On our own we human beings do not know how to pray as we ought—we are too far removed from God; He is too mysterious and great for us. And so God has come to our aid: He himself provides the words of our prayer, and teaches us how to pray. Through the prayers that come from Him, He enables us to set out toward Him; by praying together with the brothers and sisters He has given us, we gradually come to know Him and draw closer to Him.
1, 131 Nazareth
Reflection – Sometimes people who don’t want anything to do with the Church and liturgy and all that organized religion stuff will say ‘I can pray to God just fine on my own! I don’t need anyone’s help here!’ We can simply answer this, as the Pope does here, by saying ‘Are you sure about that?’
We have had a great stress in the past 50 years or so on the mercy, the tenderness, the love of God for us. And of course this is right and proper and I would never want us to stop stressing these core and basic facts about Him. But in that emphasis we have tended to ignore or even deny another basic fact—our God is an awesome God, great in majesty, mighty above the heavens, King of kings and Lord of lords. But if we deny or forget this, we have thrown out most of our Scriptures.
So we cannot just walk up to Him all ‘Hey, Buddy! How’s it goin’ today, eh?’ Jesus is not my homeboy—He is my Lord. We can’t just chat him up like He’s some guy somewhere we ran into.
It’s not that God is some touchy VIP rock star, ready to trash his hotel room if he doesn’t get the right color or M&Ms or brand of mineral water. It’s not that He is going to smite us if we don’t say exactly the right prayers in exactly the right tone of voice and exactly the right attitude.
He is not a rock star, but He is a mighty rock. And it is a matter of our own living in truth vis a vis this rock, this God who is our maker, the source and center and goal of our life. Who exactly do we think we are talking to? If we know, really know even a little bit, who this God is, what Mystery we are approaching, what fearsome and wondrous thing we are doing to enter into dialogue with this One, then we won’t be quite so cocksure and casual about it all.
We will, perhaps, realize that we need help to know how to do this properly. And so, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ Or, pick up the psalter, the 150 sacred psalms of
which was Jesus’ own prayer book. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s probably
good enough for us, eh? Israel
Or, go to the liturgy. The Mass is in essence Jesus’ own prayer to the Father, His own approach as the Divine Son in human flesh to the One who is the Origin without origin, the Unbegotten, the Absolute Source of all. Yes, the liturgy mediates this divine prayer, this divine communion through human signs and words which may or may not be adequate to the mystery contained therein, may or may not please us with their cadences and colorings… but the mystery is therein nonetheless.
And this is where we learn to pray, by entering Jesus’ own prayer to his Father which is His offering of Himself on the Cross. This is where we most truly learn, in fact, what an awesome and mighty God we have, and how the very reality of his mercy, love and compassion only serve to heighten the awe, the reverence, the profound awareness of our poverty and inadequacy to approach Him.
But at the same time, help has been given us. The Son comes to us, the Spirit empowers us, and so we can pray to the Father as we should. And it is in and through the Church that we receive this help and this power.