July 24, 2022
Persist, Pester, Perish. Jesus said a number of things about prayer and praying. He talked about prayer as being simple and natural. He was most concerned about making prayer a “show” or about tying ourselves up in endless words.
All of us were taught three or four of the most handed down prayers of our Catholic Faith: “The Sign of the Cross,” “The Our Father,” “The Hail Mary,” and “The Glory be to the Father.” Most Catholics just keep repeating them. Do they come from our heart or do they come because we do not know what else to say? Our repeating them over and over is not a magical incantation as if a hundred of them affects a better outcome than ten.
The ability or the grace to pray is an awareness that “I have a special and unique relationship with God, our Father, and Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” – that you and I can always become aware that they are in you and me and that we are in them. It’s not the words that count. It is the attitude, the awareness.
Our long ancient history of prayer calls it “practicing the Presence of God,” a moment to remember, to be awake, that God and you, that God and me, are together, right now!
In that sense, prayer is an awareness in my heart and in my being. It is more than a passing thought. In this sense, prayer is more than a moment in time, or a set of words. Prayer is my relationship with God. Sometimes, we do not need “to say” anything because all is already known. We certainly do not “need [to],” “feel obligated to” say or pray the words of someone else, no matter how holy or outstanding saint that they were.
Each one of us can stand on our two feet and pray:
I don’t know why the disciples of Jesus asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Evidently, the disciples of John the Baptist had some unique way to pray. There is no example of it, but it impressed some of Jesus’ disciples.
Let me remind all of us today that Jesus is not giving us a formula – exact words – to pray. He was giving or prompting our hearts to start by being grateful to God and thanking God for all the gifts of life and to ask that what God wants for us happens for us.
That is where we can go astray and get into a “polenta of needs,” that cause greater anxiety, rather than just asking God to be there for whomever and to help everything to work out as God wants.
Jesus says just to ask God for enough daily bread – what we need to need, how much of our self to give to others, energy to do the good that God wants us to do, to be polite, understanding, and to let things go, over which we have no control.
Jesus says, ask God also to help us keep our equilibrium, our patience and open mindedness and “not let ourselves be pushed over the top.” I think that’s what Jesus means by “the Final Test.”
Yes, Jesus, you say “[to] ask,” but to know for what to ask. “Seek,” Jesus says, “consult me,” Jesus says, “before you go in the wrong direction and lead yourself to a dead end.” Knock, be polite, be sensitive, stop pushing yourself and others through life. Knock on the door of Jesus’ heart. Knock on the door of our own heart.
The final word to think about today is Persistence – which is not to enter a frenzied, maniacal frame of mind to pull out all “the stops” in our prayer.
The word means “to stand through,” keep standing, to keep prayerfulness, spirituality, and the desire to fulfill God’s plan for your life – as most important goals. A prayer-life can become a form of art and grace – a graceful dance between you and God, acquiring a deep feeling of peaceful contentment that God and you, that God and I, are “doing life together.”
There is nothing magic in persistence. The magic is in our awareness that God and you are one in life, and that is the prayerfulness – that is what the disciples wanted Jesus to teach them.
The persistence is a part that we can do. We need to show up before the God who is in our heart who would like a little attention. Giving some “attention” to God is what prayer is. It does not have to have words; our heart and Jesus’ heart is all we need.
So, what could your prayer look like? Something like this. “Good morning. Thank you for the day. What do I have to do today… Help me to do it with your love and inspiration, and oh – what about this, that and the other thing… about this person or that. I really love them. I want the very best for them. Help them find the best for their lives. I love you and I trust you. Amen.”
Try it again at noon, again in early evening, at night before you go to bed. To be persistent means to make it practice and a part of our life.
How do we distinguish the style of prayer that Jesus endorses from some other spiritual guru is his last sentence of advice: “As you continue to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”
The prayer that Jesus teaches is a prayer of intimacy. The prayer of Jesus is more than words – it’s heart to heart. From our heart to God and from God’s heart to us.