Father Chet, 1979
During the preparatory period for prayer, we must eliminate as far as possible our sense of independence from God.
First, we endeavor to silence our mind; our second concern is to silence our will and its wayward desires. We should try to surrender ourselves to the divine will. To do this we need to remember that God is for us and not against us.
Make an Act of Faith and Trust
It will help at the beginning of the prayer period to make an act of faith and trust in God. We should remind ourselves that God is all-good, all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful. He has made certain definite promises in our regard and is always faithful in keeping his word. And, finally, that we can count on him to help us in all our needs because he truly loves us.
Thus, we can open ourselves without fear, even to the awesome, mysterious side of God, and say to Him, with all the honesty and sincerity of which we are capable: “Here I am, Lord. Take me as your own. Anything you want, I give you everything.”
Suscipe (from the Latin word “receive”) is a short but powerful prayer attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola. We may say it slowly:
“Take, 0 Lord, into your hands my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding, my whole will. All that I am, all that I have, you have given me. I give it back to you to be disposed of according to your good pleasure. Give me only your love and your grace, with these I am rich enough and desire nothing more.”
Another good prayer to say at this time is Sebastian Temple’s Offertory Hymn:
“All that I am, all that I do, all that I’ll ever have, I offer now to you. All that I dream, all that I pray, all that I’ll ever do, I give to you today. Take and sanctify these gifts for your honor, Lord. Knowing that I love and serve you is enough reward.”
Do Not Rush Prayer
We should be in no hurry to get through the first part of our prayer-time. A watchword for all prayer is never to hurry and pass on to something else, but rather to dally at any and every point along the way.
When we are praying, we have no other place to go. We have already arrived!
When we surrender ourselves to God, we are more than preparing for prayer – we are already at the very heart of prayer. We should feel at home with God, free to stop and simply enjoy God’s presence.
The primary objective of all prayer is to relax and feel at peace with God, surrendering with joy to our God-given destiny.
Be Open to Direction
When praying, different people are led in different ways. Moreover, the same person may be led in one direction one day and in another the next day. We should keep ourselves open to the Spirit and allow our prayer to go in whatever direction appeals to us.
Some days we may feel like spending the whole time in praising or thanking God for all that he has done for us.
Other days we may be full of regret and sorrow for our sins and for the offenses of the whole world against God! Other times we may have many requests or petitions to make to the Lord.
Some days we may just call before our mind’s eye our friends and loved ones, and while picturing their faces in our imagination, pray for them.
Sometimes we may have nothing to say but are like the old man of Ars whom Saint John Vianney asked what he did during his long periods in church: “I don’t do anything. I just look at God and he looks at me.”
When a deep relationship of unselfish love exists between two persons, there frequently is no need for either of them to talk. Lovers enjoy just being in one another’s company.
When our relationship with God the Father or Jesus Christ has reached the point where we no longer need to talk constantly, then we can say that we have arrived at one of the true ways to pray. There are countless ways to practice a personal prayer life.
PRAYER AS LISTENING
Some people think of prayer only as talking to God; but another fundamental and important prayer attitude is listening to God.
Jesus says that unless we become like little children before God, we cannot hope to enter God’s kingdom. A little child can so easily hang on their parents every word. We owe God our Father the respect of listening to what He might say before we start talking and telling Him our troubles and our needs or our gratitude and praise.
Learning to Listen
Effort and practice are needed to learn how to listen to God in prayer. God dwells at another level of existence than our own.
As far as our ordinary, bodily senses are concerned, he is invisible, intangible, and inaudible. So, we have to develop a different set of faculties within our nature in order to hear God and learn what he wants to reveal to us.
Thus when we use words like “listen” and “hear,” we are not referring to actual sounds heard in our ears but to a higher method of communication which can be just as real.
Begin with Faith
The listening process in prayer must begin with an act of faith on our part that there is a real person whom we call God. Even though we do not see God, cannot touch God, we believe that God is real. This realization of God implies that we firmly believe there is another dimension of reality besides this earthly, visible, tangible, audible world.
This subliminal or transcendent dimension where God exists and where our own soul-life exists is even more real, more permanent, and more important that the physical, material world we can see and touch.
God wants to communicate with us and reveal God’s self to us. Because God loves us, we are God’s children. God has certain definite ideas, plans, and designs concerning us. God want us to know what these are; and we can never learn the purpose and destiny God has in mind for us unless God communicates and reveals God’s self to us.
We must make ourselves open and receptive to whatever God wishes to tell us. This means that we must not be afraid of God. Rather than imagining that God might tell us something that would be against our best interests, we must convince ourselves that God has only our welfare and happiness at heart.
