Praying like Jesus
October 6, 2021 (readings)
- Wednesday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
- Fr. John Bartunek, LC
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us
and do not subject us to the final test.”
Opening Prayer: As I enter this sacred time and space, I quiet my turbulent mind: You are all-powerful, Lord, and I can entrust to you all my worries and concerns as I seek simply to be with you and listen to your words of life. You know what I need, what I desire. I make mine the words of today’s psalm as I turn to you and praise and glorify you: “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Psalms 86:4).
Jesus Was Praying?: Of all the Gospel writers, St. Luke shows Jesus praying most often. Jesus was praying in a certain place, he tells us. And he mentions this multiple times throughout his Gospel. Imagine that. Jesus, the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, going off alone every day to pray. Why would God himself need to take time away from his pressing activities to pray? This simple fact reveals so much. First, it gives us a glimpse into the life of the Trinity. Remember, the Trinity is three Persons in one Nature. Three real Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with real relationships. Jesus went off to pray because he cared about those relationships, about nourishing them and being nourished by them. Second, in his human nature, our Lord entered into the limits of time and space. His Trinitarian relationships, in some mysterious way, needed to participate in that. We share that same human nature, and we have been made participants in the divine nature through baptism. So we too can expect that the development of our relationships with the Trinity will require time alone with God. It’s all well and good to say that we are “always praying,” and that is indeed our ideal. But if Jesus himself felt a need to go off to be alone with his Father and the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, why would we ever think that we could make our Christian journey without doing the same? The Catechism (2697) puts it eloquently: “Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all… we cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. These are the special times of Christian prayer, both in intensity and duration.”
Teach Us to Pray: The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. They had been watching him. They had been traveling with him, seeing how he passed his time. Clearly, prayer was an anchor for the Lord. Clearly, the disciples recognized that their own life of prayer was not at the same level as Christ’s prayer. But they wanted to grow, to improve. They wanted their prayer life to be what it should be. So, they asked the master to teach them. That’s what disciples do: they learn from the master; they thirst for more and seek to grow. How is my thirst? How is my desire to grow, to learn, to follow Jesus more closely? To be someone’s apprentice means much more than learning some information about something. It is not just a part-time slice of one’s life. To be an apprentice, a disciple, is to learn a whole style of living; it’s a full-time adventure. And since Christ is infinite in his divine wisdom, we will always have more to learn from him. Our full-time adventure of discipleship will never end. We just have to keep nourishing our desire to live more like Jesus, to learn from him, to discover in all the ups and downs of our daily life all the lessons he wants to teach us and all the graces he wants to give us. Then, when we are ready for the everlasting adventure of heaven, he will take us home.
Merciful Father: The Gospels give us two versions of the Our Father, the basic Christian prayer. The one we are more familiar with is St. Matthew’s, but the one given today by St. Luke is recognizably the same in its structure and content. So many things strike us about this prayer, which is itself a revelation about what being a Christian really means. It shows that Christianity is eminently relational. We address God as “Father.” We address him together with our brothers and sisters: “Give us this day…” We address him in the context of needing not only material support but also relational healing: “forgive us our sins.” This great, unique religion of the Incarnation is a vibrant, ongoing restoration of relationships that sin has broken. Even our moral duties are presented by Our Lord in this prayer as relational: “for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” Christianity is not a moral code. Christianity is not a one-time acceptance of a creed. Christianity is a friendship journey, with all the vibrancy and drama that come with a commitment to any meaningful relationship. If it ever starts to feel dry, boring, or predictable, we can be sure that we have strayed from its true path.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, I echo the petition of your first disciples: Teach me to pray! I want my life of prayer to be all that you want it to be. I know that prayer is a mystery, that one who prays regularly is always going to find new challenges, new delights, new avenues to discover. Never let me neglect my prayer life. Never let me fall into routine. Never let me stop seeking to go deeper and deeper into the friendship you so generously offer me.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make an appointment to talk with someone I respect about my prayer life, trying to identify how I am doing and what next step I can take to continue growing in prayer.
For Further Reflection: Read this short and approachable primer on vocal, mental, and liturgical prayer: A Quiet Place: How Daily Prayer Can Change Your Life, by Father John Bartunek, LC.
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