Prayers and Prayerfulness
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time (C) | Fr John Farrell reflects on the prayefulness that places us and our prayers within God’s providence.
St Luke tells us that Jesus gives us this parable in today’s gospel for a definite reason. We are to keep on praying and not give up on prayer. What are we to understand by constant prayer? Obviously Christian life is not to be spent saying endless Hail Marys or even Our Fathers.
There is a distinction but unity between saying prayers and prayerfulness. We are human beings, creatures of time, and we need to dedicate certain times in our daily routine for saying prayers. We are human beings and not Angels and we need to memorise certain formulas of prayer, remember some psalms or hymns. In times of distress we can only fall back on these humble mumblings; reciting the rosary prayers or even, in deep anguish, just moving the holy beads. Yet the Holy Spirit groans within us in our weakness…We are human beings not angels. We are sinners on a journey to perfection which we have not yet reached. We are earthbound and humility is the central dimension of any genuine prayer as Jesus reveal in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple which immediately follows today’s gospel.
We might see the saying of certain prayers at certain times as a scaffolding for a larger prayerfulnesss. By this is meant an ongoing receptivity at all times to the active presence of the divine life in which we live and move and have our being. It is within this dimension of prayerfulness Christians are to evaluate and appreciate all that happens in their life. In all matters the Christian should be prayerfully ready to turn to Christ and the Holy Spirit of our Heavenly Father to guide and direct her. Every Christian by their baptismal birthright has received the gift of counsel. Not that charismatic gift of counselling others which some receive, but, within the grace of adoption, the graced receptivity to be counseled by the Holy Spirit of Jesus constantly.
Our receptivity to this counselling could be enhanced or diminished. In our secular world it is all too easy for this Christian attentiveness to be attenuated. We have all allowed our Christian imagination to be secularised. We no longer talk of the graces and blessings which surround us. (Nor of the crosses we are asked to carry). We should instinctively turn to Christ’s presence in all situations of life. Prayer at its most elementary is an ongoing conversation with God. A loving two-way conversation if we are both humble and insistent in asking, and humble and attentive in listening.
But this general ongoing Christian prayerfulness will evaporate in our secular world unless the scaffolding of saying prayers is firmly built up and strongly reinforced. Christ has given to his Church so many aids to enhance this constant prayerfulness – scripture and sacraments, living communities, spiritual writings, gifts of repentance, humility, faithful patient endurance and prayer.
There is also another sort of higher prayerfulness. Here we might understand saying prayers as a ladder to a gift of the prayer of quiet. Having said the rosary, recited some psalms or pondered some scripture or sacred writings, it can then be that a gift of graceful receptivity descends upon us. All the spiritual writers insist that at this point we must leave behind the saying of prayers to being receptive to being prayed. Saint Catherine of Siena likens this graceful attentiveness to the way a young baby, fretful and feverish is raised up by the mother and, fed at the breast, is calmed and cherished, comforted and nourished. ” A weaned child on its mother’s breast, even so is my soul” (Psalm 131).
Petitionary prayer is the heartbeat of the corpus of prayerfulness and praying. It is not to be derided as minor. Intrinsic to petitionary prayer for someone else is both love for them and a loving trust in God’s desire to help. It is a very humble living out of the double commandment of loving God and loving our neighbor.
The lazy judge in today’s parable is central to the story because only he can fulfill the widow’s demands. In the same way we accept that only God can help us. A little prayer is intrinsically an enormous act of faith. And Jesus ends today’s gospel by asking whether the Son of Man will find any faith on earth. So even petitionary prayer for oneself is an act is a recognition of God Providence and his cherishing of us. We turn like the woman in the gospel to the only one who can help as we resort to basic formulas like the rosary. The grace of comfort and calm may come upon us as we place all our trust in God – “not my will but thine be done”. It will be, by his Fatherly kindness, that it is through our prayers that his providence is fulfilled for ourselves and those whom we love.
We need to be constant in this life of prayerfulness, like Moses in the first reading , so that Christ will find faith when he comes. And not just faith but charity. Because we can assess the quality of our prayer by the increase in our desire to be merciful – as He is merciful. If through our prayerfulness and prayers we grow in mercy gracefully – as the wicked judge did not – so we integrate into ourselves the flow of his mercy to others. This is true prayerfulness, for holiness is charity come to perfection.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.