“This holy Spirit of Jesus is in us, and he is speaking through us when we pray. Basically prayer means that from the depths of my heart, God speaks to God” – Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, 496
Reread those words. They probably would not be the first to jump to mind if asked, “What is prayer?” You and I would probably respond that prayer is speaking with God. And that is true; but at it’s deepest level, Christian prayer is something that God – God the Son, Christ – is doing within us.
“But Shane, I don’t feel anything like that happening when I pray.” Well no, you wouldn’t. God is higher than our feelings; he is beyond our powers of detection. We know this truth because, like so many others, it was revealed by Christ to the Apostles and handed down to us through Scripture and Tradition.
Our Gospel is that we have been made sons and daughters in the only Son (Jn 1:12-13; 2 Pet 1:4). In Baptism we received the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:4-5), who reproduces Jesus’ prayer within us (Gal 4:6). St. Paul wrote how it was no longer him who lived, but Christ who lived in him. And if Christ lives in us, then he prays in us (CCC 2740).
“Prayer” is at the very heart of Jesus’ identity. From all eternity he is the one who makes a perfect return to the Father of the love that has been lavished upon him … and that love is the Holy Spirit. When the Son became a man he expressed his relationship to the Father through human thoughts, words, and actions aflame with the Spirit (Lk 10:21). Jesus’ human prayer was unlike any prayer offered since humanity’s fall. It was not the prayer of fallen man, a creature making requests or giving thanks to its Creator. Rather, it was the the prayer of a son, the prayer of the Son – gratefully receiving all that he was and had from the Father, and offering himself in turn through the Spirit. And Jesus joins us to himself in Baptism and sends his Spirit into our hearts so that he might express his love for the Father through our thoughts, words, and actions!
Any stirring we have to prayer is the action of Christ. Granted, when we start out in the spiritual life, we may petition God for some petty items or experiences. Yet, even when our prayer is lacking in substance, the Spirit is mysteriously at work within us, interceding “according to the will of God … with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26-27). And if we will open our ears and eyes to the words and actions he has inspired within the Body of Christ, our outward prayer can become a purer manifestation of the prayer of Jesus himself.
Where should we begin? The Mass. The highest point of Jesus’ human prayer was at the Cross, where prayer and his gift of self were one (CCC 2605); and that is what becomes present to us on the altar! We are meant to join ourselves to Jesus’ prayer and offering: “Through him and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever. Amen.” The Mass is a school of prayer:
- we praise and thank God in the words of his angels and saints
- allow him to speak to us in the inspired words of Scripture
- confess our faith in God and what he has revealed when we pray the Creed
- intercede for the needs of the Church and world
- petition the Father for the same needs that Jesus did at the Last Supper
- pray the very words that Christ gave us in the Our Father and make a grateful return of the Fathers love by offering ourselves to him in union with Jesus
The Spirit intends for the perfect prayer of Christ that is manifested in the Mass to spill over into our times of personal prayer too. The Liturgy of the Hours, prayerful reading of Scripture, and the Rosary; devotions such as the Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart Devotion; and practices like fasting and the wearing of scapulars – the Spirit has inspired all of these to bring our daily prayer and lives into union with Jesus’ prayer and offering made present in the Eucharist. The Church’s liturgical prayer, devotions, and practices bring our minds into conformity with Christ’s, so that even our most spontaneous prayers are manifestations of his heart.
Christian prayer: God the Son, loving the Father, in the Spirit – through you and me.
This article was adapted from Shane Kapler’s book, Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own (Angelico Press, 2014).