Chapter 20: Reverence in Prayer

1 Whenever we want to ask some favor of a powerful man, we do it humbly and respectfully, for fear of presumption. 2 How much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the Lord God of all things with the utmost humility and sincere devotion. 3 We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. 4 Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. 5 In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the superior gives the signal, all should rise together.

Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert

We come to the final formal teaching in these chapters on the Divine Office in the Rule of Saint Benedict. Our leader again wants to stress this point: we are speaking with God! How should we behave and act and think when we speak with God? Saint Benedict is not suggesting some kind of groveling kind of humility before the Lord because that does not reflect the Gospel of our Savior, Jesus. On the other hand, Saint Benedict suggests that we at least have an awareness that it is God with whom we speak.

In this life, if we meet a really important and powerful person, we tend to act in ways that clearly indicate that we are in the presence of an important and powerful person. How much more so, then, should we act with an awareness of the presence of God. We need to have humility and devotion. Humility is that awareness of the truth of our relationship with God. Devotion is the expression of our commitment to God. Saint Benedict calls it here “sincere devotion,” because we can have a devotion that is only external. This devotion must come from the depths of our being.

Saint Benedict also tells us that God will look at our purity of heart and our tears of compunction. Again, this is a way of saying: be authentic throughout. Don’t say one thing and mean another. Don’t try to fool God. God knows us and knows what our innermost motivations are. So purity of heart expresses how we are to be with God.

The admonition on short prayer in community comes from the way in which our ancestors looked at prayer. Quite often the saying of prayers was seen as distinct from the prayer itself. After saying a prayer, then one prayed in the heart and this was considered “prayer.” So in some of the early traditions, after each Psalm there was a short period for this spontaneous cry from the heart to the Lord. It is this type of prayer that must be kept short and pure–and not prolonged because it really cannot be prolonged. Attempts to prolong such prayer are usually just show and not reality.

Let us strive to pray today with all our heart and soul and being.