This is my column from the September issue of The Prairie Catholic. My columns there are a little more basic than what I usually write on my blog, but who knows, you still might learn something! If we can humbly listen to even the most basic teachings about Christianity, we can gain new insights or inspirations. And this is your chance to share a post with a friend who may just be starting out on the road of prayer.
If you’re looking for something meatier about prayer, check out the discussion on Centering Prayer at Little Catholic Bubble. The comments are the focus of this blog by Leila Miller. You can see my discussion with another Catholic blogger on the problems of Centering Prayer. Feel free to join in.
This year I want to write about some basics for people who would like to begin praying better and more regularly. Where should we start on this venture? Let’s start by looking at how Jesus prayed while on earth. We’ll do this in two parts: first, asking what kind of prayers Jesus prayed, then next month looking more closely at how he prayed them.
At first we might be surprised by the idea of Jesus praying. He was fully God. Why did he have to pray? Was he talking to himself? No, Jesus addressed his prayers to God the Father. Jesus prayed as a man, being fully man as well as fully God. He gave us an example to follow. But he also prayed as God the Son. In the life of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally commune with one another. Jesus invites us into this communion. We can enter into it through the Sacraments and through prayer.
The Catechism tells us that Jesus practiced the prayers he learned from his mother, including the traditional Jewish prayers (CCC 2559). The Jewish people had little prayers they would say throughout the day to help them bless God in all circumstances. They also prayed words from Scripture, including the Psalms.
Formal prayers composed by others are called vocal prayer. We often pray vocal prayers with other people and usually aloud. Christian vocal prayers include the Rosary, the Table Blessing (“Bless us, O Lord…”), and the St. Michael Prayer. These prayers help to make the entire day holy.
Jesus also withdrew often to pray silently by himself. He showed us that we should spend time alone with God regularly. Taking time to be alone with God, speaking to him from the heart, is called mental prayer.
Jesus attended services at the local synagogue. He joined in the Jewish feasts, visiting the temple at Passover, for example. He showed us the importance of praying as a community, and of offering sacrifices to God.
In his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus made his life an offering to God. He himself became the prayer of the Church, as his sacrifice took the central role in Christian liturgy. Our re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass is the greatest prayer that we can offer. When we offer Jesus to God the Father, we offer him all the prayers and good works Jesus performed upon earth. We add our prayers and good works to his, offering ourselves to God as well. The liturgy of the Church is the highest of vocal prayers.
The Catechism says, “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit” (2565). If we want to have a continuing relationship with the Holy Trinity, we must cultivate prayer. The Mass and other liturgical prayers, other types of vocal prayer, and mental prayer can each in their own way deepen our intimacy with Jesus.