Prayer and Service
Pope John XXIII

Prayer and Service

Although prayer and service have many splendors within Christianity, one cannot exist without the other. Prayer is spiritual respiration to the soul, which oxygenates Christian service. Pope John XXIII said, “Perfume all your actions with the life-giving breath of prayer.” Indeed, a person of prayer finds resting with Christ within one’s heart and searching for Christ in hearts of others an ongoing challenge. 

The primary language in this Christian rest and search is prayer. Be it as simple as a loving sigh or as profound as a mystical experience, prayer is the ultimate link with God who cannot be fathomed, and the incomprehensible link with others, even those unknown. Adoration, praise, contrition, supplication and thanksgiving flow through the days like gentle streams linking us to heaven as well as to our authentic selves. Daily prayer opens us to the subtle graces that expand our love for Christ and energizes our commitment to service. By recognizing our incompleteness, we bond with the wholeness of God. We see our nothingness in God because he is all. Daily prayer is best accomplished at regular times of the day. Daily prayer is a good habit and in time we discover it to be the most important part of the day. 

Prayer is an adventure that takes us through ever changing landscapes traveling through cactus patches, tranquil meadows, dry deserts, lone prairies, rolling hills, fruited plains and rocky mountains. Each terrain has its own majesty and mystery, beauty and foreboding, and we never experience the same place a second time. 

Mature Christians understand that prayer is a sacred refuge that is frequently sought and always available. One of the reasons we pray is because it helps us and changes us. We could say a rosary in the quiet of the night when we cannot sleep, a litany when we are agitated, a novena for a specific need, a chaplet of mercy when we are fearful, or prayers of gratitude for everything. Prayer expresses our belief in the Triune God and prompts us to look for the goodness of Christ in the realities of our daily life.     

Service projects, relationships, living and working environments, parishes and communities are all subject to change. To go through change well, we need to be true to ourselves. Our identity must be firmly rooted in Jesus. We grow in our companionship with Jesus through prayer, and service confirms this growth. Prayer is the living rock foundation on which we build the ever-changing framework of service. The foundation of prayer is ever supportive even though the forms of service can change with the passing of days and seasons of life. Whatever our service, we walk in a fellowship bound together by Christ’s love: the Church in the world.

We represent, each in our own way, the love of Jesus. John of the Cross said: “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.” This is what prayer calls us to do. By giving love away without strings attached, love can flow to places where it is unknown. As we are drawn to God in prayer, we become distant from our own desires. We travel outside of our personal comfort zones in prayer and in service. Prayer is essential. We pray because we are a man or woman of prayer. Service becomes itinerate. We serve to meet a need rather than to do what we want to do. Francis de Sales reminds us: “What does it matter to a truly loving soul whether God be served by this means or by another.” 

In the seventeenth century there was a lay brother at the Monastery of Discalced Carmelite Friars in Paris. His name was Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Before he entered religious life, he was a soldier with an aversion to cooking and kitchens. For fifteen years, he worked in the monastery as the community cook in the kitchen. There his skill in the culinary arts became his road to sanctity. How did this happen? He became accustomed to asking God for the grace to do the work well and doing everything for the love of God. God uses things we do not like, like scrubbing dirty pots and cleaning kitchen sinks, to bring us close to him. 

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Written by
Carolyn Humphreys, O.C.D.S.