2567 ...Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. (CCC)
God calls us as he called Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall: Where are you? God calls us so that we may ‘walk with him’. That’s a rather nice way of putting it, don’t you think - to walk with him? This kind of prayer is lived by many humble people in all religions but in the drama of our daily Christian lives it is ordered to an ever-growing communion with the Trinity – to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is, of course, our model for prayer. In his relationship to the Father we discover all that prayer is, its source, its power, its necessity, its characteristics.
After their sin Adam and Eve, when they heard God approaching, hid from him. How many of us do not do the same? We avoid prayer not only because we are too busy, we avoid it because we know it is a meeting with God. The most recent National Catholic Life Survey confirmed this for us once again; by and large Catholics do not pray.
And yet, I imagine that few Catholics would say that prayer is bad or unnecessary, in fact, I am convinced that practically all of them would acknowledge its importance and betray a niggling desire, if not an explicit intention, to pray more. Perhaps the teenage Jesus points to this pervasive awareness when he tells his parents: I must be in my Father’s house.
Indeed, Jesus’ simple affirmation is very profound when applied to our subject.
- Prayer is really the communion of a child with its Father and this, in thought, word, and deed. In other words our prayer is always ‘filial’ prayer; the enduring call of a loving Father to his loving child.
- Secondly, we are called to be in our Father’s house, to live there; it is our proper home. To reduce Christian prayer to those well-known moments when we ‘say a prayer’ is to impoverish it entirely. Our moments of prayer must always embrace the daily conduct of our life; we must live our prayer.
Understandably, since the sin of Adam and Eve, and as we become aware of our own personal sins, we can begin to develop a sense that we are somehow excluded from the Father’s house. However, this does not remove from us that deep-rooted other sense we have that ‘I must be in my Father’s house'; that there is the only place we will be truly happy.
Those of you who practise Lectio Divina will readily recognise that your daily opening of the book of Sacred Scripture is in a very real way like opening the ‘door’ to the Father’s house. We enter this door and find ourselves, as it were, in the lobby where we sit and read, meditate and pray. It is a gift of this prayer, the gift of contemplatio, that the Triune God himself will, at moment of his chosing, come to be with us. And if we are not always graced with such a visit we can always say with St Peter: Lord, it is wonderful to be here.
The more our lives become oriented to being in the Father’s house the less we desire to live in the world and the more happily we begin to withdraw from its ways. Jesus often withdrew to a quiet, lonely place in order to pray. Solitude is the great friend of prayer because in solitude we eventually find the silence in which God speaks.
If there is an absence of prayer in many Catholic lives it is often because of the lack of solitude and silence. In busy families it is difficult, almost impossible, to find either of these realities. In fact, one can grow so accustomed to always being with others and having one’s head filled with noise that solitude and silence can come to seem unpleasant, even frightening. Yet, I know of extraordinarily busy couples who have simply legislated periods of both solitude and silence in their lives in order to spend time in prayer. The fruit of their efforts is apparent in the quality of their marriages and in their responsibilities as parents, but most of all in the heavenly wisdom which makes itself a part of their lives.
One of the joys, and challenges, of my life at present is that I have been obliged to live in many different houses over the last few years. I’ve grown accustomed to accepting that each home has a different routine and 'rhythm' and that my challenge is to do my best to fit in. To live ‘in my Father’s house’ requires similar adjustments.
Jesus’ prayer, arising out of the depths of his humble heart, sought always to open him to the accomplishment of the will of his heavenly Father. That is what true Christian prayer is meant to be – a seeking out of the will of God. Many of us pray in a way that seems to be trying to change God’s mind about something in our lives so that we can go on living ‘in our own house’ whereas true prayer teaches us how to live in his.
I consider the greatest prayer Jesus ever spoke was: Father, not my will but yours be done, and I believe, furthermore, that the Father will never refuse this prayer. In his will (in his house) is every good, if only we had eyes to see and hearts to trust.
Oh, before we finish, we’d better acknowledge what Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel about prayer: Pray continually and never lose heart.