Is anybody listening?
The Our Father is probably the prayer most well known and yet, we still struggle to pray. We find it hard to be motivated, it can feel like a one sided conversation. What is our prayer about? Does God speak to us? If he knows what we need, why does he want us to ask? Is it just about me and God? How to begin?
Readings: Matthew 6:7-15
The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
Prayer is not always easy. St. Paul says: ‘We do not know how to pray as we ought’, the Spirit sighs within us.
Sometimes prayer can feel like a one sided conversation. When I ask those I catechise does God speak to you almost always the response is ‘no’. If we truly think God doesn’t speak to us then what is the point praying at all? Recently I was watching a TV series about the Ottoman Empire’s invasion of Constantinople and there was a scene where a priest was saying his prayers for the safety of the city, a rather callous soldier approaches the priest and rather gratuitously says ‘your prayers will do you no good now Father’. The series is clearly not particularly accurate in reflecting attitudes of the time but it does tell us something about attitudes to prayer in our own time.
We might join with them an objection derived from the text of the Gospel itself: If God knows, as Jesus says, of what we have need before we have need… why bother asking at all? Why does he not just give us what we need? The answer lies in Love. God is Our loving Father. He wills us the good of freedom to make real and meaningful choices in our lives – not only in the physical order, for ourselves, but choices that impact others too, and in the spiritual order.
Love is the key to understanding prayer.
Prayer is all about relationships. Relationships primarily with God but also with our neighbour. This is why we call God Our Father not simply My Father. We as for Our daily bread, and when we ask God to forgive us Our trespasses, we are not simply talking about ourselves in isolation; we are interceding for our fellow passengers to the grave, even though we may at that time be thinking about our own particular sins. We have become too self-centred as a society – it is not just about delivering me from temptation but delivering us from evil.
God wants us to ask for good things for ourselves and others because he wants us to depend on each other, to show love for each other, because as St. Paul says without Love we have nothing.
It is this love that reverences God’s holy name.
It is this love that asks good for our neighbour even when they have done us serious wrong.
It is this love that causes our prayer.
Let us return to the question of whether God speaks to us. First ask yourself, if God was going to communicate how do I think he would do it?
1 John tells us ‘God is Love’. Love requires expression. It is to be communicated. Also remember God cannot change, so if God communicates at all then he always communicates. He cannot be other than he is. The fact that you exist is a sign that from all eternity God loves you. He loved you into being, knit you together in your mothers womb and called you, as the prophet Jeremiah says. You are a sign, and you are to be a witness to God’s love, for others. This is just one way in which God has communicated His love to you. So then let us take courage, for God speaks, and our prayers are not in vain.
We can have courage in our prayers because of who God is. Prayer is not just listening to God, its not just asking him for things, it is everything we do which consciously or unconsciously communicates something either to God or about God. We see this in today’s Gospel when Jesus talks of practising forgiveness. When we forgive another we are preaching God in our imitation of him and we affirm our love for him.
I am very conscious here of not adding to another’s burden without lifting a finger to help remove it. Not everything is easy to forgive, but it is precisely when it is difficult that forgiveness is needed most. In encouraging others to forgive, to give that gift which most likens us to God and cannot be earnt, that gratuitous gift, we are encouraging another not only to relieve anothers burden but by God’s grace to have their own burden relieved.
If you’re listening to this thinking how do I begin to pray… learn the Our Father, practice forgiveness, pray it daily. Speak to God. Be attentive to God speaking to you through the Church, your neighbour, scripture and the sacraments. But also pay attention to what you do, practice those corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Prayer is easier and more varied than you think because Prayer is simply communication with God.