The Gift of Prayer

by Father Victor Hoagland, C.P.

The Gift of Prayer

God gives that gift to all, sinners as well as saints. Don’t think sinners can pray?

The thief crucified with Jesus prayed: “Lord, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” And his prayer was heard. (Luke 23, 43-44)

In his parable about the Pharisee and the Publican who went to the temple to pray, Jesus taught that those who think they can’t pray, may pray best.

The Publican wondered if he even belonged there, yet God heard his prayer rather than the boastful prayer of the Pharisee. The Publican prayed best: “Have mercy on me, a sinner,” he said. (Luke 18, 9-14)

God gives the gift of prayer to all: the strong, the weak, the small child, the very old.

It's given to those who say, "I'm not really religious.”

God gives the gift of prayer to you.

A Gift of God’s Love

Why does God give the gift of prayer?

Because God loves us and wants to be part of our life. God, great, wise and powerful, wishes to share our life.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? “God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth,” loves us because he made us.

At the same time, we’re drawn to God, and prayer is an expression of the longing we have.

We thirst for God, the psalms say:

“O God, you are my God, for you I long. For you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you. Like a dry weary land without water... so my soul longs for you, my God.”

"Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” Prayer satisfies the thirst within us and enables us to rest in God. (St. Augustine)

The Holy Spirit Teaches

The Holy Spirit, Our Teacher of Prayer

The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray.

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” St. Paul says, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought.”

How does the Spirit teach us to pray?

At Pentecost, gathering the followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit taught them to search into their memories of Jesus and the Jewish Scriptures.

They broke bread together, as Jesus had done. They were baptized in water. They prayed.

We follow them, keeping before us Jesus and his teachings, the prayers of the scriptures and of our church.

Above all, we learn from Jesus how to pray.

Pray with Creation

Jesus prayed like his ancestors, Abel and Noah, who lived close to the earth and saw God's gifts in the fields, the creatures of earth, the heavens that sent rain.

They admired and cared for these God-given gifts and praised God for them:"Sun and moon, stars of heaven, fire and heat, all you birds of the air, all you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord." (Daniel 3, 57 ff)

We know our Maker from what he made, so keep your eyes on God's creation and care for it.

Like Noah who built an ark to care for all the creatures of the earth, we are called to care for creations.

Caring for creation nourishes the spirit of prayer in you. “Look at the lilies of field, the birds of the air,” Jesus said.

The created world helps us know God.

Pray Often. Pray for Others.

Praying Every Day

Jesus prayed like Abraham, whom God told to leave his own land and go to the place God would show him. So he journeyed on, day by day, and day by day set up an altar to discern what God wanted for him.

He prayed daily and welcomed what the day brought.

One day, three mysterious guests who came in the heat of the day to Abraham’s tent. (Genesis 18, 1-16)

Welcoming them, he welcomed God and received a blessing of new life.

Daily prayer is the way we welcome God each day in the life before us.

Listen to the psalms:

"I will bless you day by day
and praise your name for ever." (Ps 145)

"On the day I called you answered me
you increased the strength of my soul." (Ps 138)

Jesus prayed each day, and like Abraham journeyed on.

He prayed to his Father, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and was strengthened in soul by God’s daily bread.

Wrestling with God, Praying for our World and for Others

Jacob on his journey, wrestled with a mysterious stranger, another lesson about prayer and life itself. (Genesis 32, 22-32)

God is a mystery, beyond our understanding. Some-times questions and doubts cause us to wrestle with God, trying to know his ways.

Jesus prayed this way in the Garden of Gethsemane facing death. He cried out to his Father in anguish and uncertainty.

Prayer can sometimes be wrestling with God.

In prayer, we also ask God’s mercy for others.

Moses often interceded for his people in prayer, pleading for them when they wandered astray, or were hungry or losing heart.

The gospels often portray Jesus praying for his disciples, and his prayers were heard.

Like him, we pray for others too.

Jesus Prayed

The Prayer of Jesus

The gospels say Jesus prayed from his earliest years in Nazareth. Mary and Joseph taught him the Jewish prayers; he prayed them regularly in the synagogue at Nazareth and on Jewish feasts in Jerusalem.

He often went off to pray alone.

Jesus prayed the psalms which, along with the words of the prophets, were the ordinary prayers of the Jewish people.

Moreover, these prayers go beyond their Jewish origins, they speak to every age.

“The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which someone using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions,” (St. Augustine)

The psalms were the prayers Jesus prayed facing death on the cross.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." " I thirst." "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" "It is finished" "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Jesus prayed from the heart, a heart vulnerable yet strong, tender towards those he loved, forgiving to those who wronged him.

His last prayer was a wordless cry, a cry from his heart. In his prayers we hear the human heart speaking to God.

“Lord, teach us to pray,” his disciples said to him, they wanted to learn more than the words he said.

"Go into your inner room," Jesus told them, " and there pray to your Father, who hears you."

"Pray from your heart," Jesus says, sometimes in words, sometimes just a wordless cry.

Jesus teaches us to pray, not from a distance, but from within us.

He joins his voice to ours, and so we often end our prayers

“through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, world without end. Amen.”

When should we pray?

Morning and evening, at the beginning and close of the day, are important times.

What prayers should we say?

The church, following the Jewish prayer tradition, the prayer tradition Jesus followed, prays the psalms and other scriptural passages in the Liturgy of the Hours.

Morning and evening prayers based on the church’s prayer immediately follow these reflections.

After the section on morning and evening prayers you’ll find a section called "Commentary" which provides addtional commentary and context on the Morning and Evening Prayers and on other traditional prayers like the Hail Mary and the Rosary.

Prayer is a gift of God. One of God’s greatest gifts. Let’s pray.