“One can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state. The heart is the place of this conquest and encounter, in poverty and in faith.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2710
Luke 11:1-13: Now once he was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray: Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us. And do not put us to the test.’ He also said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him;’ and the man answers from inside the house, ‘Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.’ I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants. So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
Christ the Lord We, though we tend to be selfish, are still eager to give good things to those we love. God, who is unhampered by even the slightest smidgeon of selfishness, is certainly more eager than we can imagine to give good things to us, whom he loves tirelessly and without measure. Just as Christ answered his disciples’ request to teach them how to pray, so he will hear every request we ask of him and answer it even more generously than we could have hoped for. He is a lavish Lord, abounding in every good thing – most especially in forgiveness and faithfulness, the two deepest needs of the human heart – and ready to pour them out upon us, if only we really want him to.
In a sense, the history of salvation is a history of God answering the prayers of his people. The Old Testament is a litany of answered prayers: Moses repeatedly intercedes for the Israelites, and God delivers; the Lord answers their pleas for deliverance by sending them judges and prophets and finally a king; Hannah is granted a son; Judith and Esther are granted victory in the face of overpowering enemies through their heartfelt prayers, and the list goes on. Certainly, God is the initiator of salvation. He created us and guides us through the labyrinth of life, but he guides us in accordance with our nature, and that means respecting our freedom and listening to our entreaties. He is not a Dictator, but an all-powerful Father.
Christ the Teacher The words of the Our Father, abridged here in St Luke’s version, are God’s own instructions on prayer. Each phrase is a gushing stream of grace and wisdom; if we spend our lives tuning our hearts to their inexhaustible meaning (and not just mindlessly rattling them off), we will discover every secret of peace and happiness. They show us how God wants us to approach him and be with him.
In addition to fostering the attitudes and desires woven into the Our Father, however, Jesus teaches us two other qualities of Christian prayer: persistence and confidence. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve failed the Lord by letting the devil trick them out of these two attitudes. Instead of having confidence in God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit, they let their trust in the creator die in their hearts; and instead of turning to God in their moment of trial and hardship, they depended solely on their own wits. Though baptism has overcome in our souls the alienation from God inherited from original sin, the weakness, the tendency to distrust God and give up on him, remains. God allows it to remain because he wants to give us a share in the all-important work of building up his Kingdom, which is an interior kingdom of the heart. Our prayer life is a privileged place to accomplish that work. By exercising these attitudes in our prayer, we have a chance to rehabilitate our persistent confidence in the Lord, so that we can return to intimacy with him.
Christ the Friend “Search and you will find; ask, and it will be given to you.” The funny thing about friendship is that it can’t be forced. As much as God wants to regain our friendship and deepen it day after day, he can only do so if we share (at least a little bit) that same desire, if we yearn for his friendship as he yearns for ours. He does everything he can to stir it up within us (even descending from heaven to become man and live among us), but ultimately, because he will settle for nothing less than true friendship, he willingly limits his own freedom in order to respect ours.
Jesus: Prayer is much simpler than you think. I am always with you, always at your side and in your heart. I am always paying attention to you, thinking of you. I am always interested in what you are going through and what is on your mind and heart. Remember this, believe it, and prayer will become as natural as breathing. You never have to be alone. I am the one who knows you wholly and loves you no matter what. Live in the awareness of my presence; let me be your life’s companion.
Christ in My Life I trust in you, Lord. Send me the gifts of your Holy Spirit. Fill my soul with your light and your peace; wipe away all the stains of selfishness. I want to live each new day with the freshness of your everlasting love. I want to live with the joy of the simple child and the wisdom of old age. I want my life to be a window, clear and spotless, that faces the vista of your Sacred Heart…
Teach me to pray, Lord. I believe in the necessity and importance of prayer. I thank you for the gift of prayer. I want to learn to search for you in prayer, so that I can find you. I want to learn to pray at all times, so that I can always know what’s best to do, what’s the most effective way to build your Kingdom in my life and my neighbors’ lives…
Lord, I still want to follow you. I want you to be Lord of my life, just as you are Lord of history. Thank you for offering me your friendship. But what about all those other people who haven’t accepted the offer? Have mercy on them, as you had mercy on me, and move their hearts to trust in you. And teach me what to say and do to bring them closer to your Kingdom…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Lord’s Prayer, James Tissot, 1886-1896, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.