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What Jesus teaches us about prayer
In dying for us, Jesus restored our relationship with the Father. He gave us the possibility of going to heaven. He who is the way, the truth and the life teaches us to develop an intimate bond with God. The beloved Son teaches us by his example and with his words.
Jesus teaches the apostles to pray by giving them the Our Father. This is the perfect prayer of adoration which praises God and caters for all our needs. It is the prayer which links all of us believers as children of God.
Jesus tells us to pray always. Vocal prayer in public with others is not to be neglected or despised. Saying the Our Father, praying the Rosary does not mean reciting a formula. We contemplate the mystery, focusing on the life of Our Lord.
He tells us that we must also pray in the privacy of our inner self, prayer that comes from the heart. Putting ourselves in the presence of God, we develop an awareness of the One whom we are addressing. We open our heart, tell him of our love, our inability to give him adequate praise. We tell our hopes, our fears, our anxieties, our desire to see him face to face in heaven.
Before beginning his mission, Jesus went into the desert and spent forty days in prayer and fasting - a powerful example of our need to pray in silence, to turn to God before undertaking any task. He spends the night in prayer before choosing his apostles, reminding us of the need to ask God for guidance before making an important decision.
It is particularly in times of temptation that we need to pray. In the desert, he faces the temptations of the devil. Before the Passion, he prays in the garden of Olives and warns the apostles to pray as they are indeed faced with the temptation of abandoning him.
Every time he shares a meal, Our Lord blesses the food and raises his eyes to heaven, giving thanks. A simple sign of the cross, a prayer before a meal is an apt reminder of the presence of God, of the need to keep in contact with him at all times. Blessed Cardinal Newman says in a prayer: "As I go my rounds from one distraction to another, let me whisper a word of love to you."
Praise and thanksgiving are the greatest acts of worship we can give to God, our Creator, our Father, our Hope and our Love. Jesus' whole life was thanksgiving. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Jesus offers himself to the Father as a victim for our sins. He renews this offering daily through the Mass which goes beyond time and space, allowing us to be present in the unique Sacrifice of Calvary.
We too must offer ourselves in thanksgiving, in praise and adoration. The drop of water mixed with wine which the priest puts into the chalice at the Offertory represents our self-giving in union with Christ who took on our human nature and became one with us to suffer and to die, to make reparation.
Through suffering we can make reparation for our sins and the sins of the world. In union with the Sacred Victim we can offer up our daily life, the difficulties which come our way, the sorrows, the physical and mental pain we experience. In this way our suffering is not wasted. It becomes meritorious, it helps not only our self but all those with whom we are united in the Communion of Saints.
Jesus explicitly addresses the Father in prayers of thanksgiving. He thanks him for revealing the mysteries of the Kingdom to the little ones, to the poor and humble.
Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus thanks the Father, knowing his prayer will be answered. When he heals the lepers he is disappointed that only one returns to thank him. Ingratitude is always hurtful. How often do we remember to thank God for his generous gifts, for coming to our help when we are so low that we can do nothing but call out in distress?
It is good to recall the mercy of the Good Shepherd who carries us through the darkness. Often we hear people say "Thank God for our Catholic faith". It is our faith which nurtures our spirit, it is our faith which sustains us in times of trial, it is our faith which elevates us into a sublime, intimate communion with the divine.
Jesus wants us to put our needs before the Father, to make prayers of petition. He urges us to ask, to seek, to knock, even to the point of making a nuisance of ourselves. Like the widow with the unjust judge, like the man who calls on his neighbour in the middle of the night to borrow some bread, he promises that the Father will answer our prayer.
Perseverance is a theme which constantly recurs in the Gospel. Jesus himself gives us an example in the garden of Olives. Three times he falls deeply into prayer and returns to pray all the more earnestly. Again and again, he urges us to come to him to be refreshed. So often do we get discouraged when we don't seem to have an answer. What better way than to spend some time before the tabernacle in the church and put our needs before Christ really present in the Eucharist. How privileged we are as Catholics to have this priceless gift.
Jesus wants us to have faith. When people ask for a miracle he asks them: "Do you believe?" Our prayer must be confident for with God nothing is impossible.
God always listens and helps us though he does say: "My ways are not your ways" and we in turn must say: "Not my will, but your will". God's goodness is immeasurable. Even when he allows evil, he always brings a greater good out of this evil.
We can appeal to the mercy of the Sacred Heart. Jesus had compassion on the poor, on the sick, on the bereaved, on the crowds who came to hear him, forgetting to bring food. His great miracle feeding thousands is linked with his promise of the Eucharist. He wants us to ask the Father for our daily bread, the Eucharist which sustains us on our journey, the supernatural bread which is our promise of eternal life.
In his priestly prayer after the Last Supper, Jesus prays for the apostles, for the Church, for all of us believers and he prays for unity in his Body. The Church echoes this prayer in the Eucharistic prayer at Mass.
Jesus teaches us to pray the sublime prayer, the Our Father. Through this prayer we fulfil the purpose for which we have been created, that is, to give glory to God and one day come to see him face to face.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 2 (March 2014), p. 14
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