God created us to share with us
his happiness, life, love, and heavenly home.
So rather than closing our mind in fear at what we might “hear,” we should open our minds and hearts to all that God is willing to reveal to us.
We must be patient and willing to wait—even for many years—until God reveals himself to us. Actually, the delay will not be God’s, but our own inability to hear. We should not expect that listening to God will come easily.
Sometimes God gets our attention in some extraordinary way like he did with St. Paul on the road to Damascus; but these are usually rare instances even in the lives of the saints. There are other ways God speaks more normally.
How God Speaks
For most people, the ordinary or usual way to hear and listen to God is by reading or hearing the Bible. We believe that the Sacred Scriptures are the Word of God and that the 50 or more persons responsible for the books of the Bible were “inspired” by God as they wrote. This means that the authors were able to connect with God’s eternal wisdom and discover an application of this divine wisdom to the needs and problems of their generations.
We also believe that it is possible today to use this same insight into divine wisdom to discover God’s will for us. All that is needed is to transpose the eternal wisdom that was applied by the biblical writer to the situation in that community to a somewhat similar situation today.
This process of transposing the word of God from the Bible to our needs and problems is a form of “listening” to God. As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it:
“In times past God spoke in diverse and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken to us through the Son. This Son is the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being, and [God] sustains all things by [God’s] powerful word” (Heb 1:1-3).
God Reveals God
There are many other ways of listening to God. God is constantly revealing himself to us through nature, through the whole of the created universe. Any experience of beauty, love, goodness, truth, or life is a valid experience of the reality of God. When we make contact with any of these transcendental realities, we are making contact with God and allowing God to speak to us.
The root meaning of “Yahweh” is: “I am existence itself.” This is usually translated: “I am who am.” Therefore, listening to a beautiful piece of music, watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset, contemplating the ocean or the mountains, or any experience that evokes a depth of emotional response is in fact an exercise in communicating with God.
All such experiences may be true and valid forms of prayer. God indeed speaks to us in diverse and varied ways. We need only to sharpen those spiritual faculties of our nature which enable us to appreciate and understand true beauty, love, life, truth, and goodness.
EXAMPLES OF PRAYER IN THE LIFE OF JESUS
Studying the prayer life of Jesus as described in the Gospels should develop and deepen our prayer lives.
Jesus sought mountain tops as his favorite places to commune with God. Also, the night-time and very early morning seem to have been his favorite times for prayer. Prayer evidently formed both the warp and woof of his entire life.
He spoke to the apostles about ”the necessity of praying always and not losing heart” (Lk 18:1). Jesus gave an inspiring example of such constant prayer. He prayed throughout the 40 days in the desert. After a hard day of preaching and healing, Jesus rose early in the morning, long before dawn, and went off to a lonely spot on the top of the hills, and became absorbed in prayer (Mk 1:35). He spent the whole night in prayer before he chose the twelve apostles.
In the Gospel of Luke
St. Luke is the Gospel writer who refers most often to Jesus praying. He gives an example of the actual prayer of Jesus when the apostles returned from a successful missionary trip (Lk 10:21-22). Later, when the apostles observed Jesus praying, they begged him to teach them how to pray (Lk 11:1). Jesus then taught them the Lord’s Prayer.
St. Luke tells us that it was during an experience of prayer that Jesus became transfigured before Peter, James, and John. “While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah. They appeared in glory and spoke of his passage which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:28-31).
In the Gospel of John
The Gospel of Saint John gives us more examples of the prayers of Jesus. At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus looked upward and said: “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the people, that they may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 11:41-42).
In the following chapter, Jesus prays: “My soul is troubled now, yet what should I say – Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27-28).
One of the prayers of Jesus in John’s Gospel extends for the entire chapter. Chapter 17 contains the priestly prayer of Jesus for his disciples and all of those who would believe in him through them. It is like a last will and testament for those he must leave behind.
Not All Goes Our Way
Similar to our own experiences, not all of Jesus’ prayers of petition are answered in the way he desired. The most amazing example of this is his prayer in the Garden of Agony: “O Father, you have the power to do all things. Take away this cup from me. But let it be as you would have it, not as I” (Mk 14:36).
We know that God the Father did not give in to the desire of Jesus to escape from his passion and death. However, Jesus did not rebel, but accepted the decision of the Father because he knew that God’s wisdom is greater than human wisdom.
Finally, we have the prayer of Jesus in his last words from the cross. He prays for his persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
He cries out to the Father in his terrible agony: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 14:34); but almost immediately he surrenders his whole being in loving trust to the Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
Editor’s Note: The second installment of this message offering practical guidance for deepening your prayer will be posted in June.