National Catholic Register


Might as Well Face it, You're Addicted to Prayer

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 6/3/10 at 2:00 AM


A reader writes:

My praying the rosary has become an “addictive” habit.  I only do it once a day, but now I feel compelled, in a virtually “addictive” way, to do it once a day, because otherwise I feel deprived.

(An intelligently ecumenical gloss:  I have some Sufi friends - of the Jerrahi Order, “apostolates” of Rumi who I think might actually be a Saint even though he was a nominal Muslim - who have told me that in THEIR order of Sufism, “to forget to pray is its own punishment, because if you forget to pray then you are depriving yourself of God’s company.”)

Anyway, the rosary has literally become a “habit” to which I feel “addicted”, although not in a compulsive way.  I simply feel DEPRIVED if I don’t pray the rosary (when able to do so) every day. 

Let me clarify:  To contrast this with my physical addiction to tobacco (and I regard tobacco as a gift from God, although a very minor and MATERIAL gift which, in CONTRAST to prayer, OUGHT to be limited)...well in contrast to my addiction to tobacco, my “addiction” to the rosary does NOT make me suffer if I don’t get it, but nonetheless I feel like I’m depriving myself if I don’t do it.  In other words, the sense of “deprivation” of the rosary is CATEGORICALLY DIFFERENT from being deprived of tobacco.

To your knowledge, does this experience resemble the experiences of others who have gradually converted to a life of prayer?  Especially vis a vis our Mother Mary?

I am so not the person to be asking about this.  If there is any problem I don’t have experience or understanding of, it’s the phenomenon of an overwhelming compulsion to pray.  Prayer is, with rare exceptions, something the feels like tedious exercise for me.  I do it because I know our Lord commands it and because I know it is good for me, in the sense that broccoli and asparagus are good for a five year old.  Most of the time prayer is (emotionally speaking) irksome and burdensome; a task to be performed because God says to do it.  There are fifty things I’d rather be doing, my mind wanders, and I always have the nagging sensation that I’m not doing it right, that I am praying the wrong way, or for the wrong things, or insincere, or what have you.  My consolation comes from Fr. Simon Tugwell, OP, who opens his wonderful book Prayer in Practice by noting that the first thing we know about prayer, according to St. Paul, is that we do not know how to do it.

One thing that relieves this for me is praying along with the Church in the Mass or the Divine Office, because I don’t have to puzzle out whether the prayers of the Church are rightly ordered.  I know they are.  Dittos for the Rosary.  Praying things you aren’t making up off the top of your head—things rooted in the Tradition—can be very liberating.  But still, forcing myself to pray, cultivating a habit of prayer that is independent of how I feel, well, that’s steady work.  And it’s something that feels miles away from the experience you report.

I can relate to your experience of deprivation if I connect it to the Eucharist.  On those occasion I felt I should refrain from receiving, I’ve felt very deprived.  But I wouldn’t call my hunger for the Eucharist a compulsion.  Compulsion implies lack of freedom and I suspect that nothing which is really from God has that character.  “Hunger” or “appetite” is, I suspect, the more accurate word.  Hunger speaks of a thing you are properly made to love.  “Compulsion” speaks of a thing you are enslaved to.  The mystery of Faith is that we are free sons—and bondservants—of God.  But our slavery is freedom in Christ, whereas our freedom is slavery in the realm of Satan and the world.

Dunno if any of that is helpful, but I’m glad you are loving the Rosary!