Why do we need to pray?
The opening line of a poem by the 17th-century poet George Herbert reads, "Prayer the Church's banquet." A banquet, though, we sometimes refuse (see Mt 22:1-14). We decline the invitation to prayer because we suppose we have more important things to do… that praying is a waste of time, nothing comes of it. Why do we need to pray?
Responding to God's invitation
Often we forget that prayer does not start with us. No — prayer is a response... the response to a loving invitation tendered by God. The Lord himself always takes the initiative in the impetus of prayer. Prayer, says the Catechism, is the "response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God" (2561; cf. Jn 7:37-39; 19:28; Is 12:3; 51:1; Zech 12:10; 13:1). He thirsts for intimacy with us. He begs us, Everything is ready; come to the feast.
Carmelite Sister Ruth Burrows, who has written extensively on prayer, notes: "Prayer is essentially what God does: giving us the divine Self in love. Prayer is God's desire to give himself to us." What greater priority is there in our life than saying yes to that offer ?
According to Dominican Father Bernard Bro:
A person does not pray primarily to find himself, but to give himself, to enter into a plan of salvation that goes beyond himself. What is important is not our experience but the gift we make of ourselves. God seems to delay in answering our prayer not in order to test us arbitrarily, but to compel our desire to become more intense and to become truly like his. The purpose of prayer is to bring this desire, which leaves a person restless and disturbed, to becoming a feeling of hope.
Prayer as rescue
"Prayer presupposes... a fight against ourselves" in which we "battle against the possessive and dominating self".
What is it that integrates a person and saves him or her from endless disintegration? The Church answers: the worship of God (see CCC 2114). "Prayer presupposes... a fight against ourselves" in which we "battle against the possessive and dominating self" (CCC 2752, 2730). For prayer "reveals us to ourselves" (CCC 2799). "Without prayer," counsels Blessed Columba Marmion, "our progress will often be mediocre. Because the principal author of our perfection and of our holiness is God himself, and prayer keeps the soul in frequent contact with God." Even worse, "withdrawal from God leads inevitably to hiding from God" (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger).
It is vital then to learn, and devote ourselves to, true prayer, which means "learning to die in the sense Jesus meant by this: dying to egotism, self-determination, and self-achieving, and letting God recreate us in love in a way that only God can do" (Burrows). As a friend of mine expresses it, every moment that I am not begging for the Infinite is in some way a moment of despair.
Prayer as the way to become myself
To pray is to ask from moment to moment that the meaning of my life be given to me. Monsignor Romano Guardini once wrote: "The more deeply I abandon myself to God, the more completely I let him penetrate my being, the more powerfully he, the Creator, gains authority in me, the more I become myself." Or, in the words of the Catechism, "prayer restores man to God's likeness and enables him to share in the power of God's love" (2572; cf. Rom 8:16-21).
Prayer reminds us, as Cardinal Ratzinger has pointed out, that "I am truly myself only when I accept that nothing finite can be my goal or determine the direction of my life, but that I myself must pass beyond all possible goals."
Our humility keeps us fervent in prayer, for it prompts us never to forget that
our being is not constructed from without like a clay model; it develops from within, as a tree grows and blossoms with the rising of the sap. In us, the sap is the Spirit of Christ. Prayer stimulates its rise (A. Sertillanges).
Humility, too, frees us from needless preoccupation about the "productiveness" of prayer:
We must remember that prayer takes place at the deepest level of our person and escapes our direct cognition; therefore we can make no judgment about it. We must be ready to believe that "nothingness" is the presence of divine Reality; emptiness is a holy void that Divine Love is filling (Burrows).
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. "A banquet we sometimes refuse." lead editorial from Magnificat (October, 2017): 3-5.
Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. is Editor-in-Chief of Magnificat. He is also a playwright and director, the author of more than a dozen plays and many books including: Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living our Lady's Graces, Made for Love, Loved by God, Praying with Saint Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the Apostle Paul, Jesus, Present Before Me: Meditations for Eucharistic Adoration, and Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI.Copyright © 2017 Magnificat
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