Last Sunday we embarked on our analysis of the 4th main part of the Catechism, the section on prayer. And we looked last week at some of the traditions of prayer in the Old Testament, the beautiful prayers coming from Israel as they adored God from 3000+ years ago. We think today about the tradition of prayer arising with Jesus Himself, and how this has formed our own Christian prayer life.
Well, of course, Jesus was raised in the Jewish tradition. He was exposed to the synagogue and Temple worship, and raised in prayer by His Blessed Mother in the family home. Jesus Himself would have prayed the psalms; never forget that these psalm-prayers were also on the lips of Jesus — He would have known these texts well, many of them by heart. But of course Jesus’s tradition of prayer is far more than this: His prayer is His relationship with His Father. When He was only 12 He said to His Mother, when she found Him in the Temple, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s affairs?” The Son of God is in perfect relationship with the Father: Jesus is united in prayer always, with the Father, for they are the One God. Jesus draws us in to that new and close relationship, bringing us in to that Father–Son closeness.
So, we see in the Gospel many moments of Jesus at prayer. He finds tie for solitude, time for silence. He is seen at prayer at key moments, such as at His Baptism, at the Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane before the horrors of His Passion. And He prays at crucial times of decision with respect to His disciples: when choosing the Twelve, for example. The disciples saw Him often at prayer, and they were drawn to ask Him: “Lord, teach us to pray.” As you know, He taught them the ‘Our Father,’ and the text of the ‘Our Father’ will form much of what the Catechism says about prayer (5 homilies, 22 Sept – 20 Oct), and will be the conclusion of the Catechism’s teaching. Let me quote to you some of the text of Jesus’s explicit prayers as recorded in the Gospel:
(i) “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.” (Mt 11).
(ii) [Before raising Lazarus from the dead.] “Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I knew indeed that you always hear me, but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me, so that they may believe it was you who sent me.” (Jn 11)
(iii) [Jesus’s High-Priestly Prayer.] (Jn 17).
(iv) [Jesus’s prayers from the Cross.] “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do … Father, into You hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus’s moving prayers in extremis at the end of His earthly life express the beauty of His relationship with Father as constant and faithful, unique and perfect.
In all these ways, Jesus teaches us to pray: by praying, He teaches us to want to pray; teaches us to pray. He calls us constantly to conversion, to closeness to Him, and so to prayer with Him, to the Father. Jesus urges us to be persevering and ‘bold’ in our prayer to the Father — even the very opening of the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father …” is bold. “… we dare to say …” But He also warns us that prayer must be real prayer from a true heart … not just ‘saying the words’ … “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21). Prayer is not just a recitation, but a real movement of the heart: to desire union and holy communion with God.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives us several parables on prayer: (i) Lk 11: the friend who needs help from his neighbour: keep asking, pray urgently! (ii) Lk 18: perseverance, like the widow repeatedly denied her rights; (iii) Lk 18: the Pharisee and the Tax-Gatherer: prayer demands humility, not arrogance, before our Holy God … The prayer of the tax-collector was a simple one: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This is a a prayer echoed in one of the simplest of Christian prayers, the ‘Jesus Prayer’: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
In all these ways, we find encouragement to pray, praying along with our Lord Jesus to the Father. So, when we pray, we are actually to ask in Jesus’s name, petitioning the Father in association with the Son. We pray too in the power of the Spirit, as revealed to us by Jesus. Christian Prayer is offered to the Trinity, as the priest sings at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer: “Through Him [Jesus] and with Him and in Him, O God Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever.” The basis of all our Christian prayer, then, is this unique relationship of Jesus to the Father in the Spirit. We are caught up into this relationship, which means that there is no better way in the world to pray than as a Christian, in Jesus. All other ways of praying fall short of this, worthy though they may be. Christian prayer is unique because we pray united with the Son Himself to His Heavenly Father!