A guest blog post by Becky Groth, a writer for ODB Films.
I think I've watched PRAY: THE STORY OF PATRICK PEYTON no less than five times. It was part of my prep work as the author of the written content accompanying the film. I watched to pull quotes. I watched to cite interviewees. I watched to make sure that my focus as the writer was in line with the focus of the film. What I didn't do was watch for the sheer joy of watching.
Funny how motive can change everything.
PRAY is full of beautiful moments and exhorting moments. It's both a biographical documentary and a teaching piece. Two of my favorite moments involved poignant quotes.
"Along the wide spectrum of modern events today, where does prayer itself fit in?"
Different versions of this question are asked all the time. Posed to Father Peyton by a college student on a show called "Let It Be," the question itself stands on two wrong assumptions. The first assumption is that prayer can and should be compartmentalized – a place for everything and everything in its place. We know as Catholics that prayer shouldn't hold one place in our lives. It should hold THE place in our lives. Scripture tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and the Catechism says that "the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer." (CCC 2567) Prayer fits everywhere and in everything, and God is always calling us to it, not just once, but all the time. It took Father Peyton a mere half of a second to answer the student's question with his own: "I'd say where does your heart fit in in your body? Where does air fit in when you breathe?" Get the picture? No heartbeat, no life. No air, no life. No prayer…
When we ignore or forget the importance of prayer, we become like those of whom God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah when he says, "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water!" (Jeremiah 2:13) God meets us in prayer. He sustains us and provides for us and heals us and empowers us through prayer. It is prayer that fills the thirst we have and keeps us from making broken cisterns out of other things that will never hold what quenches our thirst.
The second assumption in the question "where does prayer fit in" is that prayer is simply another in a long list of activities to be checked off once completed. Prayer holds no significance in the hierarchy of the events of the day, but rather can be taken care of after brushing our teeth but before taking out the garbage. In essence, prayer is an activity, not the foundation and the sustenance of all activity.
For the Catholic, prayer is not a mental health practice or a self-help behavior. It is not a checklist item. For the Catholic, prayer is "the best armor we have" (St. Pio of Pietrelcina), "the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness" (St. John Chrysostom). It is a "covenant relationship between God and man" (CCC 2564) and the "living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit" (CCC 2565). It is "the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him" (ibid).
Prayer is so much better than brushing your teeth…or taking out the garbage.
When we acknowledge and embrace the truth of what prayer is and what it can do, when we take it out of a compartment and off of a check-list, then this second quote from the film carries quite a bit of weight.
"The world hasn't got a prayer without yours."
Father Peyton made it the work of his life to call people to prayer - to call families to prayer. He was passionate about the efficacy of prayer, about its power to unite and to heal and about its mandate from heaven. "The world hasn't got a prayer without yours" wasn't a sound bite. It was a deeply held conviction. Your prayer has eternal impact.
Why? Because prayer changes us. If when we pray we are participating in a living relationship with the God of the universe, how can that prayer NOT change us? If when we pray we are putting ourselves in the presence of the Holy Trinity, then how can we come away untouched? We can start to see the truth of Father Peyton's statement when we consider the words of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, one of Father Peyton's contemporaries.