Advocating for prayer in the UD classroom

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Photo by Rebecca Rosen

This year, the students at the University of Dallas face the rewarding but steep prospect of a fall semester full of unique opportunities and challenges. One challenging question, however, is hardly new: how can we best live out our Catholic identity as a school community? 

This question has many components, and there are many possible ways to approach answering it. We believe that one good starting point would be to encourage the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of each class.  

Common prayer effects authentic unity like nothing else. Amid a season of historic unrest and uncertainty on many fronts, our prayers may express the heartfelt hope – founded in faith – that our nation and our world, through God’s merciful providence, will attain higher, more lasting and more purposeful peace and unity. The cultivation of this unity must at all times take precedence over our partisan politics and personal preferences, especially during a particularly weighty and difficult election year.

Prayer also expresses thankfulness. Every student returning to class this fall, whether online or in-person, must recognize the opportunity to do so as a blessing rather than a burden. This rings particularly true for our incoming freshmen who will experience a freshman year like no other. 

In the semester ahead, many of us will draw from the Catholic heritage of UD as a common wellspring of strength, going forth to steadfastly confront our common trials and fulfill our common obligations.

This Catholic heritage integrally underpins all academic pursuits at UD. Our work in pursuit of knowledge is truly a prayer in and of itself, and it constitutes one of our most important opportunities for service, sacrifice and sanctification.

This orientation of our work is foundationally important and deeply personal. Whatever our religious affiliation or lack thereof, each of us as students must come to appreciate the good of sustained and intentional study as something far greater than academic metrics can capture. At UD, the truth of this important discovery, which each student must themselves make, inheres within the authentically Catholic character that characterizes our community at all levels and in all contexts.

But we do not work alone, and we do not study alone. Such is not the nature of community. We work and study together, just as we eat together, discuss together, recreate together and pray together. This togetherness, founded in our institutional charism, unites members of the UD community far more than our differences distinguish us as individuals.

Nowhere do we more clearly come together as students and faculty than within our classrooms – whether within Braniff, Haggerty or the digital dystopia of Zoom U. United in study, our classrooms provide the most suitable and important place for us to continue our UD legacy of independent thought, rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

This is why, as a Catholic institution, it is proper for us to consider beginning each class with a prayer. Beginning class in such a manner consistently realizes the values of our school in a way that inclusively unifies all present in gratitude and hopefulness.

There is a unifying and elevating power inherent in reverent prayer from which every classroom may benefit. As rising seniors who have known and loved a wide range of undergraduate courses at UD, we have seen firsthand the authentic benefits of properly incorporating prayer as a key element of our classrooms’ character. 

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul urges his readers, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” As we seek to follow our vocations as students, then, it is important that every day we turn our minds towards God and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

We believe that The Lord’s Prayer is the best prayer with which to begin each class. In addition to its timeless beauty and quite suitable emphases on faith, forgiveness and the avoidance of temptation, The Lord’s Prayer constitutes a common frame of reverence for adherents of all Abrahamic religions and is widely considered non-denominational.

We acknowledge that not every UD student is Christian or religious and, as a result, some may view prayer in the classroom as exclusionary. However, we believe that this could not be further from the truth. By praying openly in the presence of everyone, we invite students and faculty of all, or of no faith traditions to interact with and encounter our faith and way of community life. By praying openly, and for each other, we work to bridge all gaps which may separate students and make them feel unwelcome within the UD community. Additionally, we firmly believe that in no way, shape or form should any student or faculty member be compelled to pray when they do not wish to.

We call on the student body to begin an inclusive dialogue regarding the subject of prayer in the classroom and to advocate for the administrative establishment of a formal guideline for common prayer in undergraduate classrooms. Such a guideline should take a form that consistently respects and accommodates the sincere convictions of individual faculty members and students who wish to refrain from participating in common prayer, as our university’s Catholic identity and legacy of independent thought must never be mutually exclusive.

As Catholic men, UD seniors and student leaders, we propose and earnestly advocate for the adoption of common prayer as an element of the UD classroom. We sincerely look forward to a robust community-wide conversation and call on all students to make their voices heard.

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