I have been thoroughly enjoying Cardinal Sarah’s book, God or Nothing, during my retreat this week. And I feel the need to share the following excerpt on prayer (pp. 120-122):
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How would you describe this life of prayer that you speak about so often?
Each one of us absolutely must schedule time for prayer each day and build up his prayer life. How? I will tell you a little story that offers food for thought.
One day an elderly professor was hired to provide training in efficient time management to a group of fifteen heads of major businesses…. While standing, he looked at them one by one, slowly, and then told them: “We are going to do an experiment.” From beneath the table, the professor brought an enormous pot holding several gallons, which he gently placed in front of him. Then he held up a dozen rocks, each about the size of a tennis ball, and gently placed them one by one into the big pot. When the pot was filled to the brim and it was impossible to add another rock, he looked up at his students and asked them, “Is the pot full?” They all answered, “Yes.” He waited a few seconds and added: “Really?” Then he bent down again and brought out from under the table a container filled with gravel. He meticulously poured this gravel onto the big rocks and then gently stirred the pot. The bits of gravel filtered between the rocks down to the bottom of the pot. The old professor looked up again at his listeners and repeated his question: “Is the pot full?” This time his brilliant students were beginning to understand his scheme. One of them answered: “Probably not!” “Right!” the old professor replied. Again he bent down and this time brought some sand from under the table. He poured it into the pot. The sand settled into the spaces between the big rocks and the gravel. Once again he asked: “Is the pot full?” This time, in chorus and without hesitating, the students answered: “No!” “Right!” the old professor replied. And as the students expected, he took the pitcher of water that was on the table and filled the pot to the very brim. Then the old professor said: “What important truth does this experiment demonstrate for us?” The boldest of the students, who was no slouch, thought of the subject of the course and answered: “It demonstrates that even when we think that our agenda is completely full, we can always add more meetings and more things to do if we really want to.” “No,” the old professor replied, “That is not it! The important truth that this experiment demonstrates for us is the following: if you do not put the big rocks into the pot first, you will never be able to make them all fit later.” There was a profound silence, each one becoming aware of the obvious truth of these remarks. The old professor then told them: “What are the big rocks in your life? Your health, your family, your friends, your dreams, your professional career? What you need to remember is the importance of putting the big rocks into your life first; otherwise you run the risk of failing to do so. If we give priority to junk—the gravel, the sand—we will fill our life with futility, with unimportant, worthless things, and we will no longer have the time
to devote to the important things. So do not forget to ask yourself the question: What are the big rocks in my life? Then, put them first into the pot of your daily routine.”…
Is prayer one of the big rocks in my life? I answer without hesitation: Prayer truly must be the big rock that has to fill the pot of our life. It is the time when we do nothing else but be with God. It is the precious time in which everything is done, everything is regenerated, and God acts to configure us to himself.
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This is just one snippet of the treasure trove of wisdom and sound doctrine found in this excellent book. I strongly encourage its reading by all. And more than that, that all act upon the anecdote that is written above, and make prayer the big rock of your life!