Can One Find God in the Middle of New York City?

'The greatest temptation of the devil is to convince us not to pray' and to stray far from the Lord — here's how to combat that

Several months ago, a business leader from a wealthy suburb of New York City told me, “Father, you are going to have a hard time evangelizing in this town. We are all doing extremely well financially, our kids are in top schools, we have great physical health, and life is generally very good.”

I asked him, “What would you rate your happiness on a scale of 1 to 10?”

He said, “I would give myself an 8.”

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I replied, “What would you give your good friends Mr. and Mrs. Smith (not their real names), who live here in the same neighborhood?”

Smiling, he said, “I would give them a 9.5.”

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I asked, “Why? Why do you think they are happier?”

“They take their Catholic faith very seriously and have a beautiful marriage,” he said. “They’re the real deal.”

As a recent piece in Time magazine noted, “Study after study has found that religious people tend to be less depressed and less anxious than nonbelievers, better able to handle the vicissitudes of life than nonbelievers … It’s as if a sense of spirituality and an active, social religious practice were an effective vaccine against the virus of unhappiness.”

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There is such a focus on fostering both academic and athletic excellence in our kids today, God and prayer time seem to be getting squeezed out, unless it is “convenient” or unless a family tragedy pushes them in this direction. SAT-preparation courses, private tutors, travel sports teams with crazy out-of-state weekend calendars, personal trainers and coaches, and after-school clubs and getaways — no wonder so few families make it to Mass every Sunday and even fewer have a culture of prayer baked into their home lives. Is it surprising they are not happy?

In the words of St. Paul, we certainly need to “fan our gifts into a flame,” and develop our God-given talents to the best of our ability. But we also need to focus on the source of life and all of these talents. Only God can fulfill our deepest desires.

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St. Teresa of Avila warns us, “The greatest temptation of the devil is to convince us not to pray.” The devil often tries to lure us with other “good options” and even noble ideas like serving others — but without close contact with God, without the grace of God flowing through us, we will simply burn out and get tired.

As I was riding the elevator the other day, one of the gentleman joked, “Father, does this count for Mass, since we’re riding the elevator with you?”

We all laughed — but unfortunately, this idea of shortcuts around praying and worship of God seem to be “out there.” Heaven can happen right now, but we need to make significant time for God to love us. There are no quick fixes or easy ways around this fundamental truth.

Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.

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