Opinion & Features

Praying out of habit is better than not praying at all

(Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk)

Even if your heart is not engaged, the habit of praying is still worthwhile

In his first audience of 2019, Pope Francis urged the faithful not to “parrot” their prayers – and to cease trying to “flatter” God by repeating streams of praise. The Lord doesn’t want to be “appeased” with adoration, he said: prayer should come from the heart, not from useless adulation.

Indeed, a similar exhortation comes from Jesus in the New Testament referring to pagans babbling away in pointless repetition. And yet, may I enter here a plea for an alternative interpretation of prayer practice?

There’s a lot to be said for the power of habit. I take my evidence from two sources: one is the practice of writing. It was the novelist Anthony Trollope who provided would-be writers with the most effective advice ever: just write something every day. It can be 100 words or it can be 5,000 words, but it must be something. Forget inspiration, said Trollope: just write. Even if it’s rubbish, the habit will eventually prompt something more valuable. (Trollope himself rose regularly at 4am to write several thousand words before embarking on his Royal Mail day job.)

The second source is that of Alcoholics Anonymous, the worldwide organisation which helps alcoholics achieve sobriety. AA advises those struggling with alcohol addiction to “fake it till you make it”. Even if you can’t stay sober all the time, aspire to sobriety – even pretend, if need be. The everyday practice of striving for sobriety can bring success, through dint of custom and habit.

Is there not, sometimes, a parallel with praying? You cannot always “pray from the heart”. If you’re dejected, depressed or preoccupied by some overwhelming concern, it can be difficult to utter heartfelt prayers.

But just as with the practice of putting one word down after another helps the flow of writing, and one day of reluctant sobriety can produce another day of willing temperance, so the prayer from the heart may flow from the habit of praying.

Pope Francis was focusing on the Lord’s Prayer. Even if your heart is not in gear, the Pater Noster still says it all.

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Olivia Colman deserves her Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Queen Anne in the movie The Favourite, now showing. The film is self-described as “bawdy” and so it is, with its narrative of the last Stuart monarch in allegedly lesbian relationships with her female “favourites”. Historians say there is no substantial evidence for this claim, but movies take liberties with history.

The truest, and saddest, moment in the film is when Anne laments that she lost 17 children – some through miscarriage, some as stillbirth and some as young children. Queen Anne’s obstetric history has long been regarded as an especially tragic example of maternal loss in times gone by.

There was also a political consequence to this personal sorrow (not mentioned in the film). As she died without an heir, a successor had to be found to occupy the throne. Although Anne had been raised an Anglican, most of the Stuarts were Catholics, and every effort was made to exclude any Catholic successor. Anything up to 40 Stuarts who had a legitimate claim were passed over until at last, George I, from Hanover, was selected. He spoke no English but as a Protestant, he fitted the bill.

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All Christians surely support issues of social justice, and thus when the national minimum wage was increased last year to £7.83 for workers over 25, I thought that was right – it’s a modest enough remuneration anyway. So when a service that I pay for increased by nearly 10 per cent since the summer of 2018, I asked if the increase was due to the upping of the national minimum wage. Not wholly, I was told, but when the minimum wage is increased, the wages of employees who are not on the minimum wage must also be increased, so as to maintain the differential between staffing levels. Thus the service user, or customer, pays for the minimum wage increase (which I agree with), but also an incremental increase to those who are further up the pay scale.

My question: is this in line with Christian social justice theory? And does it make sense in terms of economic practicalities?

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4