Prayer Is A Gift From God
As the Church makes her way through her annual Lenten retreat toward the joy and new life of Easter, we find ourselves equipped once more with the tools which Christ recommended for this journey: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. How well are we making use of these tools this Lent?
St. Peter Chrysologus, fifth-century bishop of Ravenna, Italy, stated of prayer, mercy and fasting that “…these three are one, and they give life to each other. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. … If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.”
If we want to be close to Christ, if we want to walk in his footsteps during this or any season, we must take the time each day to pray. Prayer is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) as a “vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (paragraph 2558). The psalms remind us that God will accept a humble and contrite heart. Do we pray from a humble heart or from a heart that is full of pride and self-will?
When you come right down to it, the CCC reminds us, prayer is a gift from God. A gift is something we must be able to receive with open hands, letting go of anything that might keep us from receiving it. Only when we acknowledge “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Romans 8:26) are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer.
We are in search of God, but God calls us first. The living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter knows as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response (CCC 2567).
It is also important to remember that God initiates prayer. Jesus thirsts for us, and he first seeks us and asks us for a drink (see John 4:7 where Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water at Jacob’s well). Jesus’ thirst and subsequent asking comes from the depths of God’s desire for us. Our prayer of petition is a response to the plea of God (CCC 2561).
Where does prayer come from? According to the Bible, it is the heart that prays. Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and us in Christ (CCC 2564). The life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of God and in communion with him. Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is Christ’s Body.
Once committed to turning to Christ, the heart begins to pray in faith (CCC 2609). Faith
is an adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand. The prayer of faith consists not only in saying “Lord, Lord” but is disposing the heart to do the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21; CCC 2611).
Prayer is clearly one of the foundational tools for our Lenten journey for growing in Christ as we follow the path of the Cross from suffering and death to Resurrection and new life. May we continue to take advantage of this gift from the Lord, who desires personal relationship with us even more than we desire it with him.