Assumptions about Prayer

Why do we constantly get homilies and such about people who just say prayers but don’t live a Christian life apart from that?

I don’t know anybody who makes a serious effort to pray but then doesn’t make an effort to “live the Gospel” or “have a relationship with God”. If they weren’t interested in those things they would not be praying regularly. Of course they aren’t perfect - none of us are - I certainly am not. I can spend 3 hours praying and then within the next 8 hours get really annoyed with somebody and think and sometimes do all the things that annoyed people do. But that doesn’t mean I’m just “saying prayers” without meaning them.

There are likely a few people out there who are either very young or still spiritually immature who have the “vending machine” idea of God where you pray to get something and then if you get it you pray for something else you want, and if you don’t get it you lose faith and probably don’t bother praying any more, but these people don’t pray for very often or very long.

I repeatedly hear this stuff about people just repeating prayers or mumbling prayers or whatever from the Pope and now in the latest homily from Fr. Larry Richards that someone posted and from other sources too, and I am not getting it. I know sometimes Traditionalists take this as some sort of veiled condemnation of traditional prayer practice. I’m trying not to see it that way as I’m not looking for an excuse to bash the Pope, or bash Fr. Larry, or bash anyone, but I’m mystified why this idea that people are praying insincerely keeps on coming up. It sounds more like a homily topic from 1960s rooted in the idea that suburban parishioners were all prejudiced against poor people and people of color and didn’t care that we were killing children in Viet Nam and were just all smug and praying, and that kind of thinking led to the gradual dwindling of prayer (especially traditional as opposed to spontaenous prayer) over a couple of decades.

I should think that if someone is, shall we say, at a low stage of spiritual development, but they are saying prayers, it’s a start. Maybe challenge them to take it to the next level, but stop talking about prayer like it’s a bad thing.

I’m sorry that you’re upset, Tis. I could feel the emotion in what you wrote. Where is all this coming from; if I may ask?

As for myself, Tis: I look at prayer as a conversation with God. Like Saint Teresa de Ávila said. For me, prayer really opened up and came alive when I read Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer back in 2009/2010. Very cool book.

Then, I read Saint Teresa de Avila’s Interior Castle and then Saint Ignatius de Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.

Beyond that: I paid attention at Mass, when I prayed the Rosary and the other set Catholic Prayers. I learned how to pray from there.

It’s been fruitful.

As for the spiritual maturity thing: I totally agree. There comes a time when one has to put up and shut up and walk the talk; I hope you get my point.

Otherwise; what’s the point, neh?

As I said, I am hearing this theme in repeated homilies. Pope Francis has mentioned it more than once and Fr. Larry Richards went over it again in his latest homily that someone posted. It is a recurrent recent theme and while I generally don’t have a problem with Pope Francis (I realize some of the things he says are lost in translation/ are poorly presented by the media/ or just don’t come off the best) or with Fr. Larry (he’s not my preferred style of priest but some find him very helpful), I am just wondering where all these insincere sayers of prayers are hanging out.

If you are new to the Church then you probably don’t remember the late 60s and the 70s when many forms of traditional prayer were kind of looked down upon by a lot of the clergy and religious aged about 45 and under at that time. Rosaries for example were considered old-fashioned and worse.

I agree that there seems to be some kind of view within the Church that Catholics who attend regularly are missing something in their personal spiritual life. Now that may be true, but it is in no way the most difficult situation the Church is facing. At least not when compared to the frequency of pastoral exhortations regarding the topic.

Most Catholics don’t go to Mass. Most who do don’t believe that Christ is truly there. Most Catholics don’t know their soul is in danger when they skip Mass.

If the Church wanted to take a critical look at Her people, I find it hard to believe that the biggest issues are stemming from people who already have an active prayer life.


Exactly! You hit the nail on the head.
We can all improve in our spiritual life, wherever we are in it. We could be at the level of Mother Teresa and still have room for improvement.

But given that we no longer have a Catholic church with massive numbers of cradle Catholics who just show up every Sunday out of habit or “culture”, at least not in USA, these exhortations seem to be going mostly to people who are indeed making an effort in their spiritual life, or they wouldn’t even be at Mass or listening to/ reading the speech on the Internet. Those who aren’t really trying are the ones who skip Mass and tune out, not the ones who are saying a prayer.


Ah, I think I get you.

I’ve never heard of this theme in homilies st my parish or on EWTN. Personally, I like our Holy Father Francis. I love his style and the general gist of his pontificate. I like Fr Larry too. Usually, what I hear from his talks on EWTN usually has to do with urging people to an authentic relationship with the Holy Trinity and Our Lady.

And he urges us Catholics to really delve into Sacred Scripture.

I don’t know where any of these insincere prayer sayers are at. I’m not even aware it was a problem.

I’m thinking we’ve got a host of other problems than people’s prayer lives we need to deal with.

I’m thinking the Church needs to re establish her moral authority and somehow fix the scandals and the public image nightmare they caused. Then, I think we need really focus on evangelizing and catechizing our own Confirmed laity. I’ve heard priests say we lose more people than we do those coming home.

