Photo Courtesy Saint Petersburg Theological Seminary
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the mystery of faith as requiring “that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer” (Catholic Church 2558). We know that we ought to pray, but what do we pray for? Is all prayer the same?
“We do not know what we ought to pray for,” (King James Version, Rom. 8.26)
We must humble ourselves so that our hearts will be open for the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of prayer. God calls us first to prayer. When we pray we are responding to His call to commune with and speak to Him as a child speaks confidently to his father.
“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Lk. 11.1).
We can learn to pray by reading about Jesus’ life on Earth. Jesus taught about conversion of heart. We must be forgiving and desire reconciliation not only with our brothers, but with our enemies. We must pray for those who love us and who persecute us. Trusting in God’s goodness and promises will encourage faith in Him beyond what we are able to understand. Jesus taught that this is only possible through the Father. The Father asks us to “knock” because he is the door (Catholic Church 2609). When we pray we must believe that we will receive what we ask of God if it is in accordance with His divine plan. Jesus made use of parables to teach us how to pray and to invite us to prayer in every need.
The parable of the importunate friend is an example of God inviting us to pray with urgency when in need. When one who was in great need importuned his friend by coming to him for help after the house was closed and it’s inhabitants in bed, though it took persistence, the friend ultimately helped him. “Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth” (Lk. 11.8). Jesus taught us to have faith and to trust in God. Once we make our needs known to Him in prayer we need not despair because He hears and answers our most urgent prayers.
The parable of the importunate widow is an example of ceaseless, faithful and patient prayer. The widow asks the unjust judge to avenge her of her adversary. Though he does not immediately avenge her, he ultimately accedes to her supplication because of her persistence “lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Lk. 18.5). When we ask for something in prayer we must patiently await an answer. God wants us to share our troubles and needs with Him and we must have faith that He will answer our prayers in His infinite wisdom in a way that is for our greater good. No matter how long it takes we can trust that the answer will come at the right time.
Before we begin to think of prayer solely as a means of petitioning the Lord, let us consider an example of humility in prayer: the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. While the Pharisee thanked God that he was not guilty of certain sins and praised himself for his virtues, the tax collector “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk. 18.13). Let us remain mindful that we are sinners and that our virtues and good works are not our own, but come from God. Knowing this, we can come closer to humbling ourselves in prayer to the almighty God, who sent His only son to save us from sin that we might not despair, but ask for and receive mercy.
Many feel the lack of time or will to pray and so give up making any effort to do so. All prayer need not be structured in a certain way. Prayer may be said in peaceful solitude when one feels disposed to listen calmly for God to speak. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place and there prayed” (Mk. 1.35). With this may come prayers of thanksgiving for life, health, family and numerous other blessings we take for granted. Sometimes one experiences spiritual dryness and is unable to pray. It is especially at these times that we thank God for communal prayer during Mass, Stations of the Cross, Novenas, and other times that we pray as a community.
Actions and duties can be offered as prayers as well. When the Lord appeared to Abraham at Mamre, Abraham did not hesitate to offer shelter, water and food. When we are charitable and imitate Jesus even when it is inconvenient or burdensome we can offer our actions to God as a prayer. Often, at work or at home, we must perform necessary tasks that are disagreeable to us. It is easy to grumble and complain about our daily chores or requests from family members or others in need of assistance. At these times we can derive strength and endurance from meditations on the passion of our Lord, which puts the perceived arduousness of our tasks into perspective and reminds us to offer these tasks to God. The benefit of this is twofold; not only do we give our thoughts to God in such meditations, but we convert our inclination to grumble into virtue by overcoming these thoughts.
We can look to Saint André Bessette as an example. After his 28th birthday, André Provençal became Brother André Bessette and was graced with the task of doorman at Notre Dame College. In addition, he was to perform sacristan and messenger duties as well as laundry work. Brother André said, “When I joined this community, the superiors showed me the door, and I remained 40 years“ (Foley). Such tasks would be regarded by most as menial at best, but Saint André showed humility and his love for God by treating his tasks as prayers and performing them for His glory.
When we pray, we lift our minds to God and focus only on Him in an effort to show a desire to be close to God and the knowledge that life is meaningless without Him.
God calls us to prayer not only during Mass, but individually. Prayer does not come easily even to one who fervently desires communion with God. Our fallen nature often obstructs our efforts to pray and causes resistance to calmness and quiet, but only persistence in the face of physical and mental torpor during prayer will allow us to persevere and strengthen our will to speak to God from the heart.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice
Vaticana, 1994. Print.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., (revised by Mccluskey, Pat O.F.M.), “Saint Andre Bessette”, Saint of the Day, American Catholic http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/Saint.aspx?id=1252
The Holy Bible. Self-Pronouncing Red-Letter Edition Vers. Vol. King James Version. Thomas Nelson, 1987. Print.