I’ve never been to Las Vegas. I’m not really sure I’d like to go. It’s all a little too flashy for me. And if I did go, I know for sure you wouldn’t find me on the casino floor. My only experience I have with slot machines stems from watching them in movies and cartoons. You put a coin in, pull the lever, and if you are lucky, lots and lots of coins come barreling out the bottom. If you’re not so lucky, you keep on trying. Just keep putting the coins in and eventually, you’ll get a winner!
I think this is how many of us Catholics view prayer. I know I’m guilty. I often think I just need the right number of prayers, said in the right location, directed to the right saint. If I get the combination right, my prayers will be answered. Jackpot!
Isn’t this how novenas work? Nine days of prayers guarantee some kind of reward? And if you really want the big jackpot, you do 50 Memorares.
Have you ever buried a statue, lit a candle, or put a certain kind of image in your house?
Coin in. Pull the handle. Get the reward.
This kind of “superstition” with prayer is what gives Catholics a bad reputation. I know, because as a convert to Catholicism, this kind of Catholic Hocus Pocus is what made me so anti-Catholic in the first place.
Yet, I admit it, after being a Catholic for over 25 years, I find myself forgetting what prayer really is and turning to my “prayer slot machine.”
Prayer, as any theologian will tell you, is conversation with God. It’s talking to our beloved Father and taking that time to listen. It’s simple. It’s the logical conclusion of a loving relationship, just like you talk to your children or parents or spouse.
We, however, have trouble receiving God’s love and being in this free relationship with Him. We are prideful and feel like we need more control. We like the idea of a slot machine, because that gives us some power. With a slot machine we can take credit for doing some of the work.
Jesus warns us against this kind of prayer. He says, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7). It’s not that he is against using many words, but rather, he’s against thinking that many words = heard prayers. Slot machine. He goes on to teach us the Our Father after saying this. So He’s not against repetition in our prayers, just against us thinking that repetition is what will get us the results. And it’s interesting to note that he commands us to call God “Our Father.” Pagans weren’t using that kind of language in their prayers. He’s calling us to the intimate relationship with God the Father.
I’ve just finished a St. Joseph novena; before that I was praying one to St. Therese. Now I’m starting one to end the Coronavirus. Like you, I have many prayer concerns. I sometimes find myself battling that urge to just say a novena or get my morning prayer said, or attend a daily Mass. I find that I’ve been treating these prayers like checklists, or coins. If I check off enough or deposit enough, I will get my answer.
I know that God does appreciate our efforts in this way, but again, that’s not what He desires most. He desires our love. If these daily prayers or other devotions remind us of that — then great. That’s what they are for. This is why the Church proposes different ways of praying and all of these reminders and sacramentals. It’s just us that sometime turns them into coins for a slot machine.
Copyright 2020 Tami Kiser