Listen closely, can you hear it?

By Mary Ann Otto | Special to The Compass | August 13, 2014

As you are reading this, please look to the left of my column. There you will find the column of Fr. Ron Rolheiser, one of the treasures of our church. In the years of his ministry as an award-winning author and well-known international speaker, he has informed us, formed us, encouraged us and challenged us to a deep and authentic relationship with Christ. He has also given us tools for the journey.

Perhaps you have read “The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality,” or participated in a small group titled “Longing for the Holy” based on his original book. If you have, there is no doubt you came out of the experience changed.

Fr. Rolheiser published a wonderful new book in 2013 titled “Prayer: Our Deepest Longing.” For Christian stewards who are aware that time for prayer is equally as important as talents for service and treasure for sharing, it is a wonderful gift.

As the diocesan stewardship director and a steward on my own journey, I am always looking for materials and resources to share that might have a new vantage point or touch our hearts and lives in a new way. Fr. Rolheiser’s, “Prayer: Our Deepest Longing” certainly was a home run for me. In the end, like with any relationship, a true measure of sincerity will be the investment of time spent in authentic conversation with Jesus.

I think the beauty of this book was in the simplicity in some of the main themes. Perhaps my favorite was his reference to the most important goal of affective or private prayer. Examples for us would be meditation, centering prayer, the rosary or any devotional prayers. Fr. Ron quotes one of his colleagues who led a retreat he attended to address this theme. Bob Michel said:

“You must try to pray so that, in your prayer, you open yourself in such a way that sometimes — perhaps not today, but sometime — you are able to hear God say to you, ‘I love you!’ These words addressed to you by God, are the most important words you will ever hear because before you hear them, nothing is ever completely right with you, but after you hear them, something will be right in your life at a very deep level” (p. 37-38).

Amazing! Raise your hand if you would have been able to articulate this as one of your goals for all of the private or devotional prayers that you have said in your lifetime. (Just so you know, both of my hands remained on the keyboard.) Fr. Ron also says that like in any “long-term affectionate relationship,” it is a two-way street and sometimes we coax the “I love you” out of each other by saying it first.

We are also reminded by Fr. Rolheiser that many of us pray for insight with our heads instead of for friendship with our hearts. He states: “Prayer is ultimately about love, not insight. Sadly, that is what we generally miss in prayer: the experience of God’s affection” (p. 39).

Consider how praying for friendship with Jesus could change our lives, the deep joy it could bring not only to ourselves but how we could invite others to do the same. It could change our families, our parishes and our church. It reminds me of Pope Francis’ invitation in “The Joy of the Gospel” to deepen our relationship with Jesus through prayer so that we could share it with others. There are so many people, including all of us, who need to hear God’s “I love you!”

The bottom line is that each of us needs to look in the mirror and evaluate our own prayer life first. How much time are we devoting to this important relationship? Are we still praying like we did 20 years ago? Are we being good conversationalists by speaking and listening? Do we look for new ways to enhance our relationship with God so we do not become stagnant? Each day we can make a conscious decision to be truly invested in this life-giving relationship. We can be bold!

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.

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