Saturday, September 1, 2018


I went down to church to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament early this morning; I arrived late because my lower back had been hurting badly all night. As I sat down gingerly, the pain in my lumbar spine promised to make this one of those "going through the motions" prayer sessions. But the Lord and St. Paul had different plans.

I mechanically looked up the first reading for today's mass, 1 Cor. 1:26-31, and read the following verses:

Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, ...
so that no human being might boast before God.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God, ...
Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.

Then I saw this footnote for the final verse: "'Boasting about oneself' is a Pauline expression for the radical sin, the claim to autonomy on the part of a creature, the illusion that we live and are saved by our own resources. 'Boasting in the Lord,' on the other hand, is the acknowledgement that we live only from God and for God."

Hunched over in my chair at the time, I was very receptive to the contrast between "the illusion that we live and are saved by our own resources" and the acknowledgement that "we live only from God and for God." The point was being driven home to me in a painful way through the piercing pain in my spine: "my" prayer is not ultimately my own, but is from the Holy Spirit who prays in me.

After the earthquake
I'd like to think that if my back would stop hurting, my prayer would be more peaceful and focused and more worthwhile. But Paul's instruction this morning suggests a much more sensible possibility: That having to pray from a position of pain was reminding me that I was praying as one of the "poor" and "weak" who were chosen by God. I was praying with all the sick and suffering around the world lying in hospitals, starving in bombed-out cities, living in fractured families, struggling in the grip of addiction. None of these brothers and sisters were suffering with "the illusion that we live and are saved by our own resources," and my back pain, while nothing compared to their suffering, was helping me to join them in prayer that is humble, not my own but a gift of Christ in whom we all live and move and have our being.

I sat down intending to just go through the motions of praying this morning. That was my plan. It was, apparently, not the one the Lord had in mind for me.

1 comment:

  1. As a lay person it is tempting to think of a priest or brother as a "prayer expert." Thank you for sharing the intimacy of your own journey to understand prayer.