I’m a married man with a large family. I can’t find time to pray. Have you any advice?
Obviously our reader is a man whose heart is in the right place. Only a generous person under¬takes to rear a large family. A man of faith, he is concerned about the place of prayer in his life. His search for advice indicates a prompting of the Holy Spirit and a response to the exhortation of Jesus to 'pray always'.
Perhaps it's a fatherly concern for his large family that is making him more aware of the need for prayer. A director of a business feels responsible for getting things done, but not for the personal behaviour of the people involved. It is different with the father of a family. He cannot avoid taking it personally if his children fail their exams through lack of application to study, or get into trouble because of questionable moral behaviour.
If we should pray for important people in the community, as St. Paul recommends (1 Tim.2:1ff), all the more should we pray for the important people in our own lives. For a concerned father, no one in the world is more important than the members of his own family. His dealings with them will one day be the most important thing on the agenda. For Georges Bernanos, the French novelist, the heavenly Father will have only one question to put to each of us when we stand before him at the end: 'Where are your children?'
A Walk with a Friend
What is prayer? For Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity it was like a tete-a-tete in the dark with a friend. We cannot see the other person, but we know that he is there and listening. To begin to do this requires faith; to keep doing it, perseverance. And in order to persevere we need to have hope.
Speaking to someone that you know loves you is a non-threatening experience. It is not a performance. There are no lines to be learnt or forgotten. You don't have to mind your p's and q's, and there may be very few words. At times, perhaps, the fewer the better. As in all real conversation, there is a lot of listening. The more of it the better when you are talking to God, who knows everything.
To think that you can't find time to pray is like saying that you can't find time to talk to yourself. When you find yourself talking to yourself - and everybody does it - simply ask God to listen in. And, hey presto, you have turned your musings or daydreams into prayer. These private moments often reveal something of our deepest desires.
Genuine prayer brings about a purification of these desires, leading to a growth in holiness. Without this purification, our desires may never amount to anything real. The prayer of one young person expresses this admirably. In a short prayer to the Sacred Heart, she asks, 'May the desires of your heart become the desires of my heart, and then give me my heart's desire'.
Setting Time Aside
While we can always turn to God when alone in a car or a lift, we are unlikely to make much progress in it unless we set aside certain times for prayer. There is no better prayer than the Mass. When complemented by spiritual reading, personal prayer and the wonderful Sacrament of Penance - a most commendable form of humble prayer - we can hope to profit more from reception of the Eucharist.
Another father of a large family, St. Louis, the thirteenth-century King of France, was reputed to spend seven hours a day in formal prayer. When this caused complaints, he said that if he had spent even more time in hunting and gaming, there would not have been a word about it. These were the contemporary equivalents of golf, sightseeing or tourism!
Early in the twentieth century, one of the radical socialist deputies in an anti-clerical French Government declared in Parliament that France had never been better governed in all its history than by King Louis, the saint. His prayer obviously did not get in the way of his work.
Isn't it remarkable how we all manage to make time for things that we think important? The gospels tell us that the Apostles were so busy that they had hardly time to eat. The operative word here is 'hardly' because, in spite of the many demands of their apostolate, like all the rest of us they did actually find enough time to eat. There is no evidence in the Scriptures of any of them dying through malnutrition!
Source of Love
Our reader might be helped by a saying popularized very successfully by Marriage Encounter. It draws attention to a simple but profound message about family life: 'The best thing that a man can do for his children is to love their mother'. It takes very little experience to appreciate the wisdom of this. We might go a step further, however, and add that the best thing he can do for both his wife and family is to love their God. Time spent with him will enrich every other relationship.
The disciples of Jesus asked him for advice about prayer. His reply was to teach them the most perfect prayer ever composed. It encapsulates our every need and everything we should ask for. Indeed, as St. Augustine put it, if we ask for more than there is in the Our Father, we are asking for too much, and if we ask for less than there is in it, we are asking for too little. We should never let a day pass without saying it.