The Church of the Holy Family, where I serve as pastor, is in midtown Manhattan, across the street from the United Nations campus. The church is open Monday to Friday from 7 AM to 6 PM. Day in and day out, I am impressed to see the many people who come in to pray and to light a candle. They stand, sit, or kneel; they join their hands together; they close their eyes or look at the sacred images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints. They stay as long as they choose, knowing that the Lord has all the time in the world to listen to their prayers, however unhurried (or rushed) they may be.
For them, stepping into the church is a preview of meeting the Lord on the day of their departure from this life. God is always waiting for them, just like the good father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Their choice to come here serves as a reminder that they should never fear to come into the presence of God. The more frequent their church visits, the more likely they will cease to fear meeting God when they die. Death will be the long-awaited parting of the veil between Heaven and earth. Their prayers will have prepared them well to embrace with love and gratitude their transit from this world into the presence of God. A merciful judgment awaits those who truly sought to be united to Him in prayer during their earthly lives.
God looks kindly on us all and is pleased when we acknowledge that kindness by spending time with him in prayer. The church building is God’s house; people come here to talk to God. Prayer is sacred communication between the Creator and those he has created. When we pray, we turn our minds and hearts to the One who gave us life, who gained our redemption on the Cross, and who continues to give us his grace and inspiration. When we pause to speak with God in the holy places set aside and consecrated for worship and prayer, we fulfill St. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians: “Pray always” (1Th5:17).
The communications revolution that began with the telegraph and telephone has reached the stage where internet connections unite us instantaneously to people and events across the globe. The sole connection unreachable by technology remains the heavenly realm. Only prayer unites us to God and the angels and saints. No electronic intermediary is possible or needed. We simply must turn in prayer to God, and to our saintly and angelic friends who live in the presence of God, to engage in the most important communication possible on this earth.
We need to remind ourselves of the reason for prayer: God wants us to speak with him and to hear his inspirations as we seek his guidance. Prayer is necessary for our lives to reach their fulfillment here and hereafter. Yet prayer is not primarily an exercise in self-care. Prayer benefits us greatly, but we pray because God wants us to pray. St. Augustine wisely reminds us that we must love the Giver more than his gifts.
Prayer is the expression of our love of God. We entrust our prayers to him, and then wait for his response. Whatever God’s response is to us, it will be the best thing.
New York is perhaps the most international city in the United States, if not the world. So many languages are spoken; so many people from so many places live here. Yet everyone is right at home when they walk into the Church of the Holy Family, because the lingua franca here is the movement of the heart that is prayer. God knows what we say to him, and what everyone else says to him. And when we turn to speak confidently to him who is everyone’s best friend, many that we are, we are one in him.