On a late Friday afternoon, I was asked if I ever pray. The question was raised probably because I give people the impression that I’m not at all religious and I don’t go around telling people that they should be converted. What people do in their respective lives is A LOT more important to me than what they say they believe.
Well, to answer the question, yes, I actually pray.
But I don’t pray that God may make me win the lottery or that I get a promotion or that somebody dear to me recover from some terminal illness or that I find a solution to a puzzling academic problem. I don’t pray that God grant my wishes or the wishes of those I love. For I am just one ordinary guy who has done only ordinary things. God hears a gazillion requests every single day. Why would God choose to hear the prayers and grant the wishes of a random, insignificant creature like me? The God I believe in is a God of fairness and justice; he doesn’t play favorites.
If I choose to hurt people, God does not stop me from doing evil. God doesn’t control the world. How can I possibly know that? There’s hunger, poverty, inequity, disease, dishonesty, theft, corruption, murder, war, hatred everywhere. That only suggests God is not a control freak; he lets the world evolve. It bothers me that some people say what happened on 9-11 was God’s will. It bothers me that some people say the murder of a person or even the death of a loved one due to cancer was God’s will. I could never know for sure what God’s will is (who does?), but if God’s love is both unconditional and unlimited, then logical reasoning tells us that he does not wish to hurt even those who refuse to accept him. Pope Francis, whom I respect immensely, has recently said that God loves even atheists. God loves each one of us so much that he gives us freedom to do whatever we choose to do. Unfortunately every once in a while as humans we get lost and we hurt people and choose to tread a path away from the source of all goodness.
I pray not because a bishop has said that people who don’t pray go to hell. I pray not because another bishop has said that people who don’t pray suffer a number of misfortunes. That’s nothing but superstition to me. I have no faith in some of the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. (In fact, CBCP now represents to me as an unhappy, whiny, power-hungry group of individuals who want to be served like royalty rather than be of service to the community.) What I do believe is that God is love and compassion personified. He doesn’t purposely make bad or good people suffer. God is eternal goodness. Yes, people who choose to do evil are not in communion with God, but Jesus also taught his disciples to be compassionate and to love their enemies.
So if I don’t ask God to grant my wishes, why do I pray?
I pray because I want to deepen my understanding of my actions and my inner thoughts, particularly of their consequences.
I pray because I want to comprehend why I have failed to do certain things or why I have hurt certain people.
Yes, I pray because I want to know myself and be enlightened.
I pray because I want to see meaning and hope in this chaotic and unjust world.
I pray because I want to find better ways of serving the community without being taken advantage of and devoured by society’s wolves.
I pray because I want to continue to appreciate the gift of life.
I pray because I want to be closer to grasping my own raison d’être — why I am a living member of the human race.
Yes, like everybody on the planet, I have a long wish list. But prayer to me is not telling God what’s on my wish list. Prayer is about opening myself to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to penetrate my mind, my heart and my soul so I come to understand how I can be a creature of God, deserving to be called “made in his own image and likeness.”
July 26, 2013