Today’s guest blogger is Nick Luken, a second-year student at The Ohio State University, majoring in English and minoring in professional writing. Nick graduated from Roger Bacon, a Franciscan high school in Cincinnati, in 2012.
The Bible is full of tall orders. Between loving our enemies and forgiving the people who hurt us, we’re asked to do a lot if we truly want to call ourselves Christians. We’re even called to be perfect like God! But one commandment that has especially intrigued me lately comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing.”
I think that this quote scares most people a lot at first glance. I know it scares me. I find myself thinking, “Paul couldn’t have meant that, could he? How am I supposed to pray all the time?” My first visions of carrying out this commandment probably involved doing nothing but saying Hail Marys over and over. But was this what St. Paul really meant?
I’m sure St. Paul meant it when he said that the Thessalonians (and, by extension, all Christians) should pray without stopping, but I doubt that he meant that we should do nothing but say structured prayers over and over until we die. I mean, if St. Paul really meant that, he wouldn’t have written any of his letters because he would have been too busy repeating prayers, and so never would have given us the advice to “pray without ceasing.” And if all we were supposed to do was pray, all the things Jesus said about loving our neighbors, feeding the poor, and taking up our crosses and following him would have been meaningless.
I think Paul’s call to pray ceaselessly is much more complex than an order to shut ourselves in our rooms and talk directly to God for the rest of our lives. I don’t think we can ever really know what St. Paul meant. But I’ve heard one explanation I think is worth repeating: We are called to pray always by making our very lives a prayer. By definition, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2259). I think we can raise our hearts and minds to God in more ways than just speaking to God directly. If we can turn our hearts to God in everything we do, from our work to our relaxation, we can truly pray without ceasing, and we can grow closer to the Lord every moment of our lives.