What is Prayer?

*ABC of Prayer In Accordance with the CCC

Prayer is turning your heart towards God. When a person prays, he enters into a living relationship with God.

Prayer is the great gate leading into faith. Someone who prays, no longer lives on his own, for himself and by his own strength. He knows there is a God to whom he can talk. People who pray entrust themselves more and more to God and seek communion with the one whom they will encounter one day face to face. Therefore, the effort to pray daily is part of Christian life. Of course, one cannot learn to pray in the same way one learns a technique. As strange as it sounds, prayer is a gift one obtains through prayer. (YOUCAT question 469)

For me prayer is a super-natural conversation with a super-natural being i.e. God. It is a time when I sense immense power in me as this conversation can heal somebody or can relieve somebody from trouble or worries, etc. It is my time that I give to my God in thanksgiving for the time that He was scourged, the time that he spent nailed to the cross, all for the sake of my sins.

What role did prayer play among the first Christians?
The first Christians prayed intensely. The early Church was moved by the Holy Spirit, who anointed the disciples, to whom they owed their influence.

“They held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

(YOUCAT question 482)

What prompts a person to pray?
We pray because we are full of an infinite longing and God has created us men for himself: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St. Augustine). We also pray because we need to. Mother Teresa says, “Because I cannot rely on myself, I rely on him, twenty-four hours a day.” [2566-2567, 2591]

Often we forget God, run away from him and hide. Whether we avoid thinking about God or deny him, he is always there for us. He seeks us before we seek him; he yearns for us, he calls us. You speak with your conscience and suddenly notice that you are speaking with God. You feel lonely, have no one to talk with, and then sense that God is always available to talk. You are in danger and experience that a cry for help is answered by God. Praying is as human as breathing, eating, and loving. Praying purifies. Praying makes it possible to resist temptations. Praying strengthens us in our weakness. Praying removes fear, increases energy, and gives a second wind. Praying makes one happy. (YOUCAT question 470)

The passion with which I made a commitment to God that I would give Him my life and my time is what drives me to pray. At times it is also my guilt or my compassion towards those who are in difficult times that make me feel uneasy if I do not give my time to God.

Why is Abraham a model of prayer?
Abraham listened to God. He was willing to set out for wherever God commanded and to do what God willed. By his listening and his readiness to make a new start, he is a model for our prayer.
Not many prayers of Abraham have been handed down, but wherever he went, he set up altars, places of prayer, to God. Along the journey of his life he had many experiences with God, including some that tried and unsettled him. When Abraham saw that God was going to destroy the sinful city of Sodom, he pleaded for it. He even wrestled stubbornly with God. His plea for Sodom is the first great intercessory prayer in the history of the People of God. (YOUCAT question 471)

I have never had a model for my prayer. I would pick up certain ways of praying from various saints and people who shared their experiences.

How did Moses pray?
From Moses we learn that “praying” means “speaking with God“. At the burning bush God entered into a real conversation with Moses and gave him an assignment. Moses raised objections and asked questions. Finally God revealed to him his holy name. Just as Moses then came to trust God and enlisted wholeheartedly in his service, so too we must pray and thus go to God’s school.

The bible mentions Moses’ name 767 times. So central was his role as the liberator and lawgiver of the people of Israel. At the same time Moses was also a great intercessor for his people. In prayer he received his commission; from prayer he drew his strength. Moses had an intimate, personal relationship with God:

“The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:11a).

Before Moses acted or instructed the people, he withdrew to the mountain to pray. Thus he is the original example of contemplative prayer. (YOUCAT question 472)

I too have a similar pattern of prayer, i.e. contemplative prayer. I keep having a conversation with God at all times, especially when in temptation. Ever since I got to Bangalore and started my CLS as a single, I have been learning about the Holy Spirit and was made aware of Him as a person, a part of the Holy Trinity. He is not just a gift or a fruit, but a person with whom we are called to have an intimate relationship just like the one we have with Jesus and God. This has been my plus-point in strengthening my prayer life.

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During times that I have led worship I have experienced the immense power and presence of the Holy Spirit and have been led by Him. In spite of my sinfulness I was not let down in leading the people in worshiping our God. Words just flowed out of my mouth and intentions just kept coming. All after I said to God, ‘Lord I do not want to think what to say, and Holy Spirit you work through me, you use my tongue and my lips and let them soften the hearts of those who hear them and lead them to worship you, from the depths of their Heart.’ This experience has made me realize the power of prayer.

How are the Psalms important for our prayer?
The Psalms, along with the ‘Our Father’, are part of the Church’s great treasury of prayers. In them the praise of God is sung in an ageless way.

