I’m beginning to see a pattern emerge.
Our church leaders continue to remind us that the work of evangelization begins with prayer. Sherry Weddell has taught us that intentional discipleship and the subsequent manifestation of charisms require a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Pope Francis recently encouraged a continuation of the Year of Mercy that is sustained by the prayerful reading of Scripture.
Handing on the Faith
All of these exhortations remind us of the important connection between prayer and the active living of one’s faith. Developing and sustaining a life of prayer is necessary for us to grow in union with God. Through this “vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” our lives become transformed (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2558).
As we have probably experienced, there are many ways to pray. Through vocal prayer we speak to God, and in meditative prayer we reflect upon God’s love and listen for his promptings within our hearts. Memorized prayers teach us how to praise God and ask for the things we need, while spontaneous prayer allows us to petition, praise and thank God in our own words. There are times we pray alone, and there are opportunities to pray with others.
Although there are many and varied forms of prayer, there are some important characteristics that can help us in our approach, no matter how we pray. One thing to remember is that God is always close to us. He is always near, waiting for us to open our heart to him. In fact, he is the one prompting us with the desire to pray.
We need not be like the prophets of Baal, hopping around frantically and yelling loudly to get God’s attention. Our God is not like the false god Baal, whom the prophet Elijah suggested may be busy meditating, sleeping or away on a journey (cf. 1 Kings 18:27).
Our God is close. We only need to recognize his nearness and open our mind and heart to him. Prayer is our response to God’s great desire for us. “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560).
Another important disposition to bring to prayer is the desire for our own change. We should be open to allow God to convert our hearts to grow more in union with him. We should approach God with a desire to carry out his will.
The Catechism describes this as approaching prayer with humility, which it calls “the foundation of prayer” (CCC 2559). Often misunderstood, humility is not a feeling of shame or a sense of worthlessness, but instead is a virtue “by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good” (CCC glossary). Humility helps us enter into prayer with a disposition to share in God’s goodness and with a desire to do his will.
Thus, prayer is not an exercise in trying to change God’s mind to conform to our desires but is an encounter with the one who is all good and who has the ability to transform us by his grace. This is true even in prayers of petition or intercession. When we seek God’s help for ourselves and others, we desire that his goodness and power be made manifest in different ways. The prayer of the faithful at Mass and the biblical psalms provide great examples.
As we grow in love for God, our desire for union with him also grows. St. Augustine notes that our desire for God is itself our prayer, even when it is not verbalized. This desire prompts us to seek his will.
When we rest in God’s presence and meditate upon his word, we come to know him more deeply. We also come to see more clearly into our own heart, inviting him into those areas that need to be transformed by his grace.
When we recognize God’s nearness and open our heart to him in prayer, we begin to experience the reality of a personal relationship with him. We come to personally know that God is not some far-away force or disconnected from our lives but that he is a Father who loves us and has a plan for us. We come know his Son as our savior, who gave everything he had, including his own body and blood, to allow us to share in his life. And we come to know the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us in baptism and helps us respond to the Father’s love.
Through prayer, our heart becomes the place of our encounter with God. It is “our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully …. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation” (CCC 2563).
Our relationship with God, which develops through prayer, also increases our desire for sharing what we’ve received with others. We become aware that God seeks this intimate, personal relationship with every human being. Our motive for evangelization thus becomes the desire to help every person enter into such a relationship and experience the love, peace and joy found only in God and for which we were made.
Liz Hoefferle is director of religious education for the Diocese of Duluth.