The Prayer Sprinter – Good News for February 23

23 02 2010

Matthew 6:7-15

Jesus said to his disciples, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray…

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

The Daily Path: Growing up Catholic and attending parochial school left me with some lasting perspectives. Broadway comedies have made a fortune recounting similar perspectives from a period when the system created “good little Catholics” by the thousands. The system had a lot of flaws and those days still bring a chuckle, or ten. They also provide common ground for conversation with many who left the Church but now, later in life, find themselves back on the spiritual journey. In these conversations I often find the question being asked most often is: “What were they thinking?”

I’ll share some of my memories of GUC (growing up Catholic) over time. Perhaps these reflections will provide travelers with food for thought as they pause here at the on-line rest stop. One of my GUC experiences related to prayer…

The good sisters would provide us with ample opportunities to memorize all the formal prayers that were part of being Catholic. We would repeat these words time and again during many hours engaged in “solemn prayer” activities. During my training in the art of prayer, I became highly proficient at sprint praying, a skill I found very useful for enduring the rigors of being a kid in a very Catholic sphere.

When I’d go to confession (to have the truly heinous sins of an eight-year old forgiven) the priest would tell me to say five “Our Fathers” and five “Hail Mary’s” for my penance. Once that gun sounded I was off to the finish line saying the words as fast as humanly possible. I was a world class pray-er in this regard. I never really stopped pumping my arms and legs long enough to listen to the sounds coming out of my mouth or understand what was blasting down the linear excelerator of my mind. Praying the “Our Father” became the binaural beat of a mantra taking me around the track to Olympic gold! Get it done, climb the podium, and get on with living.

A great number of Olympiads have come and gone since my days as a prayer sprinter. I’ve evolved into more of a long distance runner. Now I try to embrace every word slowly and carefully. I want to “hear” the words in my heart. Once they are inside, I want their meaning to linger. Sometimes I change the words of formal prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer, that were committed to my young sprinter memory decades ago. In doing so I feel the conversation moving out of my head and into my heart where I know God will hear.