There are 150 Psalms in the Old Testament. They are a collection of songs and prayers, some of them several thousand years old, which are still prayed today in the Church in the ‘Liturgy of the Hours’. The Psalms are among the most beautiful texts in world literature and move even modern readers immediately by their spiritual power (YOUCAT question 473).

How did Jesus learn to pray?
Jesus learnt to pray in his family and in the synagogue. Yet, Jesus broke through the boundaries of traditional prayer. His prayer demonstrates a union with his Father in heaven that is possible only to someone who is the Son of God.

Jesus, who was God and man at the same time, grew up like other Jewish children of his time amid the rituals and prayer formulas of his people, Israel. Nevertheless, as the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple demonstrated (Lk 2:41ff.), there was something in him that could not be learned: an original, profound, and unique union with God, his Father in heaven. Like all other men, Jesus hoped for another world, a hereafter, and prayed to God. At the same time, though, he was also part of that hereafter. This occasion already showed that one day people would pray to Jesus, acknowledge him as God, and ask for his grace (YOUCAT question 474).

How did Jesus pray?
Jesus’ life was one single prayer. At decisive moments (his temptation in the desert, his selection of the apostles, his death on the Cross) his prayer was especially intense. Often he withdrew into solitude to pray, especially at night. Being one with the Father in the Holy Spirit – that was the guiding principle of his earthly life (YOUCAT question 475).

How did Jesus pray as he was facing his death?
When face to face with death, Jesus experienced the utmost depths of human fear. Yet he found the strength even in that hour to trust his heavenly Father:

“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will [be done]” (Mk 14:36).

Times of need teach us to pray.” Almost everyone experiences that in his life. How did Jesus pray when he was threatened by death? What guided him in those hours was his absolute willingness to entrust himself to the love and care of his Father. Jesus recited the most unfathomable prayer of all, which he took from the Jewish prayers for the dying:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34, citing Ps 22:1).

All the despair, all the laments, all the cries of mankind in all times, and yearning for God’s helping hand are contained in this word of the Crucified. With the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46), he breathed forth his spirit. In them we hear his boundless trust in his Father, whose power knows the way to conquer death. Thus Jesus’ prayer in the midst of dying already anticipates the Easter victory of his Resurrection (YOUCAT question 476).

What does it mean to learn from Jesus how to pray?
Learning from Jesus how to pray means entering into his boundless trust, joining in his prayer, and being led by him, step by step, to the Father.

The disciples, who lived in community with Jesus, learnt to pray by listening to and imitating Jesus, whose whole life was prayer. Like him, they had to be watchful and strive for purity of heart, to give up everything for the coming of God’s kingdom, to forgive their enemies, to trust boldly in God, and to love him above all things. By this example of devotion, Jesus invited his disciples to say to God Almighty, “Abba, dear Father”. If we pray in the Spirit of Jesus, especially the Lord’s Prayer, we walk in Jesus’ shoes and can be sure that we will arrive unfailingly in the heart of the Father (YOUCAT question 477).

Why can we be confident that our prayer is heard by God?
Many people called on Jesus during his earthly life for healing, and their prayers were answered. Jesus, who rose from the dead, listens to our petitions and brings them to the Father.

Even today we know the name of the synagogue official: Jairus was the name of the man who begged Jesus for help, and his prayer was answered. His little daughter was on her death bed. No one could help her. Jesus not only healed his little girl, he even raised her from the dead (Mk 5:21-43). Jesus worked a whole series of well-attested cures. He performed signs and miracles. The lame, the lepers, and the blind did not ask Jesus in vain. There are testimonies also of prayers answered by all the saints of the Church. Many Christians can tell stories of how they called to God and God heard their prayer. God, however, is not an automat. We must leave it up to him how he will answer our petitions. (YOUCAT question 478).

What can we learn from the way in which Mary prayed?
To learn from Mary how to pray means to join in her prayer:

“Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Prayer is ultimately self-giving in response to God’s love. If we say ‘Yes’ as Mary did, God has the opportunity to lead his life in our life (YOUCAT question 479).

In conclusion I pray that those who read this may have been enlightened in some way or the other to start a prayerful life or to work on those areas of their prayer lives which they have not been aware about or have ignored.

This document is a compilation of the excerpts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Taken from the site which I subscribe to and I urge everyone to do so. The site is ‘flocknote.com/gospel’ and ‘flocknote.com/catechism’. Hope it helps you deepen and strengthen your faith.

About Elvis Dias

Elvis Dias is currently working as a Portuguese specialist at Accenture and is also pursuing his MBA from Bangalore. He hails from Goa and is an active member of CFCI Singles. He started glorifying God through his poems from his adolescent days and is passionate about serving in the kingdom of God.

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