by Fr. Mark Goldasich
The dog days of summer bit me hard the other day. And I’m glad they did. It seemed that everywhere I looked, some project was calling out to me. The only problem was the heat and humidity had so zapped any focus or motivation I had that I could think of doing only one thing. I walked out to my screened-in porch, slid my tired body onto the chaise lounge, let out a huge sigh, closed my eyes . . . and prayed. I find that prayer is the best tonic when I’m feeling listless, unfocused or overwhelmed.
When I’m in this kind of mood, my prayer drifts toward that described in the following story:
A servant girl once approached a minister, wanting to become a member of his church. He asked what she could do for the church to foster the work of Jesus in the world.
“I haven’t much time to do things,” the girl replied, “but at night, when I go to bed, I take the morning newspaper with me. And I read the birth notices, and I pray for the little babies who have just come into the world. I read the marriage notices, and I pray that God will give these people happiness. I read the death notices, and I pray that God will comfort those who are sad.” (Adapted from Anthony Castle’s “More Quips, Quotes & Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers.”)
This servant girl seems to have hit upon an ideal summertime prayer. Frequently, people talk to me about having a desire to pray more. Perhaps we don’t pray as often as we’d like because we’re making prayer too hard. Sometimes we feel that the only “real” prayers are those that are more formal — the ones we learned by heart as children, such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or the rosary — or those that are more lengthy, like reading Scripture or a good spiritual book. While all of these are certainly wonderful ways to pray, our Catholic tradition is also rich with many other methods and tools.
For many busy or tired people, the “newspaper prayer” of the servant girl might be very appealing. Instead of complaining about the serious ills that plague our world or giving in to panic and despair, a much better response is to invite God into the mix. This “newspaper method” is not much different from the prayers of petition that we offer every time we gather for Mass.
Since I spend a lot of time at my kitchen table — eating,reading and working — I’ve also made it a place to do a little praying. I have a couple of 3×5 file cards propped up there with names written on them. When people ask me to remember someone in prayer, I write their names on those file cards. Then, whenever I sit at the table or pass by it on the way to somewhere else, my eyes are drawn to that list of names and I find myself taking a moment or two to pray. When I change the cards every six weeks or so, it’s a great reminder to follow up on those who’ve asked for my prayers, to see what’s happened in the intervening time.
Another handy — literally — way to pray is called “The Finger Prayer.” The version that I use came from a Web site called inspirationaljournal.com; the author of the prayer was unknown.
The Finger Prayer has five parts:
1. Because our thumb is nearest to us, begin by praying for those closest to you. They are the easiest people to remember.
2. The next finger is the pointer. Pray for all of those who teach, instruct and heal, like teachers, doctors, and priests. They need support and wisdom in pointing people in the right direction.
3. Then comes the tallest finger. It reminds us of our leaders. Pray for the president, local and national representatives, and business and world leaders. Because these people shape public policy, they need God’s guidance.
4. The fourth finger is the ring finger. Surprisingly, this is our weakest finger. It reminds us to pray for those who are weak, poor, forgotten, abused, alone, or in trouble or pain. They need our constant prayers.
5. Lastly comes our little finger. This is where we should place ourselves in relation to God and others. The pinkie should remind us to pray for ourselves. By the time we’ve prayed for the other four groups above, our own needs will be put into perspective and we’ll pray for ourselves more effectively.
May these simple ways to pray remind us not to take a vacation from God during these dog days of summer. Instead, let’s invite him into our everyday lives, especially when we least feel like praying . . . because it’s then that we need God the most.