I was just searching the fora for discussion on sports/competition in the Christian life and I happened across one post, not about this, but about praying in public. So, it got me to thinking…
Does Christ outright forbid personal prayer in public, always, with no exceptions in any case, even if the motivation is good?
I mean, I can see some cases where someone might want to be noticed in prayer that are not at all prideful/vainglorious. Of course, the intention of prayer should ultimately be centered around your communion with God, but, if you do so in public, it may have the benefit of starting up conversations with others or of even attracting others to you who might themselves need prayer or some other kind of comfort at that time.
A less “spiritual” reason might just be one of convenience. You might, at the time, have nowhere else to pray or you might not have time to go to your room, shut the door and pray.
Note here that I am not asking about corporate prayer as Christ Himself participated in public worship and the command in Matthew 6:6 (our passage in question) uses singular constructions, so is apparently talking about individual prayer, as one commentary I read astutely pointed out. I am rather talking about personal prayer, between you and God and not directly for the benefit of the participation of others.
Many have said that personal prayer in public is fine, so long as it is not motivated by vainglory/prideful seeking of self-recognition. Normally, I would agree with this, however…
In Mt. 6:6, Christ very clearly gives a direct command of something specific to do when it comes to prayer. Also, it is, indeed, a command, not a suggestion; the tense of the verb, in the original Greek (also in the Vulgate Latin) is (present aspect, Gk) Imperative, for those who know what this means. Christ indeed makes no exceptions like the ones mentioned above and even any exceptions of any kind. “Go to your room”, He says, “close the door”, then pray. The command here seems very specific and clear.
Furthermore, Christ may have given us this specific instruction so as to prevent any potential for a tendency toward pride/vainglory if we were to pray in public. So, perhaps it is not so much the intention that is at play here but the potential for the stirring up of negative intention that might result from even an originally positively- or neutrally-motivated reason for praying in public.
Still, I have always understood that Catholic teaching very often (if not always?) emphasizes the intention behind acts and not the acts themselves, unless the acts themselves are inherently evil/contain evil and no other intent.
Furthermore, what of the person who is, indeed, or at least thinks himself to be strong enough to avoid negative intention when praying in public. Is he, too, held to this same direct-command standard, even if the benefits of praying publicly may be lost?
So, how can those who argue that Christ really didn’t mean for us to do this specific thing or at least that He would be fine with us praying publicly if the motivation is morally correct argue this point in the face of such clear language? (I am not here trying to be contentious. I, too, ahd always thought that the more lenient interpretation was correct and, indeed, still wonder whether it is. That’s why I’m asking the question.)
I suppose one might cite the example of Christ saying to cut off your eye or hand of it causes you to stumble as potential evidence against the literalness of even this statement. (also, the not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing) However, in these cases, there is a logical dilemma that results if we take these parables literally. In the frist case, it is not literally a hand or an eye that directly causes one to sin. In the second, you can’t let your hands literally “know” anything. However, in our present case under discussion, there is no logical issue if it is taken literally. Going into one’s room and shutting the door can logically be done in this reality in which we find ourselves.
Could Christ here have been using some kind of parabolic(?) language? If so, what would be the argument for this? The argument against?
Perhaps the same kinds of questions would apply to such actions as wearing Catholic/Christian jewelry. After all, the same positive benefits that might accrue from personal public prayer can in this case as well. Also, wearing such as you go about your day may be to your own spiritual benefit.
So, what are your thoughts/counters to the points that I have here made? Are there any good commentaries (besides the ones I have cited above), either ancient or modern, on this passage?
And, perhaps this is a bit OT, but, if a literal, no exceptions approach is to be taken, what other things should we avoid doing, no exceptions, because it might lead to the sin of pride, or, to some other sin, for that matter? Should we all avoid competitive sports because it might lead to excessive pride (which it, indeed, often does)?