Ash Wednesday starts the sacred season of Lent for Catholics all over the world. There will be all sorts of reminders of that first sacred season of Lent when Christ underwent an agony, scourging and a crucifixion. During this time each one of us is reminded that this sacrifice that Christ made during his life was for us. Lent is a reminder whether we give up smoking, give up candy, give up movies that in our own way, we are making a sacrifice for Christ.
As important as all of these sacrifices are that we try to practice during this sacred season there is one practice that all of us must implement if Lent in our personal life is to be as sacred as God wants it to be. That quality that should be implemented in our lives during our sacred season is the quality of personal prayer.
First, Christ expects us to pray for our own advantage. He said, "knock and it shall be open to you, seek and you will find". What he was saying was simply this, if your prayer life is strong and your sense of trust in Christ is deep, your prayers will be answered in a way that is superior to anything you could ever achieve on your own. If you study the gospels, you see that Christ took periodic times away from everything to go away and pray. Lent is that season for us to re-emphasize our prayer life and as a result our personal contact with God.
What does prayer do? Prayer helps us develop attitudes for the daily problems of life. Attitudes that in time of pain can help us say "not my will be done, 0 God, but yours". Prayer gives us insights that we can get ill no other way. Prayer anchors us to God.
If you as a mother, father, son or daughter do not pray for each other and for your family well being, you are short changing the members of your family. Monasteries and convents have had a great tradition of a solid prayer life. But if you look for an organization such as AA they will show and prove to you that more things are brought about by prayer than this world dreams of.
Prayer is necessary for our sanctity and sanity. Prayer does not change God. It makes us more aware of the changes God wants us to make in our lives. St. Augustine summed it up beautifully when he said, work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God. St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas believed that if suffering did not pass by Christ it is not going to pass by us. From the time of our Blessed Mother down to Mother Teresa, everyone has had some cross to carry. Once we learn the second lesson of acceptance of the will of God the cross we have becomes more tolerable and less burdensome.
St. Augustine mentioned a quality that has to be part of our prayer. He called it conformity to the will of God. Christ, through prayer in the desert, prayer in the carpenter shop, showed that everyone while on earth has to work to do the will of God on earth. This is done through personal prayer.
The third quality that prayer generates is resignation to the will of God. Over and over when I go to Sloan Kettering it is amazing when you see people who have accepted the fact that they have cancer. They have resigned themselves to this fact. They know they have cancer and they know it is sometimes incurable. But that sense of resignation that they develop takes away any anger and gives them a sense of serenity and peace that is achieved either through their prayer life or the prayers that others are offering for them. Prayer is a powerful tool each one of us has. It can help us become an instrument of peace to ourselves and to others. Today the medical world is now recognizing the value and importance of personal prayer. Heart attack recoveries, cancer recoveries all have been helped by the power of prayer.
Spiritually and psychologically one of the greatest instruments God has given us is the power of prayer. The season of Lent is that time for each one of us to cultivate a solid prayer life. It helps us maintain our sanctity and gives us a greater sense of serenity.