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Molly CahillMarch 24, 2022
Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Thursday of the Third Week of Lent


“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95).

I am pretty good at thinking and talking about prayer. Unfortunately, I am pretty bad at actually praying.

This is something I have come to terms with since I first began spiritual direction a few months ago. My years of Catholic education often mean that I know the “right things” to say in response when my spiritual director asks me questions like, “How has your prayer life been recently?” and “Where did you see God working in your life this week?” I have the buzzwords locked down enough to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about.

But knowing how to analyze prayer does not necessarily mean that your prayer life is super fruitful or that your personal relationship with God is strong. If I’m being honest with myself, I know that some of the times I have spoken most clearly about faith have been the times when I have actually felt quite distant from my own.

I am pretty good at thinking and talking about prayer. Unfortunately, I am pretty bad at actually praying.

I know I’m not the only cradle Catholic who struggles to keep her spiritual life from drying up, to find fresh and relevant meaning in the prayers and readings I have heard more times than I can count. I sometimes feel like God is speaking around me all the time, but that I have become too tired or too proud or too cynical to hear a thing. Like the psalmist says today, my heart has been hardened. Yes, by the suffering and pain in the world. But also by the chronic overthinking that clouds my ability to see simple things clearly. As I try to “think” my way into a connection with God, I overcomplicate, get confused and come up short.

As I’ve met with my spiritual director and committed to strengthening my prayer life, I have noticed something surprising: Prayers are not always spoken; sometimes they are experienced.

Keeping this in mind, when I want to pray now, I start by listening to music. A simple truth that might have sounded like a cliché if spoken aloud suddenly makes perfect sense when set to a tune. I go for a walk, and I pay close enough attention to notice something I had always ignored when I walked this route before. Most important, I spend time with people who understand the beauty of simplicity much more keenly than I do. They’re old friends, they’re colleagues, they’re roommates. Often, they’re the oldest and youngest members of my family.

As I’ve met with my spiritual director and committed to strengthening my prayer life, I have noticed something surprising: Prayers are not always spoken; sometimes they are experienced.

I resist the hardening of my heart. In fact, I feel it start to soften. I remember that the joys I experience are blessings, gifts from a God who loves me—a God who loves all of us.

In the face of these moments of connection with God, all my thinking and talking and analyzing means very little.

So, if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart. Even better: Seek out the things that soften it. When God’s voice arrives, you just might be ready to listen.

Get to know Molly Cahill, assistant editor


What are you giving up for Lent?

I tried this last year and failed pretty miserably, so I am giving it a second shot: I am giving up the snooze button on my alarm clock for Lent. The hope is that I will spend that extra time in the morning in quiet prayer or writing in my journal.

Do you cheat on Sundays?

Not on Sundays, but sometimes my birthday falls at the beginning of Lent. When I was young, my family started a tradition of breaking our Lenten practices on that day, especially if we had given up something sweet that would prevent us from enjoying birthday treats. It stuck! No luck this year, unfortunately, since I had an Ordinary Time birthday in February.

Favorite non-meat recipe

Mushroom risotto! Using vegetable or mushroom stock instead of chicken stock makes this a great meal for Fridays during Lent.

Favorite Lent hymn

“Were You There.” There are many beautiful renditions of this spiritual, but I find this one especially moving.

Favorite Easter photo

Easter 1999. I was terrified of the bunny and refused to sit on his lap for a photo, so my mom holding me in the frame was the next best thing. (To be honest, I still think that bunny is a little creepy.)

Molly Cahill Easter photo

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