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Teach Us to Pray

Who taught you to pray? Very often it is a

parent who first introduces this marvelous

truth to us: that we can freely talk directly

with God, Who is always there to listen to us

and Who will speak to us as well. For the Apostles, it was Jesus Who taught

them to pray in a compelling way. As they

watched their Friend and Teacher in prayer, they saw an

intensity in Jesus’ union with God that inspired them, and

they wanted to grow in that spiritual connection themselves.

He was their rabbi, their leader; He kept the crowds

spellbound by His teaching; He had a comfort and ease in

being with both rich and poor, the powerful and the weak,

the robust and the sick. These were all human qualities other

rabbis no doubt also possessed in some measure. But His

prayer was unmistakably unique and the source of His

wisdom and sense of purpose: “I came not to do My own

will, but the will of the One Who sent Me.”And so they asked

Him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” To learn to pray is a lifelong process, because it is simply

the living communication in the relationship each of us has

with God. Just as we converse with our loved ones

differently at the different stages of life – children to

parents and grandparents, and vice versa; spouses at early,

middle, and later stages of marriage; school-age friends

and those of later life – so to our conversation with God will

mature and change if we are deliberate about it. The Catechism notes that prayer is a “vital and personal

relationship with the living and true God.” So prayer is this

relationship, which can take a variety of forms of

expression. More than formulae of words and rituals,

prayer is “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” (St.

John Damascene). In other words, prayer must come from

the heart, and the deepest prayer needs no words or

actions at all. When we are in communion with God, we are

praying. But sustaining this communion in our human

condition in this life requires attention, motivation, a

conscious decision to speak – and more importantly, to listen

– to God. Prayer can be praise, petition for our needs, intercession for

others, thanksgiving, or contrition. I think of the four phrases

we learn as children to guide our respectful relationships

with others: “Thank you,” “I love you,” “Please,” and “I’m

sorry.” These sum up the major types of prayer, all found in

the Mass. As the Catechism emphasizes, prayer is always

about “today” – our prayer is to reflect our lived

relationship with God in our lives as they are. It is not some

separate piety or practice with no other connection to life as

we experience it; true prayer is immersed in the specifics of

my own “here and now.” Each person’s prayer is as unique and unrepeatable as each

soul; in your personal prayer, do what works for you to

speak to and hear God. As the Catechism puts it: “The Lord

leads all persons by paths and in ways pleasing to him, and

each believer responds according to his heart's resolve and

the personal expressions of his prayer.” It is good to be

familiar with many forms – verbal prayers like the Rosary,

the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations, or the Liturgy of the

Hours; practices like lectio divina or visio divina (meditation

on Scripture or Christian art); Eucharistic adoration; silent

Only with time, practice, and above all perseverance,

will one’s personal connection with God grow and

mature. That connection also helps us to cut through the

clamor of so many human voices that seek to persuade

or influence us. Facing today’s many problems, we do

best to begin with the question: “I know what the

newscasters and politicians and bloggers and

celebrities say; but what does God have to say?” When we have a solid prayer life individually, we

bring that to the communal celebration of Mass, and

everyone’s experience is enriched. Though at times

prayer can seem empty or dry, no time with God is

ever lost, wasted, or without its lesson. When we know someone well and value that person’s

company, spending time together is not a chore or

obligation, but a joy to be savored. The same is true

with God. However much you pray already, add five

minutes over the course of this week, especially just to

listen. If you don’t know where to begin, do what the

Apostles did. Simply ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.” Fr. Tom

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