Desperate Times Call for Prayer
Recently, I saw two movies that had recently been released and which won fame because of the number of awards they have won. However, though they were not “religious” in nature, what impressed me was what they said to me about our life in Christ. Or rather, it was what they had to say about not living a life in Christ that struck me!
The first movie was “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2021)”, the most awarded movie of all time, according to Wikipedia. It shows a family on the edge of total financial, relationship and family breakdown. In a confusing interdimensional rupture of reality, a main character, Evelyn, must try to battle forces in the “multiverse” that threaten to destroy the world. As the movie progresses one begins to understand that it is a metaphor for the chaotic life we live in 2023.
Our current world is fractured by angry, polarized opinion and discourse politically, culturally, and regionally, and in schools, churches, online and in person. It is a difficult age in which to live. It is hard to meet the demands coming from every side as a spouse, parent, employee, and citizen. Add to the mix aging and infirm parents, concern for the environment, post-pandemic issues and an uncertain future and one comes to the very edge of sanity. We are all headed for a breakdown of some sort, it seems.
The second movie was “The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)”. This was a disturbing film to watch. It involves the breakdown of a friendship between Pádraic and Colm, two life-long friends. More importantly, it shows the devastating effect of having no inner life of faith or imagination. Colm is suffering from despair and asking the eternal questions about the meaning of life. He is a musician devoted to the fiddle and reading poetry. Pádraic does not read and lives for the moment. He is devoted to his donkey and going to the pub. When the friendship ends he has no inner resources, no inner life.
God and prayer are not part of either universe in these movies, despite the fact the The Banshees of Inisherin takes place in early 1900s Ireland and everyone goes to church. The Priest is not particularly approachable, nor is he particularly skilled in dealing with despair. Things do not go well.
Pope Benedict, talking about the inner life says: What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer. God by his very nature speaks, hears, and replies. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us: we can and should “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). Far from turning in on ourselves or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, by praying we turn towards God and through him to each other, including the marginalized and those following ways other than God’s path.
There is another aspect of prayer which we need to remember: silent contemplation. Saint John, for example, tells us that to embrace God’s revelation we must first listen, then respond by proclaiming what we have heard and seen. Have we perhaps lost something of the art of listening? Do you leave space to hear God’s whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Friends, do not be afraid of silence or stillness, listen to God, and adore him in the Eucharist. Let his word shape your journey as an unfolding of holiness.
Your personal prayer, your times of silent contemplation, and your participation in the Church’s liturgy, bring you closer to God and also prepare you to serve others. The saints accompanying us this evening show us that the life of faith and hope is also a life of charity. Contemplating Jesus on the Cross we see love in its most radical form. We can begin to imagine the path of love along which we must move.
What an inner life of prayer offers is rich and lively and full of hope and love. It is not bleak and empty, like Pádraic felt his life was after the breakdown of his friendship, the one thing that gave his life meaning. Evelyn, on the other hand, had only her wits and some newfound powers to battle the forces seeking to destroy her world. Neither were apparently aware of God or the salvation that Christ offers. Thus, though Evelyn is able to hold things together at the end, the future is uncertain. Pádraic, desperate to keep the friendship going at all costs, delivers an ultimatum with shocking results. In the end, both movies end in some ways unhappily, because Grace is not present. How can God act in a person’s life if they neither know God exists, nor allows Grace to enter in?
For Christians, as the Easter season approaches, the redemptive power of Christ’s gospel message is our hope. Those of us who have suffered deeply in the past know that God’s love changes everything once one surrenders to God. Spending quality time in prayer each day helps one develop the inner life necessary to survive and thrive even in desperate times. Prayer and contemplation help us to be calm when the storm is brewing, and to know that God is with us and will not let us drown even in the deep water. Happy Easter!