What does it mean to pray hard?
GOD’S WORD TODAY - Francis D. Alvarez S.J. (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2015 - 10:00am

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60)

The Catholic faith has many “sayings” that are hard to accept in our heads: “Our God is one and three.” “God became a human being – a lowly carpenter’s son.” “God gives us his body and blood in the Mass as bread and wine.”

Our faith has many more “sayings” that are harder to accept in our hearts: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” “Forgive not only seven times but seventy times seven times.”

Even harder than the “sayings” are the things we are not just asked to say but are called to do: “Go, sell what you have, give to the poor, and follow me.” Yet harder still than the things we are called to do are the things we have no choice but to undergo, the things we have no control over and can only accept: “Why can’t she love me as much as I love her?” “Why can’t I be the one who suffers — why does it have to be my child?” “Why can’t I do anything to take away his pain?”

When things are hard to understand in our heads, harder to receive in our hearts, much harder still to do, and hardest of all to patiently undergo, what recourse is left to us? A simple answer: When things are hard, pray hard.

But what does it mean to pray hard?

A mother who was preparing her son — and herself — for her child’s First Communion recently asked me, “My son wants proof that the bread he will receive is indeed the Body of Christ. How can I prove this to him?” This was the only answer I could help her with: “Maybe you can tell him, ‘You believe me when I say I love you, right? And you don’t ask me for proof when I say that. Why don’t you need proof of my love? It’s because you know me and because you are close to me. Get to know Jesus more personally. Get closer to him. Then you will also know that it is truly him when you receive his body.’”

To pray hard is to strive to get to know God more especially when God seems most mysterious, to try to get closer to him when he seems farthest from your reach.

I visited a grandmother dying of cancer the other week. She told me, “I’m at peace with my sickness. I’m ready to go. But one last thing worries me: Who will take care of my grandson when I pass away? He is a special child, and I’m afraid he will never be able to take care of himself. I’m not praying for healing anymore. I’m just praying for someone to take care of my grandson.” A person without faith might say, “God never answered her prayers for healing from cancer. What makes her think God will answer her prayers for her grandson now?”

How can this grandmother still pray – and actually pray harder – when she is already resigned that a miraculous healing will not come? This grandmother knows God in a most personal way. She knows that God will always be with her.

To pray hard is to cling to God even when it seems he has forsaken you, to keep on trusting that God will never leave you.

Where I have been saying Mass the past few months, we have a roof that covers only one half of our chapel. You can just imagine what happens when it rains. Two weeks ago, a sudden downpour came right in the middle of my homily. Our sound system was no match for the thunder and the deluge crashing down from the sky, and so I cut my homily short and thought, “Let’s finish this as quickly as possible and get out of the rain.” I thought that the water coming down in torrents would dampen the spirits of the people. I thought that the rain would extinguish whatever fire was in their hearts. But when I said, “Sumainyo ang Panginoon,” I was met with the loudest “At sumaiyo rin” I have ever heard. The roof over the half of the chapel where we all huddled and packed ourselves like sardines started to leak. But the people sang even louder. The rain came down hard; the people prayed harder. By the end of the Mass, we were wet and tired. But we were not spent. I could only look at this people whose faith was certainly stronger was mine and say, “Surely, God is here.”

What does it mean to pray hard? To pray hard is to keep on praying especially when it is hard to pray. To work hard or to play hard means to work or play with all your might. But to pray hard is different. You may feel like it is a supreme act of the will in the beginning. You pray with clenched fists and through gritted teeth. But the harder you pray, the more you realize it is not your own might that sustains you. It is not your will; it is God’s grace.

When was the time you prayed your hardest? Did you get what you prayed for? Or did you get something better? Did you get closer to the God you prayed to — however he answered your prayer? Did you realize you were not alone?


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