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A Beacon Of Light… The Importance Of Prayer

July 12, 2022 Frontpage No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + Last week’s column introduced us to the importance prayer played in the Old Testament. From the moments of creation in the Garden of Eden, through the interactions with Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, the Old Testament begins for us what we called the “drama of prayer.” The “drama of prayer” finds its culmination, or climax, in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
    The Catechism begins this section by using the phrase: In the Fullness of Time. This phrase has always been associated with the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of the promise of God. So, it is appropriate then, if we are to consider prayer and its foundations, this must be done in connection with the greatest moment in human history, the moment of the Incarnation. The moment that “the word became flesh.”
    We cannot forget, however, the importance prayer played in the life of the Virgin Mary. Remember it was Mary’s living of the Jewish life of prayer that enabled her to experience the Annunciation in such a prayerful way. Mary’s prayer is revealed to us prior to the birth of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
    This in no way diminishes the importance of Mary’s prayer, however, but places it in line with the importance prayer plays in the lives of us all. Like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and many others, Mary’s prayer is a cooperation in God’s plan of loving kindness. It was the humble faith of the “handmaid of the Lord” that fulfilled the acceptance the Lord was yearning for from the beginning.
    She who is known as “full of grace” offers her entire self in the prayerful moments of the Annunciation. Mary’s understanding of prayer and the importance of her son’s role in the “drama of prayer” is further recognized in the wedding feast at Cana. Mary sees a need and calls upon Jesus, her Son, who plays an intricate role in prayer, to participate in the needs of the people of God. Actually, the moments at Cana are seen as a foreshadowing of another feast; the Wedding of the Lamb, where Jesus offers us His Body and Blood as an acceptable sacrifice (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2617-2619).

The Jewish Traditions

Having gained an understanding of Mary’s participation in the “drama of prayer,” we are able to examine the prominence prayer played in the life of Jesus. As the son of Mary, Jesus’ human nature would have been nourished by the religious experiences of the Virgin Mary. As Mary prayed from her heart, it was this example that taught Jesus how to pray from His heart.
Living within the Jewish traditions, however, would have also influenced Jesus’ way of prayer. Because members of His family were devout Jews, Jesus would have prayed in the synagogue of Nazareth and in the Temple of Jerusalem. We know this is correct because Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Tradition both refer to the accounts of the finding of Jesus in the Temple. It was in the Temple Jesus says: “I must be in my Father’s House” (Luke 2:49).
Through these words, Jesus begins to reveal a “filial prayer” which shows the union of the prayer that exists between the Father and the Son. This becomes for us the ultimate example of how we must live our lives of prayer. There must exist a unification between God and Man (CCC, n. 2599).
Throughout His life and ministry, Jesus used moments of prayer to teach us of its powerful importance. He used the decisive moments of His own life to teach us how God works with us in prayer. Prior to the moments of the Baptism in the Jordan and the Transfiguration, when the Father is about to give witness to His Son, Jesus prays.
As Jesus is about to enter into the Passion, He again turns to the Father in prayer. This prayer prior to the Passion has become known as the “Priestly Prayer of Jesus.” Jesus prays for Himself, He prays for the apostles, and He prays for all of humanity. But Jesus also prays during the significant moments in the lives of the ministry of the apostles: at the election and call of the twelve, before Peter’s confession of Him as the Christ, and again that the faith of the chief of the apostles, Peter, might not fail in temptation. In all, Jesus shows us how important prayer is in our lives (CCC, n. 2600).
Throughout His public ministry Jesus was referred to as a teacher, for so indeed He was. Jesus taught not only through His own life of prayer, but through other means as well. In fact, from the Sermon on the Mount onward, Jesus insists on conversion of heart as a way of assisting us on the path of true prayer: “reconciliation with one’s brother before presenting an offering on the altar, love of enemies, and prayer for persecutors, prayer to the Father in secret, not heaping up empty phrases, prayerful forgiveness from the depths of the heart, purity of heart, and seeking the Kingdom before all else. This filial conversion is entirely directed to the Father” (CCC, n. 2608).
True prayer is rooted in the need of conversion of heart! Once we commit to a life of conversion, then, the heart learns how to pray in faith. Jesus teaches us the boldness we need to ask the Father in prayer for whatever we need, and if we believe, we will receive it (CCC, n. 2610).
Developing an understanding and ability to pray does not come from just saying words. Our prayers must be connected to our actions. Jesus is always reminding us that the “Kingdom of God is at hand,” meaning we cannot wait to unify our prayers with the actions of our lives. St. Luke provides for us three parables that demonstrate this need for unification in prayer and actions.
The Catechism preset these in this way: The first, “the importunate friend” invites us to urgent prayer: “Knock, and it will be opened to you.” To the one who prays like this, the heavenly Father will “give whatever he needs,” and above all the Holy Spirit who contains all gifts. The second, “the importunate widow,” is centered on one of the qualities of prayer: It is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on Earth? The third parable, “the Pharisee and the tax collector,” concerns the humility of the heart that prays. “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” the Church continues to make this prayer its own: Kyrie eleison!” (CCC, n. 2613).
Through the teaching of Jesus on prayer, we are entrusted with the mystery of prayer to the Father. Together with the apostles and disciples, Jesus reveals for us the dignity of the Father and the need to always keep our eyes focused on Him. The Church reminds us that prayer is a communion of love. This love, however, is not only achieved through Christ but is completed when we unite it to God the Father Himself.

Prayers Of Faith

Finally, we know our prayer is complete when Jesus hears us. But how can we know Jesus hears us? Jesus reveals to us during His public ministry that He does hear us. These signs anticipate for us the fulfillment of our prayers. This happens in two ways.
First, Jesus hears our prayers of faith as they are expressed in words. The instances where the word is expressed occur in the stories of the leper, of Jairus, the Canaanite woman, and the good thief. In each of these Jesus hears their plea and answers their prayers.
Second, Jesus hears our prayers through the silence of our faith. In these instances, we are reminded of the bearers of the paralytic man, the woman with the hemorrhage who touched His clothes, the tears and ointment of the sinful woman who washed His feet. Whether our prayer was uttered in word or expressed in silence, Jesus shows an abundance of mercy and love each time He responds by saying: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
St. Augustine beautifully expresses the three dimensions of prayer when he says: “He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore, let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us” (St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 85, 1: PL 37, 1081; cf. GILH 7).
Each day of our journey of faith, we are called to pray. Jesus has given us the model needed to pray and has instructed us how to accomplish this important aspect of the journey. Jesus entrusted the Church with the authority to teach us how to pray. In next week’s column, we will see how the Church assists us in our life of prayer by providing us with different kinds of prayer. Until then, may we grow in our life of prayer.

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