The Challenge of Prayer


By Albert Schorsch, III


While a person who works for social justice often confronts the limits of our society, he or she more immediately faces the limits of community, work, friendship, and family.  This person can also face personal limits of skills, vision, energy, and hope.


In searching for a Christianity that “works,” in trying to be a Christian while still getting things done, sometimes we or those close to us get bent out of shape.


So many Christian activists seem so damn sure of themselves--but is it possible that our personal ideologies are more often talked about and ritualized than enacted or accomplished?  Are the battle lines between the “good guys” and the “bad” truly as clear as they seem to partisans of one –ism, -ology, or another?


After a number of years for work for justice, questions like the above prey upon activist Catholics.  Some face a personal crisis and change of life direction.  Other discover a growing numbing depression within themselves, or ease into compromise.  Some others drive these questions within, and frantically follow their course, estranging those dear to them with shriller and more stubborn, un-listening, close-minded absolutism.  Confusing suffering for truth, they seek to capture the symptoms of justice hungered and thirsted for but find only hunger and thirst.


But there is another course, and I’m convinced that a few find it.  This course is beyond the scope of a few words or ideas.  One beginning of this other course can be found in prayer wed to the corporate prayer of the Christian community called the Catholic Church.


Notice I did not say simply prayer, because prayer is dangerous.  Spoken always alone and in our own words, prayer can become an echoing ego party, mere identity maintenance.  This danger even exists for wordless contemplation.  There is no edge of prayer where, once we have jumped off of it, we will be guaranteed to find God.


Our own personal cries and listening must be married to those of others, even if only shared silently in the dance of liturgy.  The seasons of the Church year have been shaped by hundreds of generations of millions of persons to embrace the scope of human life and longing.  By following Christ from conception to resurrection, from spring-time around the seasons we can touch hands with multitudes.  We are never alone, one-dimensional, stuck at Calvary, imprisoned by our own predicament.


The person who, among her or his other praying, pursues the lessons and good news of liturgy as courtship with God can find surprising truths obscured by the everyday dust of Catholic culture.   The rosary becomes not then a mawkish, maudlin telling of neuroses, but a daily discovery and perhaps confrontation with the mysteries of universal, unavoidable birth, growth, witness, suffering, decay, death, and hoped for resurrection, inspiration, perfection.  The Beatitudes and Works of Mercy similarly can come to life when sought each day with persistence.  Prayer’s images, association, voids, and aridities are thus talks with those we love, whose stories we hear and tell.


This is the love and work of prayer, its freedom and its discipline, its easy yoke, but yoke nonetheless.  Yet there are few burdens under which we cannot sing, if only each breath were music.  Beautiful music takes much practice, and with practice music becomes as unrehearsed as inspiration.  Then, if we can listen, God can be heard singing. 


Copyright 1983, 2005, Albert Schorsch, III

All Rights Reserved