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Vocations: Praying alone and together

Image: two sets of hands folded in prayerby Father Ron Hutchinson
I have been on the road much of November, visiting our seminarians. Although I am always happy to get back to my own bed, I miss the communal prayer of the seminaries.
There is something uplifting about a hundred or more voices joined together in praise and worship. The first days back in my personal chapel are so deafeningly quiet that it feels like I hear every second tick away. But, before I get too nostalgic, let me say that it doesn’t take many days for me to appreciate the quiet of my chapel once again.
Too often we assign a value to communal versus private prayer, which makes it seem that one is better than the other depending on our preference. However, each has a distinct value in the life of the disciple.
Those who emphasize personal prayer find support for their position in verses like this in Luke, where
Jesus slips away to spend time with his Father. “… but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” (Lk 5:16)
Clearly, Jesus’ personal prayer life was very meaningful and important to him. Jesus not only modeled personal prayer, he taught his disciples to spend time with God in private. In his most famous sermon, he told the disciples not to pray in public in order to be seen by others, but to develop their personal prayer life in the privacy of their own homes.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
(Mt 6:5)
It’s hard to argue that personal prayer is not vital to our relationship with God and our spiritual growth. Like any of our relationships, conversation is important. It is how we get to know one another. Those who value personal prayer are sure to see their relationship with God strengthened.
However, there is also a communal aspect of prayer. Just as we draw close to God in personal prayer, we can also grow close to others in communal prayer. Communal prayer is meant to be a way for us to share
our burdens with and minister to one another. In addition, listening to and praying with others enriches and deepens our prayer life.
Those who limit their prayers to personal prayer can be prone to privatizing their faith. Sometimes they can adopt a “me and God” only attitude. Biblically, there is no room to live this way. We are never meant to pursue a relationship with God apart from the Church.
Those who emphasize the importance of communal prayer find their support in verses like these in Acts,
where the Church models this method. It was clearly the pattern of the early Church to pray together. Communal prayer is how the church was birthed and how it continued to grow.
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
Communal prayer is vital to fellowship in the church. It, too, is an important part of our spiritual growth.
Clearly, God wants his people to minister to each other and to come together in prayer. Those who limit themselves to communal prayer are prone to make prayer more of a religious duty. Sometimes, like Jesus said in the passage above, they can pray to be seen by others or to earn favor with God. Communal prayer cannot be sustained by someone who is not spending time with God personally, nor should it.
Those who never make time for personal prayer miss out on the intimacy that comes from spending time
with God alone. Just as we need one-on-one time to grow more intimately with a friend or a spouse, we need the same time to get to know God more personally. Jesus and the early Church model for us the importance of both styles of prayer in the life of a disciple. Just as communal prayer brings believers close to one another, personal prayer draws us closer to God. 
Image: Father Ron HutchinsonFather Ronald Hutchinson is director of priestly vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids. Contact Father Hutchinson at