Prayer is nothing more than the call of one Heart to another, and the response of the other to that call. As St John Paul II once said –
“Prayer finds its source in God’s holiness and it is at the same time our response to this holiness.”
Issuing from the very depths of the holiness of the Almighty, our prayer is not the invitation, but the response to God’s invitation, whose voice we perceive in the heart, most often in silence and stillness – although not always. But no matter the form it takes, it always has the same goal – to respond to the Lord in adoration and then in petition, to place ourselves before Him in all our needs, and simply to be in His presence.
Prayer is the very breath of the soul, as necessary for spiritual good health as air is for physical good health. Prayer is our conversation with God – without this, our spiritual life is like a garden without water; barren, filled with weeds and with rocks.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked to teach us to pray; His response is the ‘Our Father’. This extraordinary prayer, so simple and yet so profound, covers all our needs – but not before it offers adoration to the Eternal Father. Life has a habit of making us focus on ourselves and our own needs. What happens next depends on us, and whether we look at life’s needs as a challenge and an opportunity for growth, or as an insurmountable obstacle which prevents us from moving forward. Life is rarely easy in any sense, as the ‘Our Father’ reminds us; rather, it is often filled with difficulties of one sort or another, and there is a danger that life itself can – to some extent – risk closing us off from the life of grace and the life of community, to both of which we are called. As Pope Francis puts it –
“In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love of God, in order to experience His tenderness.” (Pope Francis)
It is good to pray for all our needs, but this should not be to the exclusion of the needs of others – we are called not only to experience that tenderness of which the Holy Father speaks, but also to share this tenderness and to reflect it to those around us. In other words, our prayer should lead us to look outwards, as much as it helps us to look inwards. We begin by looking to the Lord, and then to all those people around us who present to us the Face of the suffering Christ, whether near or far. Another quotation from St John Paul sums up this thought very well –
“Prayer can truly change your life. For it turns your attention away from yourself and directs your mind and your heart toward the Lord. If we look only at ourselves, with our own limitations and sins, we quickly give way to sadness and discouragement. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, then our hearts are filled with hope, our minds are washed n the light of truth, and we come to know the fullness of the Gospel with all it’s promise and life.” (St John Paul II)
Today, the idea of praying seems old fashioned to many and it is easy to wonder, if the Lord came this moment, would He find any just men upon the earth? Of course, He certainly would – for there are many good people across the world. Think of the contemplative nuns in convents, who provide a powerhouse of prayer constantly, day and night, and in doing so, support the world in all it’s needs. Think of the elderly person living alone, quietly bearing whatever the Lord sends, and offering it all for the good of souls. Think of the numerous young people throughout the world who are discovering the depth and richness of prayer and in doing so, are growing ever closer to the Lord and doing good for His mystical Body, the Church. Think of the numerous Priests who live quietly in their parishes, ministering to souls at their darkest moments, sustaining and strengthening them not only through the Sacraments, but by means of their own prayers and sacrifices. And think of all those holy and hidden souls in every corner of the world, whose names we will never know but whose good deeds are known to the Lord, Who sees all. As St John Paul tells us –
“Prayer, joined to sacrifice, constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” (St John Paul II)
Prayer works miracles of grace and of nature, as the Saints have attested down the centuries. Perhaps this has been your own experience, too, in some large or small way. Prayer can achieve everything.
The Lord reminds us that perseverance in prayer is of great value. Prayer should be a joyful habit, one we treasure and cultivate. Even in the midst of a busy world, we need to make time for prayer, for the days slip by so quickly that we risk reaching our end and cursing what we did not do.
Amongst the many forms of prayer – vocal, meditative, contemplative, intercessory, lectio divina, for example – the one the Church offers us most frequently, after the Mass itself, is that of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Combining several types of prayer when done with due time, care and attention, it is the single prayer most often attested to by our brothers and sisters, the Saints, as well as by so very many of the Popes through the ages –
“The Rosary is my favourite prayer. A prayer so simple and so rich; from the depths of my heart, I exhort all to recite it.” (St John Paul II)
When we pray the Rosary, we do not pray alone but with the Mother of the Lord, the Woman ‘filled with grace’. She is our Model in the spiritual life, having walked this life in perfection, by virtue of Her Immaculate Conception. The Rosary is the ‘school of Mary’ and it’s praises have been sung so eloquently by a great many Saints, not least of all St Louis Marie de Montfort.
In staying close to the side of Mary, we will not go far wrong, so long as our devotion is rightly ordered in the way the Church teaches. Our Holy Father reminds us –
“Mary joins us, she fights at our side. She supports Christians in the fight against the forces of evil. Especially through prayer, through the Rosary. Hear me out, the Rosary… Do you pray the Rosary each day?” (Pope Francis)
May we listen to so many Popes and Saints, to the Priests who encourage us, to those who teach us and to those who lead us in the spiritual life; may we make and take the time to pray, to pray well, with perseverance and fortitude, with courage and determination, in the good times as well as the bad.
And one day, may we look back upon our life and give thanks to God for His invitation to us to come close to Him in prayer, to respond to the call of His Heart to ours.