Why We Should Pray

Second in a series of reflections on the Liturgy of the Hours.

Last week we reflected on why we can even pray to begin with. Today, I thought we could reflect on two fundamental reasons for participating in prayer. They are:

  • that we are following Christ’s command to pray;
  • and we are following His example to pray.

When I was talking with a friend about my series of reflections on the Liturgy of the Hours she commented that, from what she knows, it seems against what Jesus taught. She referred to Christ’s words in Matthew: ‘But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[1] I pointed out to her that Christ made prayer an important part of our lives.

  • In Mark, His disciples, who had failed to drive a demon out, asked Him why they had failed – to which He replies ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.[2]
  • In Matthew, after Christ had entered Jerusalem, drove the money changers from the temple, and went back to Bethany He tells those around Him: ‘And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.[3]
  • Also in Matthew, we hear Christ teach His followers how to pray: ‘And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven…[4]
  • In Luke, Christ tells us: ‘But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.[5]
  • In John, we hear Jesus tell His disciples, and us: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.[6]
  • And of course, and to anser my friend’s comments, Christ tells His followers, and us: ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.[7]

Jesus teaches, indeed, commands us to pray.  He is our God, we are His faithful; His mission is ours; His teachings are our marching orders.  Work and prayer is what He calls us to – ‘Ora et Labora’ as the Benedictines will tell us. Prayer is as much a part of our work as the work itself is. In fact, work without prayer runs the very great risk of not bearing good fruit. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘First prayer; then, atonement; in the third place, very much “in third place” – action’[8] It is through prayer that we can build the holiness of our actions; because living a life with prayer in first place our actions become prayer themselves.

But Christ does more than just teach and command us – He lives this ‘ora et labora’ as well; and so as His faithful disciples we honor the teacher by living our lives as He lived.

Throughout the Gospels we see the place prayer had in His life. From the very beginning of His public ministry, His baptism, He witnessed to the importance of prayer as we hear in Gospel of St. Luke: ‘Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,[9]. He prayed right up to His last breath on the cross; ‘Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.[10] His whole life was prayer and work, He prayed constantly as the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours mentions:

The work of each day was closely bound up with his prayer, indeed flowed out from it: he would retire into the desert or into the hills to pray, rise very early or spend the night up to the fourth watch in prayer to God.[11]

Again from the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours:

The Gospels many times show us Christ at prayer: when his mission is revealed by the Father; before he calls the apostles; when he blesses God at the multiplication of the loaves; when he is transfigured on the mountain; when he heals the deaf-mute; when he raises Lazarus; before he asks for Peter’s confession of faith; when he teaches the disciples how to pray; when the disciples return from their mission; when he blesses the little children; when he prays for Peter.’[12]

We are right in thinking that he took part both in public prayers: in the synagogues, which he entered on the Sabbath “as his custom was;” in the temple, which he called a house of prayer; and in the private prayers that for devout Israelites were a daily practice. He used the traditional blessings of God at meals, as is expressly mentioned in connection with the multiplication of the loaves, the last supper and the meal at Emmaus. He also joined with the disciples in a hymn of praise.[13]

So when Christ teaches us to pray we should understand it with the importance that He gives it. It is paramount that our life is one of prayer. It is paramount because our Lord and God urges us to listen to Him in His teachings and follow Him in His example to us.  St. Athanasius wrote: ‘God became man so that man might become God.’[14] – prayer is a cornerstone in this interaction.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–
All biblical quotes are from the Revised Standard Version
[1] MT 6:6
[2] MK 9:29
[3] MT 21:22
[4] MT 6:7-9
[5] LK 6:27-28
[6] JN 15:16
[7] MT 18:20
[8] The Way #82 St. Josemaría Escrivá
[9] LK 3:21
[10] LK 23:46
[11] General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH) #4
[12] ibid
[13] ibid
[14] St. Athanasius (ca 298-373)

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