Letters from Seminary: Thomas

Think prayer is one-person job? Think again

Published: April 13, 2024

By Quinton Thomas
Diocesan Seminarian

Prayer is not quite what it seems. At the end of the semester, during finals, I went down to the chapel to try to pray for a few minutes before bed. I found the seminary chapel empty, so I made myself at home.

A few minutes in and all of a sudden I heard someone behind me in the chapel whispering. I sat straight up in surprise — I had thought I was alone.

I finished up what I had to say and do, and I went toward where I heard the whispering coming from.

Despite that we may feel we pray on our own, it is never alone but always with Jesus, and prayer has just as much and more to do with what Jesus does.

To my surprise, there was no one there. The chapel was completely empty.

As I said, we were in the middle of finals, and those weren’t my most attentive moments at prayer: I may well have just dozed off for a minute.

But regardless of the source, the experience jolted me and gave me the feeling that I was no longer alone.

But most of the time, I think, we feel like we pray alone. Prayer feels like a one-person job that I do by myself. We might think of it like flipping through old pictures and reminiscing. Or it might feel like sending messages in a bottle.

Or prayer feels like visiting a hospital patient in a coma who, despite all our begging, doesn’t respond. Prayer feels like something I do alone.

But every now and then, we catch glimpses that reveal the hidden truth about prayer.

Zaccheus in the Gospel, like when we pray, wanted to look at Jesus safely from a distance. But Jesus isn’t an idea to be thought about or a thing to be looked at. He is a person. And he’s a unique person because he is God.

We can never be separated from him, and he always addresses us before we address him. Like Zaccheus, we catch glimpses because Jesus lets himself be seen.

Despite that we may feel we pray on our own, it is never alone but always with Jesus, and prayer has just as much and more to do with what Jesus does.

What does the reality of prayer mean for us? For one, we should be patient with prayer. The glimpses are a gift from God, given as he pleases, not a goal we could work hard enough to achieve.

But we should also know that our lack of experience with prayer does not reveal what’s actually going on. And here we are invited to faith. We are invited to believe that contrary to what we feel most of the time, Christ is really right there, right here, even now.

We realize that if we don’t feel anything when we pray, it is because God is choosing to reveal himself in the lack of feeling.

And finally, this can help us to pray better by showing us what prayer is really about. Ultimately, it isn’t about what we do or don’t feel. Prayer is about love. We love God, who is with us though hidden.

Or, to get at the reality even better, through the Holy Spirit, Christ prays to the Father in us. We pray because Christ lets us participate in his prayer. He lets us participate in his love of the Father because he loves us. Prayer really isn’t what it seems.