The Power of Prayer: A New Years Resolution
“[A] great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer.”
─ Pope St. John Paul II, Evanglium vitae
Last week, I wrote to you about how Christmas is a reminder of the primacy of prayer in the life of the Christian. Everything about the Christmas story, and the scene in Bethlehem, acts as a call towards contemplation. There is no noise, or bustle, in the stable. Instead, we see Joseph and Mary quietly contemplating the face of God, in a state of peace and repose.
To sit and gaze upon the face of an infant child is not something that is self-evidently useful. It doesn’t increase the nation’s GDP; it doesn’t pay the bills; it doesn’t fight injustice or improve poverty; it doesn’t produce anything; it doesn’t even provide for the infant’s immediate needs.
And yet, every mother recognizes that this quiet act of appreciation is one of the best possible uses of her time, and wishes she had more time to spend in this way. To gaze upon her child fills her heart with wonder and gratitude. And in some inscrutable way, she knows that it is the only appropriate response to the miracle of a new human life.
It is in the awe-filled contemplation of something good that human nature finds its deepest fulfillment. We are not merely animals that live and breathe and act; we are spiritual, knowing beings, who hunger for truth, and whose highest purpose is found in the ecstatic contemplation of the good, the true, and the beautiful, and ultimately God.
This is, in no small measure, why the Church has elevated the Blessed Mother as the ideal model of the Christian. Mary did not “do” much. Her life’s work consisted in the act of loving her Son, in offering an unreserved “yes” to the love that He offered her.
New Year’s: A Time to Look Forward
It is fitting, therefore, that the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on the first day of the new year. In doing so, the Church elevates before our eyes the primary model that we ought to seek to imitate in the coming year.
It is common to begin a new year by formulating one’s “new year’s resolutions.” This impulse is a commendable one. There is something deeply attractive about the blank slate of a new year. It seems fresh, unsullied, filled with promise, like a blank canvas. Meanwhile, the outgoing year seems tired and worn out, sullied by the many ways in which we have failed to live up to the prior year’s resolutions.
As we begin a new year, therefore, we strive to gather the energy, courage, and conviction to become the person that we’ve always known we should become but haven’t yet found the strength to be. And so, go ahead and formulate your resolutions. However, do not forget that no resolution that we make is more important than the resolution to renew and deepen our spiritual life, our relationship with God.
Indeed, all the other resolutions that one might make should, to one degree or another, be subordinate to—in the sense of serve—this one primary resolution. It is good to resolve to eat healthy in the new year, to lose excess weight, to exercise regularly, to moderate one’s use of social media, to wake up early, and in general to embrace a more orderly, disciplined life. It is good to promise to read good books, to give more money to good causes, and to spend more time with friends and family.
However, all of these things ultimately find their value in the extent to which they serve the only aim that matters: to develop an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. It is good to keep to a disciplined sleep schedule, so that you can reliably carve out the time for prayer in the morning. It is good to eat healthy, so that you can have the clarity of mind and energy to pray well. It is good to spend less time on social media, so that you have more time for prayer and contemplation: above all the ongoing, uninterrupted, “unceasing” prayer which St. Paul commends in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, i.e., the habitual state of dedicating everything that one does, every thought that one thinks, to the loving service of God.
In the end, the ultimate purpose of human life is to spend an eternity in the loving contemplation of God. That is the end for which we are made; that is the end towards which all our thoughts and actions must tend. This entire life, therefore, is nothing else than a preparation for that state of being, a state that we can begin, even now, to enjoy and live.
The Importance of Prayer
However, it is not only that we are made for prayer. It is also the case that prayer is powerful.
Those of us in the pro-life and pro-family movements rightly wish to make the world a better place. We wish to make a difference. We wish to stand valiantly against the forces of evil, to stop their incursions into our culture, to protect the lives and the souls they threaten. We wish to change laws and cultural institutions all the better to reflect the principles of the Culture of Life.
However, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Evangelium vitae, it is in prayer that we find the strength to do all of the above.
Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29). Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love.
As I intimated last week, in the great battle to create a Culture of Life and oppose the machinations of the culture of death, it is easy—too easy!—to prioritize action over prayer. This is a subtle, but a fatal error.
It is not uncommon to find activists who “burn out,” because they have fallen prey to this temptation to think that their action is so valuable that they could never afford to let up: that to seek the solitude and refreshment of quiet, contemplative prayer is a “waste of time.” In many cases the choice is not so explicit: instead, it is simply that the activists have allowed the flood of action and events to carry him or her away.
Ironically, it is often easier to just keep working, doing the next task on the list, arranging the next conference or the next fundraiser or protest, than it is it escape the flood, and take refuge in prayer. This is always a tragic outcome. In the most tragic cases, we sometimes see such activists falling into the very evils which they ostensibly dedicated their lives to fighting—infidelity, divorce, addiction, etc.
To prioritize prayer, however, is to put things in the right perspective. It is to recognize, above all, that we are but worthless servants, and that to the extent that any of our well-intentioned actions produce any fruit worth having, it is because God has chosen to use us as His humble instruments.
This is the fundamental conviction embodied so well in the life of Mother Teresa. No matter how many dying and starving people were at the door of her convents, Mother Teresa dedicated hours every day to silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. To utilitarian eyes, such time was “wasted” time. But Mother Teresa knew that such contemplative prayer was the whole foundation for every good work accomplished by herself and her order.
Without drinking from the source of all charity, Mother Teresa knew that her own inner resources would quickly be exhausted. As Cardinal Robert Sarah writes in The Day is Now Far Spent, “Mother Teresa stated that without the intense, burning presence of God in our hearts, without lives of profound, intense intimacy with Jesus, we are too poor to take care of the poor.”
For this reason, the good Cardinal issues this warning, “Multiplying human efforts, believing that methods and strategies have any efficacy in themselves, will always be a waste of time. Christ alone can give his life to souls; he gives it in the measure in which he himself lives in us and has completely taken hold of us….The apostolic value of an apostle is measured solely by his sanctity and by the intensity of his prayer life.”
Look to the Holy Family
And so, during this Christmas season, and in particular on this great Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, look to Mary and the Holy Family for the inspiration of what to do differently in this coming year.
Do you wish to fight for the Culture of Life? Do you wish to oppose the evils that have infiltrated the Church? Do you wish to oppose the machinations of anti-life and anti-family activists? Do you wish to become a better apostle of Christ? Start with prayer. End with prayer.
Especially if you are a parent, do everything you can to inculcate a spirit of prayer in your home, looking to the Holy Family for the model. This is the advice of Pope St. John Paul II in Evangelium vitae:
The family celebrates the Gospel of Life through daily prayer, both individual prayer and family prayer. The family prays in order to glorify and give thanks to God for the gift of life and implores his light and strength in order to face times of difficulty and suffering without losing hope. But the celebration which gives meaning to every other form of prayer and worship is found in the family’s actual daily life together, if it is a life of love and self-giving.
May our homes be places of intimacy with Christ, from out of which the love of Christ spreads around the world. This is how cultures are changed. This is how the Culture of Life will win out in the end.
As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.