In a culture where the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has often become more of a cliche or “I’ll pray for you” can even be expressed as judgement, one parish community has been challenged to go deeper into tradition and experience the true power of Christ-centred prayer.
“What is prayer? It is the raising of one’s heart and mind to God,” Fr Benjamin Saliba, assistant priest at St John the Baptist Catholic church in Bonnyrigg Heights, told more than 80 parishioners on 28 March.
“It’s not the raising of your hands, your ego or your pride, but the raising of your heart to God.
“God is only concerned with what is happening on the inside. He is concerned with nothing else and so the heart must be the centre of prayer.”
“This is why it is very possible to come to Mass and not participate or to enter into what looks like prayer, but not pray at all.”
With prayer so often drifting into self-centredness, becoming mechanical or not meeting distorted expectations, Fr Saliba urged his audience to look towards Christ as the model to follow.
Christ’s witness of quiet, solitary and persistent prayer is the key to transforming oneself into a more reverent and authentic intercessor while fostering a like-minded parish community more attentive to what is happening in each other’s lives, he said.
Covering forms of prayer such as Adoration, intercession, petition and thanksgiving, the Bonnyrigg assistant priest spent a large part of his presentation on “the highest form of prayer, the best form and the only form that is efficacious for our salvation” and that is the holy sacrifice of the mass.
“We don’t come to Mass and say ‘Father, entertain me’. We don’t come to Mass, as beautiful as music ministry is, to be entertained by the singers. We come to Mass to worship God,” said Fr Ben.
“It is not fair on our children. We don’t have to be coming up with new and inventive ways of entertaining because Mass is not entertainment.
“When people say ‘but Father, the children won’t understand’— guess what? Give them consistency and the children will understand. Imagine if we just gave our children an authentic experience. We don’t need to trivialise what we are doing.”
Fr Saliba drew extensively on Desiderio desideravi, Pope Francis’s 2022 Apostolic Letter on liturgical formation, to unpack the richness and beauty of the liturgy and its power to create faith-living communities.
Bonnyrigg parishioner Branko Poljak told The Catholic Weekly he had been reflecting on his own prayer life recently and the feeling that his daily prayer is not what it might be. The talk seemed providential.
Mr Poljak said he had jumped at the chance to hear what Fr Saliba had to say and learn more.
“Fr Ben brought up a number of points that hit home,” he said.
“Prayer is work, it must be consistent, which I understand and do—but I never thought to use the psalms for prayer.”
“When Fr Saliba spoke about prayer not being an emotion or a feeling, I could relate to this as most of my prayer time has been spent in silence and has been quite ‘dry,’ almost empty, in a sense.”
“This was a fantastic way to get to know these practical aspects of our faith in more detail, in a very open way.”
The talk, entitled ‘Lord teach us how to pray: prayer, spirituality and the holy sacrifice of the Mass,’ was the second in a series of monthly formation evenings launched by the parish and which aim to help parishioners go deeper into their faith.
This series, called G.L.U.E (for God, Life, the Universe and Everything), was developed in response to feedback from parishioners about their own faith.
“One of the universal problems we face in the church is our lack of knowledge of the faith and relationship with Jesus, whom we often misrepresent. As a result, people are leaving, searching, going to other places for answers, when in fact we have them in our own backyard,” Fr Ben told The Catholic Weekly later.
“I wanted to target adults and go deeper in the hope that they would grow and in turn return to the richness and beauty of the church into which they were baptised.
“This will hopefully reignite a flame and help them rediscover the importance of a relationship with the true and living Jesus.”
Interest and positive responses to G.L.U.E has been encouraging for Fr Saliba. He is hopeful that those who have attended so will eventually each out to those friends or family who may have been away from the Church for a while.
The next G.L.U.E talk will focus on forgiveness and will take place at St John the Baptist church in Bonnyrigg Heights on 25 April. There will be two sessions: 9am or 7pm.