Jul 19, 2011

Prayer and our image of God

Some people reading the banners on Carmelites spirituality.

The Triduum for the Feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel has just ended yesterday. Every year at this time, the Carmelite nuns would specially invite me to attend the Triduum, but unfortunately, I always missed it. In 2009, I was in Singapore with the Daughters of St Paul for vocation discernment. In 2010, I went to Kuala Lumpur for a short vacation scheduled well before the invitation came from the nuns.

Deacon Bro Kenneth (left) and Fr Gregory Hon OCD (right) sharing their vocation stories.

This year, however, I was blessed enough to attend one evening Mass on 15 July. On 16 July, I managed to be with the Carmelites for half of their sessions. And this morning, I was given the privilege to meet the Carmelite priest, Fr Gregory Hon and Deacon Bro Kenneth.

Let me share a bit on the homily by Bro Kenneth on 15 July about prayer, which made me look at my own prayer life.

What is prayer? Prayer is simply relationship with God. But before entering into a relationship with Him, we need to have a correct image of who God is. To understand who God is, we need to understand who Jesus is. And thus, it is also important that we have a correct image of who Jesus is as well.

Someone once said this to me: “How we pray reflects who God is to us.”

Looking back when I was a young Catholic, I saw God as someone big and powerful. I made sure I said my prayers very morning and night in hope to please Him. It was more of a one-way communication where I asked for His blessings and protection. But as years gone by, I no longer see God as someone whom I need to constantly please. He’s a God who is all-powerful yet so gentle, a Mighty Judge yet so slow to anger, the King of the Universe yet He came down to our level through His Son, Jesus Christ; we are sinners but He calls us friends. Gradually, I moved from reading “set” prayers in the prayer book to using my own words. It is more personal now; just like having a conversation with my best friend.

Bro Kenneth is right.

If today I still think that praying is a duty that I must fulfill everyday, then being a Christian would be a burden to me. If I see God as Someone who’s always awaiting the opportunity to vent His anger and punishment at me when I sin, then I would never be able to enter into that friendship which Jesus has come to establish. As Christians, we know that Jesus came so that we may have life to the fullest (Jn 10:10).

Likewise, if I knew that a friend is trying to get close to me so that he/she could persuade me to buy an insurance policy from him/her, I would certainly draw a clear line between us.

But how can we have the right image of who God is, who Jesus is? The Bible is definitely the best source, Bro Kenneth shared. Therefore, we should take the Bible seriously and spend time to read and reflect, with the help of the Holy Spirit. If we have questions, we can always look the answers up from books, internet, or priests and those who understand the Bible better than us. Bro Kenneth also encouraged all who were present to sign up for Bible study classes.

We know that a lot of Catholics do not read the Bible. I even heard some who said something like this, “I can’t understand anyway, so why bother reading it?” But St Jerome, a father and doctor of the Church in the 5th century AD said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Without having any knowledge on Christ, how is prayer possible?

I think it’s a matter of how willing we are to spend time reading, studying, reflecting and praying (Lectio Divina) – or like one of our diocesan priests used to say, “wasting time” with the Lord. And I believe that when we have done our part in the attempt to grow closer in our relationship with God, He would also do His part by revealing Himself to us.

That is what the Carmelite sisters do everyday – immersing themselves in prayer and reflection, and practising of the presence of God while they carry out their daily chores.

Coincidently (I believe it’s not a coincidence after all), I came across an article written by the Carmelite sisters from Los Angeles which is also on prayer, but slightly more detailed with more references from the Carmelite saints. Worth a read, if you have some time to spare.

Those who stayed behind after Morning Mass gathered around the Altar (top) to listen to the sharing of one of the Carmelite sisters (bottom)

Written on 18 July 2011

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