Prayer: An End in Itself

An excerpt from “I Think I am Happier Than I Think I Am,” by Reverend James O’Leary

“A few years ago, on a radio talk show, the host was talking about the subject of prayer and cloistered nuns who were dedicated to prayer. The host could only think of one reason to pray: to beg God to change His mind when He was about to send evil on the world.

The host thought for people who prayed, “Thy will be done,” this was a contradictory exercise. In one breath we pray, “Thy will be done,” and in the next, “Please don’t do this. Change your mind.” The radio commentator was using deadly logic. I cannot fault that. But his starting point was wrong. To presume that the only reason we pray is to get God to change his mind is nonsense.

The lives of cloistered nuns are not spent coaxing God to send “goodies” to us instead of pain. The nuns are not professional beggars. The primary reason for prayer is to commune with God. Just to be consciously with God is the reason for prayer. When we spend time with God, we fulfill and enrich ourselves. We become who we really are and who God wants us to be.

The radio host had a cheap idea of prayer and a cheap attitude. It strikes me that we Catholics sometimes talk about prayer in such a way as though we are trying to get something God does not really want to give us. This gives a wrong impression about prayer. We speak of prayers that “really work.” It sounds so utilitarian; like magic.

Prayer is simply spending time with God. What cloistered nuns do is spend a lifetime with God. Of course, we can ask God for favors. But if that is all prayer is for us, there’s something wrong. My suggestion: we pray for God’s will and the power to carry that out. We never ask God to change His mind. We don’t have to. God only wants what is best for us.”

 

 

 

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.