Once upon a time a father gave his little son some chewing gum, and the son took it but said nothing. “What do you say when you are given something good?” asked the father. “I want more,” replied the child. That is an understandable enough reaction of a little child—to be ever asking for good things, and forgetting to give thanks. But for an adult, and applying the example to Christian prayer, speaking to God only when we have something to ask for is not the heart and soul of prayer.
To pray is to BE with God, first and foremost, and to know God’s loving presence, to be enfolded in God’s arms, so to speak, or like the sunlight that streaming through a window, lets God illumine our lives completely. To praise God, give thanks to God, intercede for others, ask God for pardon and for grace each day, are all aspects of what we call prayer. It’s like a multisided diamond, no individual part better than another, and all the sides together forming one beautiful jewel.
Whether in private or in common, prayer puts us in communion with the source of all life and love, that is, with God.
We find in the book of Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament attention given to the apostolic community’s dedication to prayer, especially after the Ascension of the Lord, and their expectation of the fullness of God’s grace coming to them at Pentecost. They prepared their hearts for God’s grace by fervent prayer, to receive all that God “has prepared for those who love Him” (First Letter to the Corinthians 2:9). This of course is an example for us as well, as we desire to be set on the things of God, proclaiming the Gospel with lives of love and willing service to one another.
The apostles and those around them prayed in order to keep alive their hope. They prayed together, knowing their dependence on God and the support of each other. They let God enter their lives. Put in other terms, they thought of God not as a “God of emergency,” like a doctor needed quickly or a plumber who appears at just the right moment, when the water pipes burst, for example. No, our God is something quite different from that. God has the power and even the right to remain with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not just when we need a favor done or some comfort in time of distress.
Our God is so much more than that! God is part of our very being, linked to all that we are and do, involved in all our decisions, or as Saint Augustine said in his beautiful prayer: “You, Lord, are more within me than my inmost being, and higher than what is highest in me” (Confessions).
If God is so near and so faithful, then we can seek and expect the same sort of transformation in our lives that the Apostolic community experienced. On the day of Pentecost they came to understand clearly what they had to do: to go about doing good, as Jesus did, and be ambassadors of God’s presence and love in the world, calling all nations to redemption in the Lord Jesus Christ. When the same Holy Spirit likewise enflames our lives, we perceive the great mission we are entrusted with: to sing forever of God’s love.
Furthermore, as followers of Jesus we believe that our God will not leave us orphans, but will remain with us in Spirit and in truth. God promises to be with us in confusion and disappointment, as well as in times of clarity and rejoicing.
During these days of Lent may we hear God’s call to abide or remain in God, who desires to abide in us. May we hear the call to be faithful in prayer, ready to meet our God in the silence of our heart and in our liturgical assembly, in Word and Sacrament, where God is waiting to meet us as individuals and as community.
May we even be ready to share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when Christ’s glory is revealed we will greatly rejoice with God. Jesus’ prayer as recorded in the Gospels was not just words, but had a concrete form in the giving of His life for his flock. Jesus prayed for His own people, as the High Priest would do before offering a sacrifice in the Temple.
In the person of Christ the High Priest Jesus offered His very life as the ransom from slavery of the human race. This sacrifice was made that all might be saved and bring about the unity of humans and God. We should glory in the cross of the Lord, as Saint Paul tells us, for by the cross Jesus is raised on high and draws all to Himself.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB