In 1876, Yale professor William Graham Sumner wrote an essay called The Forgotten Man. In it, he said, “As soon as A observes something which seems to him wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or, in better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X… What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. He is the man who never is thought of. He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays.” Sumner’s simple explanation of “the forgotten man” was later turned on its head by President Roosevelt, who during one of his Great Depression “fireside chats” made The Forgotten Man the poor who the government had forgotten, and who the government must help. The problem with such “forced charity” is that when it’s forced, it is no longer charity.
But there’s something else that’s missing, too: the connection. When you reach out your hand in charity, you’re giving more than money or food or clothes or time. You’re giving of yourself. You are creating an emotional bond that the government cannot create with a law and a new government agency. But certainly, it is easier to pay a middleman than to spend your free time helping the less fortunate. If it were easy to do that, everyone would do it.
But isn’t that the way with many things in life? For example, if it were easy to wait until marriage, there would be no children born to unwed parents. If it were easy to stay married, we wouldn’t have a near 50% divorce rate in this country. If it were easy to make attending Mass every week the center of planning your schedule, more people would attend every week without fail. If it were easy to tithe 10% the Church would have the ability to do so much more. If it were easy to devote our lives to serving God and His people, we wouldn’t have a constant shortage of consecrated religious. If it were easy to balance our secular desires with our sacred ideals, we would all live lives of true virtue. If it were easy to admit our sins, more people would go to confession more often. If it were easy to be without sin, we wouldn’t need the blood of Jesus Christ to redeem us.
We are all faced with a daily struggle between doing what is right and doing what is easy. Some days we succeed in doing what is right. Some days we choose what is easy. But there is one thing that is easy and right, that almost everyone struggles to do: pray. And not just pray for a few minutes as we get into bed. But instead pray as St. Paul tells us in I Thessalonians, to “pray without ceasing”. So often we pray for something. Maybe health, or patience, or guidance. Maybe your prayer is for a new job or for intercession for a loved one. But prayer is where we find communion with God, regardless the outcome.
In our lives filled with an array of electronic gadgets begging for our attention, desiring to fill our every waking second with a never-ending stream of digital entertainment, we are constantly being pulled away from that prayer, even though that is what we all need the most. Prayer is how we develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. Prayer is how we open ourselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit. When we see praying as just another obligation, we diminish it, and like Sumner’s “Forgotten Man”, we change its meaning. Forced prayer is no more prayer than forced charity is charity.
If remembering to pray without ceasing were easy, everyone would be praying a lot more. But we forget that we don’t need to set aside time to pray. We don’t need to make an appointment with God. We don’t need to put prayer on our calendar, or schedule around it. God is always with us, wherever we are and whenever we want to talk to Him. It’s so much easier to just make a reminder to pray than it is to just… pray.
But if we look to Jesus, He prayed to God whenever He wanted. He prayed to maintain their bond, their connection. Jesus did not pray to God out of obligation. He prayed to God out of love. So it should be with all of us.