Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why Christians Pray

The petition of the disciples to our Lord: “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples,” shows us what the gospel reading today is really about. It is not just about prayer but it is actually about Christian Prayer. St. Francis de Sales said: “All things are created for the purpose of prayer.” He meant that everything and everyone, by the mere fact of existence, proclaim the power, goodness, and wisdom of the Creator and also their dependence on Him. This is a given.

But for us Christians, prayer goes beyond this simple recognition of our dependence on God. Rather, our need to pray emerges from supernatural causes. We Christians pray: (1) because, thanks to our salvation through Christ, we have become children of God. “God sent his Son…so that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father”(Gal. 4:4-6). By the sacrament of Baptism, “you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!” (Rom. 8:15) In this one word, Father, we voice our faith, our childlike trust, our surrender, our love, our contrition, our petition, our will to live for Him, to yield ourselves in everything to his holy will for us. Our Christian prayer, therefore, is not just the expression of purely natural man’s relation with God his Creator. We come to him in our prayers rather as children to their heavenly Father. We do not forget that we are his creatures, but our prayer is not based on this; it is rather based on our dignity and our position as children of God. Filled with childlike reverence, we approach the Father in the confidence that he will extend to us his Fatherly beneficence, and that we can yield ourselves to Him trustfully, with heartfelt love. Our prayer has its roots in the fact of our being children of God, that is, that we are in sanctifying grace which comes from the Holy Spirit. Christian prayer is the act, not of the natural man, but of grace.

(2) We pray because by virtue of Baptism, we are in Christ: we are the branches of Christ the Vine whose life flows in us. We can offer our prayer, our address of love to the Father, in so far as we are in Christ, sharing His life. In as much as the life of Christ is a complete and loving surrender to the Father, we are caught up in his loving surrender to the Father on account of our sharing in his life. In him and through him, we speak the words of love: “Holy be your name, Your kingdom come; Your will be done.” In him and through him, we petition with childlike trust: “Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. Deliver us from evil.” Our prayer is not only the prayer of natural man with his limitation and insignificance; ours is actually the prayer of Christ, who prays in us to the Father. Our own inadequate prayer is carried up and ennobled by the dignity and the power of Christ. Our prayers in him bear much fruit. We pray in him and Christ prays in us. The more deeply we live in Christ, the more we share in his life, the more fruitful our prayers are and the better they do their work.

(3) We pray because it is necessary for us to do so. In spite of all our good intentions, all our strivings, we are simply not able, by our own natural powers, to overcome the evils that seek to trip us up, the temptations besetting us; nor can we do the good we wish to do. St. Paul says, “I can do everything in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) But whom does God strengthen, to whom does he give power and grace? To the one who prays: “Ask and you shall receive.” If you do not pray, you shall not receive; if you pray little, you will receive little; if you pray much, you will receive much. That is the law. God wants to give us his grace; but His will is that we shall pray before we receive it. There is one especially effective way of attaining grace, and that is through prayer. It is the medium that at all times, comes easiest to mind. It is the first medium the soul reaches for in its upward impulse; it is the last medium the soul turns to when death knocks at the door. It is one of the most powerful and effective mediums for uniting us with God and putting grace within our reach. “God gives grace to the humble” said St. Peter. In our petition, we acknowledge our nothingness and our dependence on God’s grace. We recognize and acknowledge the greatness and power and goodness of God.

(4) We Christians pray because we are children of Holy Church. The Church herself is a praying Church. She lives for worship. Even in work and in suffering for God, the Church keeps her thoughts, her heart, her attention unswervingly on God. Both in heaven, in purgatory, and on earth, the Church prays unceasingly. The Church prays unceasingly in the persons of her priests and though consecrated men and women. The Church prays vicariously for so many of her children who have forgotten how to pray, or who are hindered from doing so. She prays for the many who do not want to be her children and who stand outside, rapidly perishing of misery and hunger. The Church prays for the whole world, for all who are in need, the tired, the tempted, the oppressed, and those in spiritual danger.

The world, so far from God, does not pray. It seeks relief in broken cisterns (Jer. 2:13), in the stepping up of human achievement, in learning, in even more daring enterprises, in the destruction of the past, in technical progress, in boundless effort for wealth and well being, yes, and in turning away from God and Christ, in combat against the Church of Christ, in encouraging unbelief, in making gods of men, and false gods of work, success, money, the nation, the State. The world needs no God, no light, no outside help; it is sufficient unto itself. That is why it needs no prayer. Because of this, the task of the Church, our task, is even greater: the task of prayer. In prayer we must make good all that is lacking; praying, we must do penance and atone; we must ask for forgiveness and grace, especially in these days of material, spiritual, and moral need. What can save the world? Not learning, not technical knowledge, not politics, nor human power. The only thing that can save us is the mercy of God and his grace. And this can be attained only through prayer. The healing of the world lies in prayer.

“Pray without ceasing.” “Ask and you shall receive.” “We believe that no one can be saved without God’s help; and that no one asks His help but the one who prays” (St. Augustine). “All saints became blessed and holy because they prayed. All who have been lost were lost because they did not pray. Had they prayed persistently, they would have been saved” (St. Alphonsus). “No one is more powerful than the man who prays” (St. John Chrysostom). The strength of the Church lies in the prayers of Christians.

B. Baur, In Silence With God, 133-140.

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