September 22, 2012

How Do We Know To Whom We Are Praying?

Today, more than ever, we must ground our prayer in the truth.   Many techniques and methods made available in contemporary spirituality direct us towards either 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 God, if we rest in experiences rather than in faith, we are vulnerable to dehumanizing deception.  God does not want us to compromise our integrity in our pursuit of Him and that is why He has revealed the truth to us - so that through prayer rooted in truth we might find a deeper integrity, a deeper foundation for our lives.

St. Augustine understood the importance of this in his Confessions.   After observing that the human person is fashioned with the instinct to praise God, he 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 worshipping, we will not find the peace which we were meant to have.   The deepest core of our being would be frustrated and out of harmony with itself- this is for him 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, the answer to the question about how we know whether it is really the true God we are praying to when we pray is found in learning how to believe.  Prayer and faith are joined together - for prayer to help us realize what we most need, we need to learn what to believe about God and how to believe in Him.  He explains that we learn how to believe through preachers who teach us the Word of God through the teaching of the Church.  This Sacred Doctrine is transformative and the pathway to true peace - not only for ourselves, but for our whole society.