By Father Rodolfo Ramirez
Dear People of Saint Anne,
Sometimes, as a priest, what we do is explain, sometimes we comfort, often we teach, we organize, we guide, we recommend, we direct, we supervise. Sometimes, both alone and with others, we even question and doubt and worry. But more often than not, we pray. Like Jesus, we find ourselves standing with arms stretched out from earth to heaven, in acts that implore God’s merciful presence and action; we anxiously await a revelation of God’s will, as Jesus did in the garden and on the cross. My priesthood may well be defined as my willingness to stand in the center of life’s tensions, alone and with the people of God, in prayer.
When Jesus spoke of prayer, he did not really give lessons outside the model for the Lord’s Prayer. But the way he described his Father said a lot about how hard praying is. When he claims that the one “who asks, receives, the one who seeks, finds, and the one who knocks, the door will be open.” Jesus is perhaps a little ingenuous. Although this may be true over time, Jesus advises elsewhere, that the one who prays should be as tough as an old lady demanding justice from a corrupt judge. That is our only hope of getting our prayers answered. Jesus says his Father will answer with an egg, not a scorpion; a fish, not a snake. He does give his Spirit to those who ask. But a lot of screaming and pounding seems to be required first. Apparently, we are expected to endure God’s silence and inaction with demands and frustrated insistence.
To pray as Jesus describes, demands both the courage of a warrior and the docility of a disciple. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed with heartfelt honesty for God to let the cup pass away without his having to drink it, but then added, “yet not what I want but what you want.” On the cross itself, at the very moment he was fulfilling the Father’s will, Jesus cried out, wondering why God had forsaken him. Perhaps this is why Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven can only be taken by force. I am not violent like that. Thus, my prayer often and easily, even gratefully, turns into something else. Into distraction, meditation; into licking my wounds after yesterday’s battles; into reflection on the day’s upcoming events; into drawing up a list of the things I have to get done. There is something in us that wants to domesticate prayer, to siphon out the awe and tense uncertainty and replace it with comfy things of our own ken and preference. I rarely pour out my heart in candor and wonder, or in doubt and fury, or in whatever else may honestly bubble up from unseen depths. I prefer to be almost anywhere but that tender wound of passion and vulnerability. Whether consciously or not, I look for whatever returns me to rest. I once thought that being a martyr would be the hardest thing that could be required of a disciple, but now I suspect, at least for me, it is to remain in this fragile spot where I am not totally in control or utterly out of control, where I am contingent, in between, where I know myself as creature, sinner, disciple. Saint Teresa of Avila once remarked, “without first entering our own souls without getting to know ourselves.” If you want to know why we do not reach the intimacy of walking with the Lord in the cool of the evening, it is our unwillingness to see ourselves as we are. And I personally believe there is nothing so painful as prayer… prayer requires that we fight to our last breath. It requires us to be naked, to strip off, before we are in the presence of the Lord. In the Old Testament, if a priest was to enter the sanctuary, he was required to strip off all his clothes, to bathe, and then, only then, the naked priest was allowed to enter the holy place.
>In the Love of Christ.
Fr. Rodolfo G. Ramirez.