WHAT IS PRAYER?
I had been busy preparing a presentation for our Parish Adult Education Program on “What is Prayer?” That preparation was interrupted by a phone call from my daughter. “Dad, can you pick up Reilly and Alex from school for me today?” Of course I said, “Yes.” After they had both buckled up and had finished sharing about their day, I asked them both this question just to see what they would say. “Can you tell me what prayer is?” I asked. Simultaneously, they both replied: “Grandpa, that’s easy. Prayer is simply talking to God.” Their answer speaks volumes about their Catholic education, but sadly demonstrated they had a better knowledge of prayer than most life-long Catholics.
There have been thousands of books written over the years so that we can become better “pray-ers”.It has become a topic so convoluted by a myriad of authors and techniques that it seems that prayer is almost impossible for ordinary people to do. Prayer is only something the saints excelled at.
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” St. John Damascene, (CCC 2259)
Yet prayer is a gift from God, and it is intended not just for the saints, but for all of us. Flowing from our Baptismal life, God has invited us into a relationship with Him that is both personal and communal.
“He speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, The Word Made Flesh. Prayer is our response to God who is already speaking, or better yet, revealing Himself to us.” (USCCB)
It is this definition of prayer that we read about in the Book of Genesis, when God calls out to Adam and Eve after they had eaten of the fruit of the Forbidden Tree. Adam and Eve have a conversation with God and explain how they became aware of their nakedness. They were fully engaged with God in what could be called the first recorded example of prayer in the Sacred Scriptures.
“Many people never listen to God because they are not aware that He speaks to them. Yet, Got does speak. One way to live in His presence is to acquire the habit of listening to His voice when He speaks.” (Father Kilian Healy, Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God)
Unfortunately, most “pray-ers” have horrible communication skills. Good communication skills entail both talking and listening. We excel at the talking part, yet we fall far short when it comes to the listening part. Listening demands silence, and silence makes us uncomfortable. We are used to replacing silence with the noise of the television, the radio, or some other electronic device. Yet the silence of praying calls us to totally surrender to the presence of the One who speaks to us. In doing so, we are no longer in control, which goes against our human nature, as if everything we have become and have are the results of our own doing. Not being in control is frightening. The call to silence can also be frightening until we realize that in silence comes not harm, but a most wonderful gift from God. It is in silence that we find the One we seek. It is in silence that we find God.
Read the story of the prophet Elijah. Alone in a cave, Elijah discovered the voice of God not in the strong wind, the rumbles of a mighty earthquake, or in the heat of the fire. It was in the peace and calm of the gentle breeze that Elijah heard God.
“When does God speak to us? He speaks at all times, especially in prayer. Prayer is a conversation with God. But it is not a monologue. When we pray, then, we should also listen, because a good conversationalist is also a good listener.” (Father Kilian Healy, Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God)
Some people are totally unaware of the importance of being in silence. Yet, isn’t that what Jesus sought before He would prepare to speak to His Father in Heaven? Jesus often needed to have silence, to be amidst silence, so that He could be fully engaged in a loving conversation with the one He called “Abba, Father.” All the distractions of His ministerial life would temporarily disappear, and it was then that He could open His heart, mind, and soul to the voice of His Father. It was then that He became in His humanity one with God. Thus, Jesus modeled for us the perfect example of what prayer is.
“There is only one aim: to please God. Anything else will be a diversion. There must be one motive-force:love.” (Raoul Pius, SJ, Holy Simplicity)
The last stumbling block to being a person of prayer is knowing what to say. So many times we find that we are easily distracted, or think that our words are not good enough for God. Jesus told His listeners:”Do not be like the hypocrites who stand on the street corner publicly offering up their words, calling attention to themselves. Instead, go to your room and pray in private to your Father.” We don’t need to be the most articulate speaker, nor do we have to worry what God will think of us. We just need to speak from our heart.
Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God.” (Mother Teresa)
Jesus, in response to His apostles’ question “Lord, teach us to pray”, showed us how and what to pray: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Lord’s Prayer reveals everything that prayer is. In those 55 words, it reveals our dependency on God. We trust that God will provide all we need from day to day. We trust that God will forgive our sins, and help us to extend forgiveness to others. And Jesus gives us the words to acknowledge that, in our lifetime, we will face temptations, trials, and doubts that would otherwise will try to draw us away from a life of faith. In the Lord’s Prayer, all our needs are revealed and we are called back into that silence of prayer, where we are once again able to listen to the voice of God remind us, “Your Father knows what you need even before you ask.”
Prayer is the most direct way of developing and maintaining a personal relationship with God. When we grow in our relationship with God through prayer, we come to understand Him better and to understand His will for us.” Shaun McAfee (Filling Our Father’s House)
St. Paul reminds us to pray always. It’s for our benefit, not God’s. There is really no excuse not to be a people of prayer. If we are too busy to pray, then we are simply too busy.