for the poor" -- to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess life styles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. This "option for the poor" does not mean pitting one group against another, but rather, strengthening the whole community by assisting those who are the most vulnerable. As Christians, we are called to respond to the needs of all our brothers and sisters, but those with the greatest needs require the greatest response." Economic Justice for All, #16

The way society responds to the needs of the poor through its public policies is the litmus test of its justice or injustice. Economic Justice for All, #123

Those who are more influential because they have greater share of goods and common services should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess... the church feels called to take her stand beside the poor, to discern the justice of their requests and to help satisfy them, without losing sight of the good of groups in the context of the common good. On Social Concern (Donders), #39

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