Conference participants engage in discussion at their tables.
Conference participants engage in discussion at their tables.
“We take life too quickly and greedily. We have to learn to wait – let things unfold at their own speed,” said Father Ronald Rolheiser, suggesting to attendees of a local conference that the pace of life would benefit from the pace of prayer.

A member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Father Rolheiser spoke to more than 100 participants who gathered Nov. 12 for the 26th annual Spirituality Conference for the Upper Room Spiritual Center, Neptune, which was held in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

The renowned speaker, teacher and author focused his presentation on “Prayer, Our Deepest Hunger,” including a three-part session with lectures, small group sharing and question and answer periods.

Father Rolheiser presented his theme with humorous stories about aspects of prayer, human behavior and understanding, addressing topics such as, “Our need for prayer and solitude,” “Obstacles to prayer and solitude,” “Defining prayer,” “Commandments for the long haul,” and “Mystical images for prayer.”

“We have a deep need for prayer that’s more unconscious than conscious,” Father Rolheiser observed, reminding participants that, “Prayer is lifting our hearts and minds to God. We think that we should lift up what God wants to hear, but we should actually pray what’s there.”

Speaking about those things that can block a person from prayer, such as narcissism, pragmatism, excessive restlessness and a misunderstanding of what prayer is, Father Rolheiser considered the tendency to get lost in a preoccupation with self, to define personal worth by what someone does rather than who they are.

Father Rolheiser also observed that prayer is sometimes seen as wasting time that could be used for getting other things done, advising that while people often feel under pressure, there’s a need to remember that God actually provides enough time for all that needs to be undertaken.

In his session, “Commandments for the long haul,” Father Rolheiser provided illustrative stories and practical steps for participants to deepen their prayer lives. He pointed out that staying with prayer when it’s boring or doesn’t seem to yield fruit is difficult for many, noting, “Even in those times, God is calling us to pray.”

Reminding participants that God’s only non-negotiable commandment is to show up, Father Rolheiser advised, “Pray even when you don’t feel like it. Prayer is a good regardless of how you are feeling about it. It is imperative to pray with honesty – acknowledge the boredom, negative feelings, lack of faith that God will answer us.”

Sister of St. Joseph Trudy Ahearn, one of the Upper Room’s three co-directors, said of the conference, saying, “It’s timely for everybody, our Church and our world, to receive the invitation to pray with this deeper understanding of what prayer really is. It is a desire that so many people have.”

Mercy Sister Maureen Conroy, another co-director, recalled that while prayer sustained so many during the pandemic, many of the things that block people from engaging in prayer were magnified.

“I really appreciate that we were able to meet here after Covid, and people are just so hungry for a deeper spirituality,” she said, adding that she appreciates Father Rolheiser’s thoughtful approach to his presentations and his use of humor.

Marie O’Hara, a member of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, and long-time participant in Upper Room offerings, acknowledged that Father Rolheiser’s presentations have “helped me to deepen my relationship with God.”

The Upper Room will conclude its ministry at the end of December 2022.

There is a Mass of Thanksgiving and reception celebrating 45 years of service as a spiritual center in the Diocese of Trenton planned for Dec 11 in St. Anselm Church, Tinton Falls, at 3 p.m. To register, call the Upper Room at 732-922-0550. Registration deadline is Nov.  29.