Pope Francis was formally installed as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church on March 19 and, hence, it was quite appropriate to put the subject of USD Chaplain Father Mike White’s talk into action.
“Prayer in transition, such as now when we’re moving from the Lenten season to Holy Week; transitioning from winter to spring; and other transitions we may be going through, prayer is most appreciative and significant at this time,” White said during his talk, “Prayer: Thinking and Living in the Presence of God,” at a USD faculty/staff breakfast Tuesday in the La Gran Terraza.
Prayers were certainly plentiful as USD celebrated Pope Francis’ installation with a special Mass of Thanksgiving at Founders Chapel later Tuesday. The purpose of prayer and its definition was the crux of White’s words to the audience. He mentioned four instances of prayer that are considered difficult — Petition; Atonement; Praise and the prayer of Thanksgiving.
White observed the importance and power of prayer through personal reflections and an assortment of definitions by theologians:
“Prayer is nothing more and nothing less than reminding God of God’s promises to us.” — Protestant Theologian Karl Barth.
“Prayer is taking a long, loving look at the real.” — Father Walter Burghardt, S.J.
White conveyed Father Edward Hays’ message that prayer, “the great gift that God has given us,” has a distinct purpose. In Hays’ book, Pray All Ways, White stated that “(Hays) wasn’t just saying that praying is all about incorporating it into our daily life but that he said to take day-to-day life and incorporate it into prayer.”
White, who teaches an Introduction to Catholic Theology course at USD, said in anticipation of his talk, he’d asked students to express their thoughts on what ‘prayer’ meant to them.
“Prayer is a conversation with God, a communication with God,” said one student.
“Prayer is one way in which I speak to God,” another student stated. “I pray to become happier with myself, happier with others and I’m able to find peace. I also pray for God.”
White mentioned the work of Theologian Father Michael Himes, saying the latter offered some great advice. A proponent of “centering prayer,” which focuses on inner silence, Himes, White recalled, said, “If this form of prayer works for you, great. Go for it, run with it. Knock yourself out. But, if it doesn’t, know that there’s more than one way. The problem isn’t when we don’t pray this way or that way, but rather when we cease to believe there is that other and that other really cares.”
White added another Himes observation about prayer: “Don’t lie. Tell the truth. It’s the one place in life where, all the time, you can be honest.”
White emphasized that prayer has given him countless opportunities to connect with people, whether it’s bringing the USD campus community together for the 9 p.m. Mass for Peace on Wednesdays, the Sunday night masses at 7 and 9 p.m. or to provide his services for complete strangers.
“Prayer really does help. It really comforts others when we lose someone who touched the hearts and minds of so many people. Being there, being able to pray for and with family and friends, is very comforting,” he said. “Being called in, even if they’re strangers, and it’s not because of who you are, but rather you represent the greater community is one of those ‘perks’ of being a priest. You’re invited in during the most sensitive and most beautiful times of their lives to lead or to encourage them to pray.”
— Ryan T. Blystone