FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
The Christian life is a spiritual and moral life. Prayer is essential throughout the life of every Christian – priest, religious or lay person.
I wish to reflect extensively, six articles precisely, on prayer in our life. First, we shall speak on our need and obligation to pray; second, on the nature and kinds of prayer; third, on methods of prayer; fourth, on the fruits of prayer. In the fifth article, we shall reaffirm the need of prayer – always. We shall add a final article on the practice of daily prayer.
We begin our prayerful and hopeful journey with a note on the absolute need of prayer.
Christian life means radically and centrally following Christ, whose life was deeply prayerful. As we see in the Gospels, Jesus prayed always and especially when He had to make important decisions or celebrate an important event, such as, before choosing the Twelve Apostles (Lk 6:12-16); before Peter’s confession (Lk 9:18); and before He taught his disciples to pray (Lk 11:1). The Gospels tell us about the frequent prayer of Jesus in silent solitude (Mt 14:23; Lk 5:15-16): “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mk 1:35). Jesus taught us to pray the Our Father, which is the quintessential Christian prayer. After Jesus’ Ascension, the Apostles together with some women, including His mother, Mary, went to the upper room to pray: “With one heart all these joined constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14).
Jesus tells us: “Pray always and never lose heart” (Lk 18:1). The Lord asks us to pray always, that is, actually or virtually, externally or internally. St. Paul repeats to us: “Pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). St. Augustine comments: “And therefore, what else is intended by the words of the apostle: ‘Pray without ceasing,’ than, desire without intermission, from Him who alone can give it, a happy life, which no life can be but that which is eternal?” (Letter to Proba). Praying ceaselessly is the implicit desire of charity and, consequently, the constant intention of doing all things, “whatever you do,” (1 Cor 10:31) for the glory of God.
We are body and soul. Our bodies need food – physical food – to live and stay strong. Our souls need food – spiritual food – to be alive in God. To those who followed Jesus expecting physical food – bread and fish, He tells them: “Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food which lasts, and which gives eternal life…” (Jn 6:27).
We are God’s creatures and children. We are weak and needy: “the Lord’s true beggars” (Desert Fathers). We go to Jesus, our savior and strength: “Apart from me,” Jesus tells us, “you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). Prayer – one of my students writes – “is a must, and it is the source of our strength (like boosters and medicines).”
In our hurried life, in particular, we all need to pray always. In our time, there is too much action and noise, and too many words! “For whoever is in the habit of praying only at the hour when his knees are bent prays very little.” St. Teresa of Avila – always a master of prayer, theoretically and practically – used to say that souls who have no prayer life, no “interiority” are “like crippled bodies,” and “hollow inside.”
We need to pray daily. We pray today, now, this moment, which is the only thing in our hands. The Zen Master says: “The past is unreal; the future is unreal, too; only the moment is real. Life is a series of moments, either lived or lost.” Indeed, life is a series of moments either lived or lost! Hence, our prayer is not meant for yesterday or tomorrow, but today: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:8). In times of trouble or darkness, we say with the Psalmist, “Help me, O Lord my God!” (Ps 109:26). Benedict XVI says: “There is no human situation that cannot be turned into prayer.”
How do we learn to pray? A master of novices answered a novice thus: “The first law is to pray; and the second is to keep at it.” Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelchina’s answer: “By praying always.” How to pray then? When we pray, we are collected, recollected, not scattered. Prayer time is God’stime, quality time with God. We are humbly present before God: without humility, actual prayer and progress in prayer is not possible. In the actual presence of God, we are humbly present to him. And, like the publican (Lk 18:14), we are humbly penitent and ask God’s forgiveness, (Mt 6:14-15): “Lord, I am sorry.” And also, we forgive others: “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your heavenly Father may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mk 11:25).
All prayer must be devoutly attentive. “Whoever is distracted by any sort of wandering of heart, even on bended knees never prays” (John Cassian, The Conferences, 10th).
Am I – are you – distracted? If we are actually attentive, we achieve not only increase of grace and an answer to our prayers of petition, but also “the sweet enjoyment of God” (Blessed Alphonsus Orozco).
Prayer involves total trust in God. He is our Father. He loves us. He listens to us – silently but authentically, as a father, and therefore we pray to him through his Son our Lord in the Holy Spirit. The famous, anonymous Russian pilgrim tells us that prayer to be true “should be offered with a pure mind and heart, with burning zeal, with close attention, with fear and reverence, and with the deepest humility.”
We believe in God, we hope in him, and we love him and, therefore, we have to pray: faith, hope and love, pray! “In faith, hope and charity, the constant desire of love makes us pray continually” (St. Augustine). One who is in love with God is praying constantly.