Dr. Cooney-Hathaway told the audience a key component to prayer is the openness to receiving God’s message, an acknowledgment that prayer is not meant to be a laundry list of requests for God, but rather an opening of a channel to ask for, and to receive, guidance from the Lord.
“God doesn’t want us to pray as we think He wants us to pray; God wants us to pray as we are,” Dr. Cooney-Hathaway said. “We’re not going to God as we should be, but as we are. Because that’s where healing occurs. We’re not going to God for consolation, but we are going to God for God. We always choose to believe in God’s presence, and through prayer, to find out where God wants us in the world.”
Conference attendees took home a study guide from Dr. Cooney-Hathaway’s talk, and a raffle took place to give away more materials to supplement to talk.
Before Dr. Cooney-Hathaway's talk, Donna Jones, spiritual director at St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish, delivered a testimony on what it means to approach God through prayer with an open heart.
"Because God wants the love of mankind and wants an intimate relationship with us," Jones said, "through the great sacrifice He gave us, God wants us as who we are. We bow to His perfect will, not coming to Him with our own plans, but His will."
Jones detailed her own experience in encountering God through prayer, and how prayer is not meant to be focused on asking God for favors or assistance, but being open to what God wants to communicate.
"Let us not approach God and His presence as a routine," Jones said. "Let us come to Him and be excited. Because He has great things prepared for us. So let us approach God, ready to appreciate His plans and act according to His word, as a good Father. Because our thoughts are not His thoughts."
The February 2 talk at St. Augustine-St. Monica is intended to be the first in a series of talks, with Dr. Matthew Gerlach, dean of the Institute for Lay Ministry at Sacred Heart, invited all to attend the next talk, March 2 at St. Charles Lwanga Parish on Grand River Avenue in northwest Detroit, featuring Dr. Mark Latkovic on “Catholic Social Teaching.”
Other talks will feature Dr. Michael McCallion on “Taking a Knee: A Catholic, Intercultural Perspective” at Corpus Christi Parish in Detroit on May 11, and September 14 at the seminary with Dr. Daniel Keating leading a panel of Christian leaders in Detroit on “Unleashing the Gospel in Our Neighborhood.”
“One of the nice things that has come out of this series is the importance of collaborating between the Institute for Lay Ministry, the Archdiocese of Detroit's Office of Black Catholic Ministry and the pastors of predominantly African-American parishes,” Dr. Gerlach said. “We came up with this speaker series to carry out the overall action steps in Unleash the Gospel to advance the new evangelization in the African-American communities, and to do this, we needed the cooperation of all three entities.”
Dr. Gerlach added the series aims to present the material in a way that is accessible to all Catholics, regardless of academic background, but also to tap into any potential interest for Catholics in the African-American community in the Archdiocese of Detroit to further explore taking courses to learn more about the faith.
“One of the great myths out there in the archdiocese, and even in the Diocese of Lansing, is that Sacred Heart is really just a place for priestly formation,” Dr. Gerlach said. “But we do have between 350 to 500 active students taking classes for many different reasons, from ministry preparation to just learning more about the faith for self-enrichment.”
Beyond that initial goal, Dr. Gerlach added having seminary professors go out to the parishes gives the teachers a better understanding of how to transform the lessons from theoretical to practical, which in turn strengthens their ability to teach.
“The professor are benefiting when they have this kind of interaction in the parish setting, feeling connected to the lives of everyday Catholics,” Dr. Gerlach said. “For me as a professor, giving talks not just in a formal classroom setting, but taking the lessons and seeing how they play out in the parish, it does wonders and really shows what the seminary can offer the archdiocese.”