In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, “When you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” But does that mean that we should never pray in public?
A listener recently called in to Go Ask Your Father™ and asked if our prayer should be private, as Jesus said, or if it is important to also pray in public.
Monsignor Stuart Swetland explained, “It’s a both/and, not an either/or. Obviously, personal, private prayer, a life of piety, a life of prayer, a life of depth and substance is the calling of every adult Christian. And I would say, beginning early on in childhood at age appropriate levels. Every adult, for certain, should have a prayer life of depth and substance.”
“Now, that prayer life will involve communal prayer, prayer we do together as a community,” he continued. “Jesus tells us where two or three are gathered in His name that He is present. And He calls us to pray in community. And so there should be many acts of public worship. The most important prayers we do are the sacramental life that Jesus left us.”
However, our prayer life should not only consist of public worship, but Christians should also have a daily personal prayer life, so as to grow in their relationship with the Lord.
“Part of every Christian’s daily prayer should be mental prayer,” Msgr. Swetland said. “Times of meditation, times of personal devotion, and that is often done by oneself. I try to do it in front of the Blessed Sacrament as much as I can, though I can’t always be in front of the Blessed Sacrament because of my schedule. So sometimes it’s done in the privacy of my office or the privacy of my room that I live in.”
Monsignor Swetland pointed out that it was not praying where people can see you that Jesus was condemning, but praying so that you may be seen. Praying with other people is a good, but we must keep our focus on the Lord, not on what other people think of us.
“Obviously we don’t pray to show off. That’s what Jesus was condemning when He was praying for those who just did it for the public.,” Msgr. Swetland said. “What He was getting at was don’t pray to be seen. Pray to pray. Pray to commune with God. But it’s supposed to be done both communally and personally.”
Listen to the full conversation below: