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Don’t Let Prayer Trouble You

God will hear you whether you are awake or not

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AckermanPrayer is so critical for all priests, but sometimes it can be exhausting. For diocesan priests, many of us are so busy that when we sit down, sadly, one of the first things that often happens is that we fall asleep. When I was in minor seminary, we had a “Come and See” weekend for men discerning a priestly vocation over Super Bowl Sunday weekend.

The plan for the day was to have morning prayer, Mass, brunch, a talk for the discerners and then a Holy Hour an hour before the game began. It was a fairly busy weekend, and an arduous schedule, and many of us were tired by the time that the hour began.

The hour began in a normal fashion, we chanted the “O Salutaris Hostia,” the rector incensed the Blessed Sacrament, and then a period of quiet ensued — well, somewhat. A few minutes into the silence we all heard a large thud. The seminarian behind me, a gentleman in his 40s, had fallen asleep in the pew and banged his head on the pew in front. This would have been humorous enough, but it turns out that he was remained sleeping and even began to snore loudly!

I bit my lip so hard to stop from laughing that I probably still have a scar today, but other men were not so amused. Since he sat directly behind me, several of them urged me to wake him up, because, by now, his snoring was louder than what our chanting had been. I nudged him gently and said his name, but he did not awaken; he was out cold. I shook him a little harder, but it was like rousing a hibernating bear. Finally, I grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him backward.

He woke up, and in the process shouted, “What?!”

I wish I could say that it was truly a pious Holy Hour, but that was it for all of us. For the next 10 minutes, there was only the sound of stifled laughter, coughing as seminarians tried to suppress themselves and pews creaking as men shook with laughter.

The rector at the time, now the bishop of a rather large diocese, laughed so hard that he fell off the prie-dieu.

No one was more embarrassed than our poor slumbering friend. However, he did gain his own personal motto that day from Psalm 127: “He pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber” (Book of Christian Prayer).

Even when we struggle in prayer (or fall asleep), God is still working in us to help us know his friendship, healing, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and deep, abiding love. The more that we battle in prayer, remain dedicated and consistent, and continue to make time for God, we can be sure that God is with us.

Until I read St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I thought that saints often had beautiful, mystical experiences all the time. I envisioned myself as the kid who just missed the ice cream truck and had to settle for a pretzel stick. However, St. Thérèse (who also slept at times in prayer) offers great advice. “I simply say to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and he always understands me.”

No truer prayer warrior ever uttered a more genuine understanding of communication with God. So, don’t let your prayer trouble you. God will hear you whether you are awake or not. Pleasant dreams!

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and chaplain at Central Catholic High School.

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