How often we converse with God is an extremely important component to being a Christian. It is crucial in being able to hold fast to the true faith, and seek that which is good. When I use the term Christian of course, I am assuming that the term be understood to mean Catholicism. It is unfortunate that many false sects have hijacked the name of 'Christian.' Today's Gospel reading reflects this crucial issue, being that Our Lord told us to be on guard against false prophets. (Matt. 7:15-21) While we as Christians of the true faith live within the Church and enjoy the many graces we receive from the Sacraments, our spiritual lives do not go on vacation when we leave the doors of the Church. We carry Christ with us, and we keep Him in our minds and in our hearts, leading us into prayer throughout the day. Many Catholics have fallen away from the Church and have lost a sense for what is good because they did not seek God in prayer. They have either quit praying altogether or they have fallen victim to false preachers and heretics, putting their souls in jeopardy. Sadly, by abandoning prayer which is rooted in the Catholic faith, they extinguished the spirit of God within them, and as a result they have abandoned the true faith.
The early Fathers of the Church understood what Saint Paul said in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, in a very literal way. "Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all. Extinguish not the spirit. Despise not prophecies. But prove all things; hold fast that which is good." It is with this thought that many of them entered into the desert to live lives of prayer and penance. They sought to pray without ceasing, realizing that this was a key component to keeping the spirit of God within them, and holding to that which is good. The true Christian is one that has Christ at the center of their lives. Prayer must not be neglected. The story of one of the great early monastics, Saint Pachomius illustrates my point. The angel when giving the rules of monasticism to St. Pachomius said to him: "... He laid down that in the course of the day they should make twelve prayers, and at the lamp-lighting time twelve, and in the nightly vigils twelve, and at the ninth hour three. When the multitude goes to eat, he laid down that a psalm should be sung before each prayer. Pachomius objected to the angel that the prayers were too few ..."
Although it would seem that many of us are unable to attain the lofty prayer schedule of Saint Pachomius, we are able to incorporate his zeal for prayer into our lives in other ways. We can begin our day with prayer, and we can continue to converse with God throughout the day as we go about our business, and we can close our day in reflection and prayer. We do not have to have long formal prayers throughout the day, although when we can do so it is good. But what is important is to keep God in our thoughts and converse with Him as we go about our day, realizing that without Him we can seek nothing that is good. When the great monastic Abba Macarius was asked, 'How should one pray?' The old man said 'There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one's hands and say, "Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy." And if the conflict grows fiercer say, "Lord, help!" He knows very well what we need and he shews us his mercy.' The 'Jesus Prayer' "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner" is a great prayer to say throughout the day.
When we approach important tasks during our day, we can seek God's help. It is also right that we thank Him for everything that he has given us in our lives. God is not just an errand boy that we call upon to get material things that we want. We pray first off to give Him glory, to seek His will, to give Him thanks, and petition Him only for things that are good for us and our relationship with Him. Do we seek God's council when we make important decisions in our lives, or do we go off doing our own thing only to come crawling to God after we realize we have made a bad choice? I can think of this scenario too many times in my life. One of the great desert Fathers once rightly said, 'The beginning of evil is heedlessness.' Can any of us hold fast to that which is good without prayer? Saint Paul tells us that we cannot. It is only when we keep Christ in our minds and in our hearts daily, engaged in unceasing prayer, that we can seek His will. It is only then that we can become more holy, and ultimately hold fast to that which is good.
Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying. When you are able, bend your knees, when you cannot, make intercession in your mind, ‘at evening and at morning and at midday’. If prayer precedes your work and if, when you rise from your bed, your first movements are accompanied by prayer, sin can find no entrance to attack your soul. ~ St. Ephraim The Syrian