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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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When you consider that the greatest hymns ever written—the plainchant hymns—are pushing the age of eight hundred and that the noble chorale hymn tunes of Bach date from the early eighteenth century, then what is the significance of the word “old” applied to “Mother at Thy Feet Is Kneeling”? Most of the old St. Basil hymns date from the Victorian era, particularly the 1870s and 1880s.
— Paul Hume (1956)

It’s Personal
published 5 June 2012 by Fr. David Friel

As a kid growing up, I went to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Sometime—I believe around 4th grade—a new kid moved into the area and joined our class. For whatever reason, I became friends with him, and I can distinctly remember the first time I called his house. Like most kids that age, I always got nervous before making phone calls, and my mom would prep me with what to say. So, when I called my friend’s house and his mom answered, I said, as though from a script, “Good morning, this is David Friel. May I please speak with John Smith?”

She replied, “Which one?” I froze. That wasn’t in the script! My mom never prepared me for that!

I came to find out that not only was my friend’s name John Smith, but his father had the same name. And not only that, but his paternal grandfather also lived in the house, and he, too, had the same name. We eventually came up with a system: my friend became just “John,” his dad became “Mr. Smith,” and his grandfather, inventively enough, became “Mr. Mr. Olenick.” Since there were three different people with the same name, I had to do something to specify to whom I was speaking.

When you pray, to Whom do you pray? If your answer is God, let me suggest that we should clarify that. We celebrated this past Sunday the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the day on which we highlight our belief in a Trinity of three Persons Who are one God—three distinct People, Who go by the one name of “God.” So, perhaps it would be good for us to specify, when we pray, precisely to Whom we are praying.

In the course of a single day, we might pray to all three members of the Trinity, but that doesn’t preclude us from having a unique relationship with each of them. Perhaps we had a troubled relationship with our human father, and so we feel most comfortable praying to God the Father. Maybe we can really relate to Jesus, since He has a human nature, so we want to pray to Him. Or maybe you really need special inspiration, and so you turn to the Holy Ghost.

Why does it matter? Why can’t we just pray generically to “God” and let Him sort out where the prayers go?

Because God is not just a cabinet with different mail slots; nor is He just some amorphous blob in the clouds. God is a Person—three distinct, though not separate, Persons. When I wanted to talk to my friend, I couldn’t just call and speak to “John Smith-ness.” I had to specify which John Smith—which person. In the same way, when we talk to the Lord, we can do better than just addressing “God.” We can specify the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit.

The fabulous news for us is that, because God is a Personal Being, we can have a relationship with Him. He’s not just a rock or a piece of furniture. He has Personality, to which we can relate. And, for that reason, prayer is a relationship, not just the filing of a memo with God.

If we learn to pray in this way, we may discover sides to God that we’ve never before encountered. We may come to experience the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit more deeply, more vibrantly, and more personally.