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Prayer is holy punctuation that builds trust in God

By Paul Paproski, OSB


The following is from the Called to Serve vocation supplement included in this week's print edition of the Prairie Messenger. For more stories, see pages 15-26 of this week's print edition.

Visitors to St. Peter’s Abbey often ask us monks what we do all day. When we explain that Benedictines gather five times daily to pray, they inquire about the what kind of work we do. The visitors are likely wondering where the money comes from to pay the bills. This concern is valid, though it reveals how prayer is often looked upon as unproductive or something that is necessary only when we want something. Benedictines live by the motto ora et labora (prayer and work) and regard prayer as central to their schedule.

Just as a good writer knows the value of grammar, Benedictines recognize that prayer is necessary punctuation in their lives. A punctuation mark can make a world of a difference in our communication. Here are two sentences to illustrate the example: (“Let’s eat Uncle Bob.”) (“Let’s eat, Uncle Bob.”) The sentences have the same words, yet very different meanings once the comma is introduced. Punctuation brings structure and understanding to sentences and conversations. A simple comma can make a world of difference in expressing one’s thoughts. Just ask Uncle Bob!

Benedictines punctuate each day by gathering to pray the psalms. We interrupt the flow of daily living by dropping everything and coming together as a community to pray Divine Office. The celebration of Divine Office is a holy comma, a pause in monastic life to bring the community together to recall God’s abiding presence in every facet of life. St. Benedict writes in the Rule: “We believe that the divine presence is everywhere . . . but beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate Divine Office” (RB 19:1, 2).

Punctuating the day with Divine Office does not always come easy. Coming together as community to pray calls us to stop what we are doing, regardless of how important. The prayer schedule calls us to join the community for Divine Office even when we would rather not be there. The holy punctuations often compel us to ask: “Where do I place my trust? In my own schedule? In my work? If God has called me to religious life, then I must trust that God will help me get through the demands of the day and provide meaning in all the events.

Rev. Chris Lemieux, in the April edition of Living With Christ, writes that there is not so much a vocations crisis in the church, as a crisis with “trust.” People do not trust enough in God to answer vocations. People are afraid to enter the priesthood and religious life because they allow fear to control them. Yet, our true happiness and joy comes from being in communion with God, he says.

Benedictines believe that when they pray the psalms, they are listening to the words of Jesus and praying with him. Benedictines pray for ourselves and the Body of Christ. Prayer deepens our awareness of who we are and who we are in relationship to God and others. Prayer helps us to come to understand the meaning of placing our trust in God who has a vocation for each of us.

Since joining St. Peter’s Abbey in 1997 I have come to understand more of the meaning of the happiness and joy spoken of by Father Chris. The kindness shown to me by people from both the distant past and present has become more apparent. The qualities of humility and charity that have flowed from others are more evident. I have become more aware of my own gifts and am extremely grateful for being able to grow in them.