--Papa Francesco, Mama T's Canonization Homily
I was walking through Chicago, waiting for my train. I passed a young boy, who was holding a sign, saying: I'm a good kid. And asking for assistance.
How did I walk by him and do nothing?
But I did do something. I smiled (weak) and prayed for him.
I blush to write those words, which are clearly (so clearly) not enough.
Which caused me to wonder: is prayer an action?
There are people who live on the margins. Even at Notre Dame, there is a homeless man who stands on the street corner by the golf course. On the other side of the fence, there are very rich children, among them myself, living lives mostly ignorant of the homeless man who stands on the street corner by the golf course.
I wonder what charity looks like towards this man. Right now, I smile at him from my car and wave. Because I'm not bold enough to do nothing, and not good enough to do something.
Is prayer enough? I wonder. I do not know what prayer is. Is prayer an action of charity, when no other action is possible?
Prayer is certainly not an excuse. It is not a band-aid to place on wounds when we are too lazy to fetch the First Aid kit.
What is prayer?
Is prayer not our conversation with God? Is not prayer an intimate moment with God, a moment of relationship with Him. Most of our relationships are mediated through words, but also through silence, quality time, and giving gifts. It seems that prayer is all these things. It is learning about the person we are in relationship with, it is listening to them, it is sharing ourselves with them, it is letting them into our life.
Perhaps prayer is cultivating right relationship with God.
So where do other people have a place in this?
It seems that God, who contains the whole cosmos, has an interest in us understanding Him.
It seems to me that the whole cosmos, then, has the potential to reveal God to us, and that we will know God better and better as we know the whole cosmos better and better.
It seems a good place to start is the human being next to you who is, I'm told, an image of God.
It seems that self-portraits of an artist reveal a lot about who that artist is.
So it seems that other people have a place in our prayer, too.
Perhaps the more we dive most deeply into God, the more other people have a place in our prayer.
If prayer is cultivating right relationship with God, perhaps praying for other people is cultivating right relationship with them.
Right relationship meaning relating to them as I ought to, as is their due, according to their dignity.
So perhaps, as I pray for someone, I heal something in our relationship. Or heals something between them and God, or dares to enter into their relationship with God. Perhaps prayer is placing ourselves as a mediator between God and the other. That is quite bold, to insert ourselves into that relationship, where angels dare to tread. But how powerful that then must be.
But back to us: with prayer, our relationship turns into something less of self and more of reality. (It seems to me that growing up means growing more and more out of the shoebox of your own experience and into the wild and glorious world of reality.)
So perhaps, as I pray for someone, I have brought them into unity or community with me. If I have brought them into community with me, I may have more clarity on how to act towards them with love aka caritas. Because my relationship with them is not just a projection of my self or will, but is a relationship of reality. A relationship of love.
It seems to me that charity means bringing those in the margins into community with us, in quite a real way. Which seems to me to be a form of prayer.
But perhaps it is better articulated as such: perhaps prayer is not charity, but charity is prayer.