The room is in total darkness. I cannot see. My hand gropes blindly, and my fingers land on a match. I strike it. Suddenly, my surroundings are less fearful and more inviting. I see the edge of a beautifully carved wooden table and subtle reflections from a crystal chandelier. The light from the match leads me to find a candle, which I ignite. Shadows turn into fanciful colors, and the room appears to dance with light. A door is discovered, which leads to a palatial suite . . . and yes, it is gorgeous.

"Why Put God First?" By Christine Watkins for Photo by Bertsz, (2015) via  Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

When one does not pray, God is a dark room, an empty word: a “No one.” But when a match is struck by prayer, its flame illuminates what was always there but unseen. The more I pray, the greater my vision. Have my surroundings changed? No. But God has become "Someone," Someone very special to me. Not only that, the people, circumstances, and duties of my daily life suddenly appear bathed in the light of God's presence and framed in his holy will. It is not that a magical light now gilds all that I see; rather the inner eyes of my soul, inhabited by the Lord, view the world as touched by his sacred hand.

If we cultivate an active, daily prayer life, if we immerse ourselves in the sacraments and follow the teachings of the Church with humble love, we become more "God" and less "us." In our spirits, divine capabilities lying dormant and unused begin to awaken. There are many chosen to be stars in the Church who languish and vegetate in mediocrity and disillusionment, not because grace has failed them, but for lack of structure, patience, and dedication in prayer. When a private life with the Lord is abandoned, God is no longer that special Someone. Neglected over time, he can disappear into a mere theory, and no one wants a relationship with a question mark.

In the absence of a relationship with God, the insistent “I” rises up with all of its insatiable demands, displacing the divine with worldly pursuits that never satisfy but are increasingly sought out. Besieged by the savage forces of human weakness, virtues begin to lose their meaning. What sense is there in loving your enemies, if they only want to hurt you? It is nothing but sadomasochism. What benefit is there in turning the other cheek? It is foolish weakness. Why bother with chastity? Simply repression. Why work at forgiveness? People will only continue to do wrong. And the beatitudes? They are pure paradox, when God is dead.

There exist, as well, those who carry the Lord in their hearts in an extraordinary manner. They have tamed the "I" with all its selfish and lethal demands and shine brightly with the qualities of God. Among us, today, there are men and women who serve Jesus without counting the cost, who forgive unthinkable wrongs, who embrace the poor and the suffering, who fight injustice. It is not that they were born to do this with ease, but they have endured an arduous journey, navigating the traps and pitfalls of personal temperament in their climb to the stars.

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All of this is to say, in practical terms, that if we are to advance toward the light of the living God, we need a spiritual practice of dedicated prayer. Each day, a half-hour of private time spent with the Lord can change us, like the sunlight transforms the bud of a flower. This sacred time must be fiercely guarded and kept, or it will vanish amidst lesser priorities without a whimper or complaint. Since the day can easily run away from us, the quiet of morning is often the most assured time of spending this half hour with the Lord. Lying in bed is usually not the most conducive position, but sitting upright—with a Bible, journal, Rosary, spiritual book, or nothing at all—helps us to center ourselves in the prayer style that best suits our personality and disposition.

When personal prayer is undertaken in this manner, the Word of God is no longer a boring read of men’s opinions and experiences long-past, but a vibrant conversation with the living Lord. The sacraments move from lifeless rites to cherished encounters. I now live with that special Someone who helps me overcome difficulties with ease and undertake sacrifices with joy. My hardships hurt less. Injustice, disappointment, pain and rejection no longer destroy me. Tenderness replaces violence, and love blossoms in my midst. The Lord becomes my joy and my all.


Author's note: This article is inspired by the life and writings of Fr. Ignacio Larrañaga.

Copyright 2016 Christine Watkins