That’s a drastic problem that needs solving.

I just thought of something: What if we’re in a situation analogous to the Protestant explosion; but secular? What if that’s what we really need to focus on?

I don’t know what you mean by “The Protestant Explosion.”

Who knows?

My two cents:-

  • Perhaps people aren’t praying daily, perhaps they don’t know they should be!
  • Perhaps they don’t realize that praying is conversing with God whether in words of set prayers, prayers of any of the Saints, or just in ones’ own words.
  • How many practicing Catholics know to make aspirations throughout the day, and the reasoning behind this?
  • Or perhaps it’s because there is a ‘general’ attitude that if one goes to Mass and tries to be a good person that is enough - when we know that isn’t all that’s involved in being a Catholic.
  • Or perhaps the fact that at the time of dying the Church applies the Apostolic Pardon to those rightly disposed, “provided they regularly prayed in some way during their lifetime” - that is if a priest cannot be present. Apostolic Pardon - so hence the encouragement to pray or pray more - especially as the temptation to do the minimal is often present.
  • Or perhaps to encourage people to go further - pray more often, more prayers, praying for longer, or go to Adoration and pray etc, instead of thinking the minimal is enough, what they are doing is enough, they don’t need to do more, in other words they risk becoming lukewarm (there are always exceptions, I’m making generalizations, as perhaps the Pope and Fr Larry and others are too).
  • To encourage people to grow closer in their relationship with God.
  • Or because people get so busy they don’t pray or don’t pray often enough.
  • Or because it is rote - prayers said out of habit/routine without the focus of and sincerity of what they are praying, so are being reminded of this.
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If the shoe does not fit…

On general principle, I refuse to call the Protestant Reformation a reformation. It was a revolt IMO

I get told this all the time. This isn’t about me. I couldn’t care less what a priest or even the Pope says about stuff I do, they don’t know me and I don’t go around looking for reasons to take something personally. I’m more wondering where this attitude is coming from in the Church because I don’t meet anybody who is over age 18 and prays but is not making an effort in their spiritual life. If they aren’t making an effort, then they don’t pray, except maybe for mumbling along at a Mass if they even bother to attend that.

I have also seen various other priests and modern saints talk about or write about the power of prayer and how even starting with one little prayer, presumably sincere, is a start, which is a totally different viewpoint than those who seem to be saying prayer (especially a set prayer) tends to be pharisaical. I honestly wonder about the mindset about prayer.

We’re always under attack from the secular world, for centuries now.
I don’t see anything special or different about the current situation.

Yeah, you’re right. Same old stuff.

I agree with you, Tis. If I see someone praying more than just approaching God as a wish dispenser; he/she is sincere in their prayer life.

@Tis_Bearself I’m reminded of your own comments on one of my threads a few months back. Where I talked about living with a lot of life and health struggles, and how the church often shames those who aren’t able to make a lot of visible commitments to their parish. It’s far too easy to judge by what we see, especially when we see so many unmet needs around us. But so many of us have struggles that are hidden from others, and so many of these needs are beyond what many of us can address. I wonder if sometimes our clergy, who have given their lives to public ministry, forget that not everyone has the resources to give of themselves publicly.

I’m not too familiar with the homilies you’re referring to, myself, so I can’t comment too much (maybe I’ll try to listen tomorrow). I know there’s often a public perception that people substitute prayers for concrete action. I’m not sure how much that actually happens - aside from politicians who probably need to go read Matthew 6 a few times. But that’s more likely a problem with politicians than those in the pews.

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You are more wound up than usual.

Come, O Holy Spirit and refresh this soul! Grant them the grace of even a single moment of the peace which surpasses all understanding. Amen.

Now, having said that, there is very little happening now which truly upsets me. Rather, I was the polar opposite in the extreme. You must be at a wonderful parish as, with perhaps one or two exceptions, I have never encountered any of the lectors , servers or choir members at adoration or confession.

Does not mean that they do not go - it’s just that I should have seen at least one of them in what, 20 years? In all of this, I have seen the Faith formation/RCIA etc. etc. etc. director only once at Adoration. I almost walked up to make sure it was him. And this was after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Oh well. My job is to fall only six times per day instead of seven.

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Yeah, that bugs me, it always has. I tend to align myself with the clergy who see prayer, often concerted group prayer, as a big concrete action that we can all take together.

I’m allowed to be wound up once in a while. Dissing on prayer and dissing on Mother Mary are two things that wind me up. Most other things don’t.

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On one hand, those who use public prayer and similar acts to make themselves look good is a perennial problem. Hence Matthew 6 and the admonition to pray in secret - because the leaders of the day used public prayer to make themselves look good while doing evil in private. Humanity rarely manages to invent new sins.

On the other hand, yes, most people pray because they want to be closer to God, especially among those of us who hold no position where there are many eyes on us. And written prayers are part of the heritage of our faith. I find them useful in avoiding that temptation to “wish fulfillment” prayer, honestly - our written prayers have a way of taking you out of yourself and into the wider church community, even if you’re not in the mood at the start.

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