April 6, 2011| The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 1 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
(Reprinted from TLIC March 4, 2009)
In my letter for the holy season of Lent, I took my cue from the Holy Father’s message and reflected briefly with you about the great gifts that fasting and a spirit of fasting can bring to us in this Lenten period. The following week, I offered a few thoughts about almsgiving and charity, those acts which “cover a multitude of sins” because they are the ways in which we demonstrate our love and concern for our neighbors, especially the poor, the forgotten, the vulnerable.
The third “pillar” of our Lenten journey is the very one the Lord himself enjoins on us in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. There, as a part of the “Sermon on the Mount,” the Lord reminds us to pray, “and when you pray … go into your room and your heavenly Father who hears in private will hear your prayer.”
Prayer is an integral part of the life of every disciple of Christ. As children we learned first to bless ourselves, then the Our Father and Hail Mary. When our parents first brought us to Sunday Mass we began to experience prayer in the context of the Church, that most wonderful of prayers, the Mass, which is the source and summit of our lives as members of the Body of Christ. In time, certain devotions, the rosary above all, but novenas to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, devotion to the saints all became a part of our lives of prayer. As we grew older we were shown various ways to pray: “lectio divina,” the quiet and careful meditation on the words of Scripture which we let sink into our hearts and inform our hearts and minds; contemplation of the divine mysteries and the giving of oneself in union of prayer that goes beyond words. “Heart speaks to heart.”
St. John Chrysostom has a beautiful reflection on prayer in which he writes, “Prayer is the light of the soul, giving us true knowledge of God. It is a link mediating between God and man. By prayer the soul is borne up to heaven and in a marvelous way embraces the Lord. This meeting is like that of an infant crying on its mother and seeking the best of milk. The soul longs for its own needs and what it receives is better than anything to be seen in this world.” (Homily 6 on prayer)
It strikes me that prayer flows from trust and hope. The trust we have in the God who loves us makes us eager to turn to Him in all our needs and all our aspirations. That trust blossoms forth in a hope full of longing, a hope that is strong and constant because we “know the One in whom we have placed our trust.” He is Jesus the Lord through whom the Father “pours His spirit into our hearts so that we may call Him, Abba, Father.”
When we pray we are truly “at home.” Literally we were “at home” when our parents first taught us our prayers. But we also were literally “at home” when first we came to our parish church to be introduced to the worship of the Church and to take part Sunday after Sunday in the greatest act of prayer and worship there can be: the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Whether it be in the privacy of our own room or joined with our brothers and sisters at Mass or in study groups of the Bible or in small prayer groups, walking by ourselves or stopping for a moment to be with the Lord, we are always “at home” when we are praying. For we who are His People are the family of God. He is our Father and we His children. Therefore every prayer is the prayer of a member of the family and is heard by God as the cry of the “baby seeking from its mother the best of milk.”
All prayer is good. The prayers we memorized as children and use all through our lives are not “less worthy” because they are prayers we at times may say by rote. While many of us confess that we pray only when we “need something,” there is nothing wrong with asking God for a special intention or seeking the help of Mary, the angels and the saints for whatever might be our need. What we should remember, however, is that as members of this family we have been taught to say thank you, and so “thank you” prayers should spring from our hearts and be formed on our lips at least as often as “asking” prayers.
No prayer is more extraordinary and wonderful than the Mass and, united with it, the celebration of the sacraments. Here we are most ourselves, most “at home.” For when we gather to offer the Eucharist we are the Body of Christ, joined to Christ our Head offering the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior to the Father. We pray to Him. We pray with Him and in Him. And He prays for us all in the great hymn of thanksgiving to the Father for the great deeds of the Lord which have made us into this holy Church, this community of communion.
We pray as well in our homes or with friends or in any group whatsoever. We do so confident that “where two or three are gathered together” He is in our midst. Remember too that when we pray seemingly alone, we first should recognize that we never are. For we are always with Him Whose love is the Spirit in our hearts, the Spirit who guides us into all good things, the Spirit that makes us one.
This Lent I pray we all will pray and pray and pray again, alone or in groups, with the Scriptures or through our devotions, especially the rosary, in union with our brothers and sisters in the whole Church and, above all, together in the Eucharist. The Lord will be with us as we “paint our soul with trust and hope, with modesty and humility, making it splendid with justice” and overflowing with prayerful love of God and of our neighbor.