September 22, 2012

How Do We Know To Whom We Pray?

Authentic christian devotion always grounds prayer in the truth about the One to whom we pray. Many contemporary spiritual techniques and methods hold out psychological comfort and the pursuits of psychic states.  In and of themselves, comfort and enlightenment are not bad.  But if we pursue these more than the Word of the Father, if we rest in experiences rather than in faith, we are vulnerable to dehumanizing deception. The Father does not want us to compromise our integrity in our pursuit of Him and that is why He has revealed the truth to us in His Word. Through prayer rooted in this Truth, the Lord grounds us in an integrity of life more powerful than death, the only foundation firm enough to bear the weight of human existence.

In his Confessions, after observing that the Creator has fashioned humanity with the instinct or urge to praise Him, St. Augustine asks how it is we are to know God so that this human need might be met.  He realizes that we can be deluded, that we can transfer our desire for God onto other things.  If we pray to God, how do we know that we are not talking to ourselves or devoting ourselves to something else other than Him?

For St. Augustine, this is the ultimate question because it concerns our happiness.   For him, having the right answer to his question is essential because the whole purpose of our existence weighs in the balance.  Since our nature can only rest in God, if we are mistaken about who it is we are worshiping, we will not find the peace which we were meant to have. So long and so far as we are disconnected from the truth, the deepest core of our being remains frustrated and out of harmony with itself- this is, as St. Augustine experienced, a disintegrating way to live.

Could it be that some of the frustration we feel personally and that we see unfolding in society finds its roots in the fact that we are not devoting ourselves to the One True God?  We worship at other altars instead. We have not rooted our prayer in truth but in a mirage, a shadow.

There is a lot of frustration in our society and in our families today -- frustration that results from believing that attaining possessions, security, comfort, pleasure and reputation will finally allow us to be happy.  We go to Church and we do what we are suppose to, but we do not make the search for the true God the priority, the guiding passion in our lives.  We are dissipated on other pursuits - other altars demand our sacrifices.  We develop clever plans and systems to secure these good things -- and yet no matter how much we attain of them, happiness seems to elude us, like a mirage in the desert.   We are like the pilgrim Dante at the beginning of the Divine Comedy -- we think we see the way out, but the more we try, the more lost we get and the more vulnerable.

The answer St. Augustine proposes is in the words of a preacher. The Church is where the Word of the Father gives Himself to the World. The Word gives Himself in the power of the Holy Spirit. Such power moves us out of death and into a fullness of life - a new creation, a new fruitfulness.  Bridegroom gives Himself in this way because the Church is His Bride - and because the Word is coming now, the Spirit and the Bride call to us as they call to Him: Come.

A preacher speaks on behalf of the Church because of his Spirit-filled relationship with the Church. By the Holy Spirit. he does not preach his own opinions or a testimony about himself, but he witnesses to the Word so that we might know the truth about the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Imperfect though they may be, God has chosen to makes Himself known through those who dare to preach the Gospel. Such preachers of the Word help us find the Truth about the One to whom we pray and, more than that, they help us encounter Him and know His presence. 


  1. The statue of Mary at my catholic church helps to direct my prayers. Its such a lovely image of the Virgin Mary. When i bow befor it, i can feel Mary and know she is hearing me and taking my prayers to Jesus. I have Mary statues at my home that keep me focused on my devotion to her. Plus i have the archangel Michael too. It protects my home from evil spirits. Thank you

  2. I seriously question whether a sermon that is only rhetorically a prayer, such as those offered by Cardinal Dolan at the national conventions of the two major political parties, can be called a prayer to the One True God. As sermons, they were fine, but when we teach, we should teach; when we preach, we should preach; and when we pray, we should pray.

    1. I am not comfortable with the implication that what Cardinal Dolan offered was not a real prayer. Prayer is by nature a theological act which involves rhetoric - thus, sacred doctrine and prayer complement one another and are not a living whole without one another.

  3. Great article, Dr. Lilly's! Thank you!

  4. "and yet no matter how much we attain of them, happiness seems to allude us"

       [ih-lood] Show IPA

    verb (used with object), e·lud·ed, e·lud·ing.
    to avoid or escape by speed, cleverness, trickery, etc.; evade: to elude capture.

    to escape the understanding, perception, or appreciation of: The answer eludes me.

       [uh-lood] Show IPA

    verb (used without object), al·lud·ed, al·lud·ing.
    to refer casually or indirectly; make an allusion (usually followed by to ): He often alluded to his poverty.

    to contain a casual or indirect reference (usually followed by to ): The letter alludes to something now forgotten.