A woman prays during a healing Mass at St. Martha Church in Uniondale, N.Y. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Prayer requires a sharp focus (Part 2 of 4 about prayer)

  • January 26, 2017

This is the second in a series of four columns by Fr. Frank Freitas about praying and prayer. (Here's part 1, part 3 and part 4)

Is there a right way to pray?

When I was 12, some family members and I went on a fishing trip. There are three things I remember about that trip: first, I caught the biggest fish (which to be truthful didn’t mean much given I caught the only fish that day); second, the boat was leaky; third, we found ourselves in a slight storm. Have you ever experienced a storm?

So often it is in storms that we find ourselves praying. Last week we looked at what is prayer and concluded that it is an encounter with a friend — Jesus. But we needed to make sure that we were not doing all of the talking and telling, instead seeking to do the listening and learning. So is there a right way to pray? Well, maybe the storm will tell us.

I want to take you back to a situation the disciples faced in Jesus’ day.

In Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus told the disciples to get into a boat and go across the sea of Galilee to the other side. When they got to the middle of the lake, a huge storm came up. Jesus came to them, walking on the water. Peter asked if he could come to Jesus, and Jesus said “come.” Peter then walked on the water, but then looked at the waves around him and started to sink. After calling out to Jesus in prayer, He saved Peter and they got into the boat and the storm went away.

We all face storms in our lives. A major, life-changing decision. A temptation with sin. An argument with a family member. A betrayal of a friend. A loss of a loved one. Storms are a part of life; there is no way we can avoid them and a lot of the time we can’t control them. But we can control how we react to them. This is the key, because how we react in prayer to the storms we face will determine whether we sink or stay afloat, and if prayer continues to be a life-giving experience.

One of my former pastors used to say, “Trials will have one of two effects on you: they will either make you bitter or better.” We can sulk, cry, pout, throw a pity-party, curse God and be bitter and end up sinking, or we can in prayer listen and learn from the storm and become better and stay afloat.

There are three sure ways not to sink and these must be at the core of our prayer. First, focus on Jesus. When did Peter start to sink? The moment he took his focus off Jesus and started to look around.

It is easy for us to forget about God during troubled times. We try to take control of the situation ourselves and it’s easy to forget that Jesus is always there. Here, I highly recommend Eucharistic Adoration. It is literally about keeping our eyes on Jesus.

Another element to prayer is to live in obedience. Jesus gave one command to Peter: “Come.” At first, it looked as if Peter was doing great, but then he stopped. Peter’s faith disappeared. Listen, God loves you and wants the best for you. He is always looking out for your best interests. Even when the storms of life are tough and we can’t understand what’s going on, God is still in control. As long as we trust Him and live in obedience to Him, He will see us through it.

Finally, in your time and experience of prayer, overlook distractions. Peter took his focus off of Jesus, then he stopped, and then he looked at the waves. He became worried about the storm around him. He thought he couldn’t handle it. He thought the storm was too big for him. But he forgot one thing — Jesus was there.

Sometimes our storms seem so big we feel that we can’t handle them. Don’t forget that Jesus is with you and He will give you the power to see it through.

Try these in your life of prayer and next week let’s look at how to drop the baggage of life which hinders growth in prayer.

(Fr. Freitas is pastor at St. Mary of the Visitation parish in Cambridge, Ont., and the author of More Than Survive, available from Catholic Register Books.)