Prayer, the new challenge for the third millennium
by Telésforo "Chiquito" Villalba
"As a deer yearns for running streams, so I yearn for you, my God. I thirst for God, the living God…" (Psalm
42). This Word of God should really be our first desire when we get up
every morning the Lord gives to us. How many times have we had this
"great desire" only to find that it doesn’t last? As we go about our
day, things get in the way and the longing fades. And as if that were
not enough we easily look for excuses so as to quiet our soul, but at
heart we know we are failing, and that each day we do not speak with
God it becomes more difficult to start. We are weighed down by our lack
of will and laziness. We are always saying "I’ll start tomorrow" - even
though we know that when tomorrow comes, it remains "tomorrow".
Let us look for God’s company today, not tomorrow!
Let us look urgently for the giver of Life. Even now as you read this
article, ask for the strength of the Holy Spirit and for the Gift of
prayer, since it is one of the gifts of the Lord.
1. What is prayer?
Now then, let us see what prayer is. To do this we
will turn to the authorities on this subject which will say:
me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward
heaven, it is a cry of recognition of love, embracing both trial
and joy" (St. Therese of Lisieux).
"Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God" (St John Damascene) (Catechism 2559).
"Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him". (St Augustine) (Catechism 2560).
These are some examples of the meaning of prayer.
With these quotations we feel encouraged to say that prayer is a dialogue between two people.
Dialogue means that there must necessarily be two people, one who
speaks and another who listens, each in their turn, otherwise it will
become a monologue.
For prayer we must look for a certain place and an established time.
Many times I have heard people say: "I pray all the time, when I clean,
when I iron, when I shop, when I drive and so on", that is very good,
but we also need to find a spare moment and an intimate special place,
if possible a fixed one, in order to be able to reach a certain depth
and intensity of prayer, and thus experience its richer fruits.
It is a good idea to start little by little, five
minutes a day for the first week (check the time with a watch), then
increase to ten minutes a day in the second week, and so on gradually
extending your prayer time until you are able to manage a whole hour a
day, or more if you would like to. It is like training to be a long
distance runner. The athlete cannot keep going for twenty miles
straightaway. He must begin with short runs and
increase the distance little by little.
To do this we need to make an effort, since "...prayer
is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of
the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from
union with God." (Catechism 2725)
"The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction." (Catechism
2729). I think that it is really the main difficulty we all have,
distraction, for our mind is always flying away and it is hard to stop
and to concentrate all our attention on the Lord.
Another difficulty ".... is dryness."
(Catechism 2729). I think that this is the main difficulty we all
suffer from. We shift and fidget feeling nothing and making no sense of
anything. We begin to think that we should feel something; that we
should at least have the urge to pray. But prayer has nothing to do
with that. Even if I do not feel anything, nor have any urge to pray, I
must still start and make the effort. As previously mentioned, "the
spiritual battle" must be fought.
A "lack of time" is another common excuse for not
praying, but if we organize our lives we can always make time to
dedicate to the Lord.
At this point I would like to share something I read
which may help us: "...the modern world is delighted with the great
inventions of science. Like the child who has just ridden his bicycle
for the first time instead of going to Sunday mass, people make idols
of their new scientific "toys".
But when the boy has fallen off his bicycle a few
times, he becomes aware that it is not actually a god after all. So he
decides to start going to mass again, no doubt on his bicycle!
What use is it to man, said the student from Paris,
to have many possessions or even to use science to solve the problem of
hunger, if after all, we are bored to death?"
Without intimacy with God through prayer, everything becomes useless, empty and meaningless.
3. The great challenge of these times
Now we will try to go a bit further, to the great
challenge of these times, for if we say we are Christians we have to
imitate Christ, otherwise it will only be idle chatter. Our Lord
withdrew to pray each time he had to do an important thing.We must be
aware that prayer is the fuel of the soul, the petrol which allows us
to move spiritually. Without it we get stuck and sooner or later, we
come to a halt.
Here are some examples of how Jesus always turned to prayer before doing anything important.
In each of
these events Jesus prayed and not only for a moment. We have just read
that he was at prayer often and for long periods. How things would
change if at each important event of our lives we asked the Lord: "how
would you do this", "what would you answer in this circumstance". If
each day we devoted some time to being alone with the Master, at his
feet like Mary, who chose the best part, we would be sure that we have
also done so. "Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult easy." (St. John Chrysostom). "Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not pray are certainly damned" (St. Alphonsus Liguori).
- "...Jesus went onto the mountain to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God" (Lk 6,12). He chooses the Twelve apostles.
- "... he went up on the hills by himself to pray" (Mt. 14,23). He walks on the water.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them
up a high mountain by themselves. There in their presence he was
transfigured: his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as
dazzling as light" (Mk 17, 1-2). The Transfiguration.
- "They came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples: "Sit here while I pray" (Mk 14, 32) He sweated blood.
This is the great challenge, to be praying men and women, "The Christian of the future will be a mystic, one that has experienced something, or he will be nothing" (Karl Rahner).
"Today the world needs more than ever a return to contemplation… The
real prophet of the Church of the future will be the one who comes from
the "desert" like Moses, Elijah, the Baptist, Paul and above all Jesus,
laden with mysticism and with that special glow that only the men who
are used to speaking face to face with God have" (A. Hortelano).
The Holy Father said to us: "…the world needs
witnesses…" and those witnesses will only come from intimate contact
with the Lord through prayer, where the boldness, the bravery and the
courage to be prophets of the third millennium is to be found.
There are several commentaries on prayer, but now we
have to put them in practice, otherwise it will only be a mere
reflection we have shared. Let us ask the Holy Spirit giver of Life to
fill us, as at Pentecost, with the strength and the Holy fire, let us
say, Come Holy Spirit! Come and grant us the gift of prayer! Make us men and women who live praying!! Amen.
with permission of ICCRS Newsletter May/June 2002