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home : opinion : perspectives

10/17/2013 9:01:00 AM
Why seminarians pray

When giving vocation talks to groups of teenagers, I have often asked them what they thought priests did on a typical day. The consensus was that priests spent most of their time in the church and in prayer. 

Although their thinking was somewhat naive, it does reveal that others believe that the priest is a man of prayer. A recent survey of adults verified this. The survey asked people what they considered to be the most desirable quality in a priest. The answer they gave was that he be prayerful.

Every Christian is called to be a person of prayer. For the priest, however, prayer is not only a basic requirement of the Christian life; it is absolutely essential to him who has been called from among the people to lead them in living out their faith.

The priest gives his people an example of the necessity of prayer in order to have a living relationship with God. His prayerful example is more powerful than his exhortations to pray. An ancient maxim reads, "Words teach, but example attracts."

This is, no doubt, the reason why my teachers at Mundelein Seminary stress to us students - future priests - the necessity of growing in their life of prayer.

Every day of our seminary life, we come together to celebrate Mass. Through it, we become more and more sacramentally bound to Jesus, to whose priesthood we believe we have been called to share. At certain times throughout the day - mainly morning and evening - we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and finally end the day with night prayer. The seminarian fervently offers these official prayers of the Church in union with Jesus Christ, our high priest, and with the whole Church throughout the world.

In addition to our liturgical prayer life, the seminarians know that they must have a strong personal prayer life. In fact, every form of prayer presupposes that the individual has a personal prayer life. Without it, there is nothing to build on. As seminarians, we are expected to spend time each day in private prayer. This period of prayer is usually called a holy hour.

There are different ways of approaching one's holy hour. Some choose to pray in the morning, others in the evening. The format of the holy hour tends to depend on the individual; the most important aspect, however, is that prayer should entail a period of dialogue with the Lord.

Prayer is fundamentally a conversation with God. St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote, "First, speak with God; then let God speak with you." The seminary provides the context for this conversation. In the midst of his private prayer, the seminarian comes to know and thus deepens his relationship with the one who has called him to act in His name.

"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you," says John 15:16. God has chosen a man whom He can "talk to," one who is at home with God and will act in his name.

The fruit of prayer is cooperation with God's providence and trust in His love for us. The priest, who has been configured to the person of Christ, should evidence this in his life. It also means that, like Christ, who immersed Himself in the lives of people, the priest must pray with them and for them.

If he neglects this aspect of his prayer, not only will he not bring the needs of the people before God, he cannot bring God to them.

As I continue in my final year of studies for the priesthood, I am paying particular attention to my prayer life. I may never again have this privileged time to deepen my spiritual life as I do now under the guidance of so many wise and experienced priests. I pray that, throughout my priestly life, my attitude of prayer will deepen my relationship with God, so that I may meet the expectations of the people and truly lead them to know, love and serve God.

(Deacon Slezak is a native of St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Rotterdam Junction, a mission of St. Joseph's parish in Schenectady.)

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