I have always wondered what it must have been to have a conversation with Jesus, face to face; to sit down and talk to the most interesting person, the most full of life, truth and wisdom. What would we ask? What questions would we make? In today’s gospel we hear some questions that Apostles do make, on something they want to know, they want to learn: how to pray. Their excuse for asking it is a very simple one: ‘John is teaching his apostles how to pray, we want you to teach us too’ (Lk 11:1). We could ask ourselves, what is it about the way Jesus prayed that captivated them so much as to want to learn? There must have been something in the way Jesus prayed that was so appealing to them that they wanted to pray like that; they saw that whatever, relationship Jesus has with God, they wanted to have, too. Jesus shows them how to pray in the form of the Our Father. Rather than talk about the form of prayer, I would like to reflect on the need for prayer, the need to be in conversation with Our Father. Let us reflect on some excuses we normally come up with when we want, or try to pray.
1. I am too busy
There’s a vast amount of people who wake up at 3:00 AM, at 4:00 AM, and not exactly for spiritual purposes; they do it to go to work, to sustain their family; they do it for their studies, for their intellectual betterment; they do it for sports, to win medals at the Olympics.
I remember when I was working in the corporate world, in a high-intensity, goal-oriented job, that my spiritual director asked me about my prayer, being “so busy” I told him, “I try to transform my whole days work into prayer because I’m too busy to dedicate a fixed amount of prayer every day.” I will never forget his answer, “The busier and more intense your schedule is, the more you need to set aside time for prayer, the more urgent prayer becomes.”
What was Jesus’s priority? The gospels tell us that he would wake up early in the morning to pray (Mk 1:35); he would go to the Mount of Olives, he would withdraw in order to pray, he makes time to pray; and there’s a reason for that: there is nothing greater, nothing more noble or sublime than for a creature to speak to her Creator, to be united in one heart, in one spirit. So, being “busy” is always a matter of priorities. There’s nothing more important for us in our lives than prayer, our relationship with our Father.
2. Prayer doesn’t do much for me. I really don’t profit from prayer.
What is prayer? Is prayer trying to convince God to give us something we think we need, or to take away something that is harmful in our lives? We hear in the first reading that Abraham is talking to God as if bargaining, with Him (Gn 18:20-32). Abraham is negotiating with God! It looks like he’s trying to convince Him. It almost seems that Abraham is the merciful one, interceding for the few just men of Sodom and Gomorrah, and trying to contain God’s wrath, who wants to vengefully destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. But what was really happening was that God was performing a greater miracle than that of not destroying these two cities, and this miracle was taking place in the heart of Abraham: God was revealing to Abraham His compassion, his mercy. Through prayer, God was expanding Abraham’s capacity for compassion. The merciful one was God, sharing Himself to Abraham.
The modern British writer C.S. Lewis was taking care of his wife suffering from cancer. Though already a man of prayer, he started praying more, and more frequently. One of his best friends approached him and asked , “Clive, do you think that your prayer can change God? God is perfect. He already wants what is good for you; He already wants you to be happy. Do you think that you are going to convince God to change?” After reflecting for a moment, C.S. Lewis said, “No, I don’t. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes me.” Prayer changes my gaze of the world, my gaze of suffering, my gaze of myself and my circumstances. Prayer is not this amulet that transforms everything around me, like magic. God is not a genie we go to when we need a magic fix of circumstances. Like Abraham, the greatest miracle of prayer is the transformation that takes place in our heart.
3. Prayer is boring, or I don’t know how to pray.
Two big excuses that subversively we give ourselves. I was talking with a friend of mine the other day; he was telling me how he registered his oldest 8 year-old son for soccer. He bought him his little uniform, and a little soccer ball. He had been practicing with him, showing him some moves and some passes. “But the best is the game itself, to see him playing,” he told me. “It is such a delight to see your kid for the first time putting into practice the moves that you taught him out in the field. He would get fouled, and he would get back up; he would score a goal, or never do so.” I could picture it perfectly, a mass a kids chasing the ball, with no order or structure. And then, of course the most passionate people are the parents, shouting and rooting in the crowd. “After the game,” he continues, “My kid runs up to me and starts re-telling me the whole game. But you should have seen the look on his face. I didn’t stop him and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I saw the whole game. I actually saw it better than you did!’ I was just mesmerized in hearing him exaggerate the plays and the passes, turning the whole event into this epic event!”
So, why do we pray?
Firstly, it is not to inform God of what He already knows—that would be boring—of course, we wouldn’t know what to do; prayer would merely be a transaction of information. We pray because we are children of God. Because, just like the soccer child connects to his father, so we connect with our Heavenly Father; not because He needs to know and be informed of the problems you are going through; not because He needs to know how happy or sad, or abandoned you feel, but because He wants to listen to you. He wants to listen to you, His son, His daughter. He wants to connect, to be in union, in communion, with the depths of your human spirit. Prayer is a conversation with God, it is the hope that you do not have to live your life alone, that you and I can share our deepest sorrows, our deepest pains, our greatest joys with our Heavenly Father and nothing goes unnoticed in our life.
You have this presence within you, a Holy Presence who sees you with tenderness and with compassion, and who is just waiting for those moments to connect with you. If we do not pray daily, with discipline, constantly (1Thes 5:16), we will succumb to the anxieties of life (Mt 26:41). We will lose that peace of knowing and living our life loved by a Father; a car cutting in front of us will take away our peace, being late for work, a family problem—when we don’t live them with our Father—will take away our peace. It is no surprise that if we do try to live our lives alone, we will fall alone.
After my spiritual director challenged me to prioritize prayer in my life I was resolved to begin my day with half an hour of prayer. come what may. At the beginning I thought I could never take it up; and it was not easy. But now, it ended up turning into a small routine in my life, the most important one of my morning. I can tell you that that is one of the greatest joys in my day. Even when I think I don’t have the spiritual energy to pray, when I am too fallen, when I am too tired, I am quickly reminded that there is this harmony in life that only the presence of God can give us. And that’s how it should be: we are His sons, we are His daughters. To pray is to find that purpose in our life, in our day by day. We can use Scripture, we can use spiritual books to guide our prayer. Many times, it’s just a matter of silence. It’s just a matter of contemplation.
The most important aspect of prayer is not that it be fervent, full of emotions, that we feel the presence of God, and that we cry, moved by His love; those types of prayer will be rare and far between. The most important aspect of our prayer life is what Jesus tells his Apostles through a parable, immediately after he teaches the Our Father.
It may have happened to you after a hard days work, when you’re laying on your couch, right after you fire up your favorite TV series: you hear a knock at the door. You think to yourself, “Oh, I’m sure it’s just the mailman.” and you hear it again. “Oh, it’s probably a salesman. I’ll let it go.” And you hear it again. After the third or fourth time, you get to the door just for the knocking to stop! “Knock, and door will be opened. Seek, and you shall find. Ask, and it will be given to you” (Lk 11:9-10). Here, Jesus reveals to us the most necessary, indispensable quality of prayer: perseverance; that we do pray, everyday, that we find time in our days to connect with our Heavenly Father.
After knocking at prayer for some time, after weeks, or maybe months, you will start to see the fruits: you will begin to see that your whole day is inundated, filled with this peace that nobody, no-thing can take away, the peace that Christ gives in a way that the world cannot (Jn 14:27). May Mary, the Mother of all graces, grant us the grace to pray and to persevere in our prayer life; that we may find the time to converse with our Heavenly Father, to enjoy life under His gaze.
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