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Lord, Teach Us To Pray: The Path to Peace Passes Through Prayer
By Deacon Keith Fournier
September 22nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Jesus comes to live in all who make a place for Him within the center of their lives. This "making a place" is the essence of Christian prayer. It is not about doing, but about being. The Lord wants us to freely choose to respond to His continual invitations to love. We will only find our fulfillment as human persons by entering into that kind of relationship. This is the meaning and purpose of life itself.
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - In a world which is spiraling out of control, we who bear the name "Christian" are called to live in peace. At the Last Supper, right before he would walk the Way of the Cross for each one of us, he spoke these words to his disciples: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid". (John 14:27) We need to hear these words today, deep inside. In that place the Scripture refers to as "the heart". The path to such true peace passes through prayer.
After the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul, who had not walked with the Lord during His earthly ministry but was a witness to the Resurrection, writes these compelling words: "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit." (1 Thess. 5:16-19)
He instructed them to "Pray without ceasing". Did he really mean it? I believe that he did. The older I get, the simpler life gets. That does not mean it is "easy". I speak of spiritual simplicity, the kind of attitude which gets right to the root of what really matters. I believe that Paul meant what he said to the Christians at Thessalonica and that his words are important to those who bear the name Christian today.
Prayer is an ongoing dialogue of intimate communion with God. God fashioned men and women as the crown of His creation, creating us in "His Image", for this loving, relational conversation of life with Him. At the heart of understanding what it means to be "in His Image" is to understand the immense gift of human freedom and what has happened to our capacity to choose. Love is never coerced.
Our relationship with God was broken, separated and wounded through the first sin, the sin of origins or "original sin". That sin, like all sin since, is at root a misuse of freedom infected by pride and self sufficiency. Our ability to exercise our freedom rightly, to live His Image by directing our capacity for free choice always toward the good, was impeded through the fall. Freedom was fractured.
The "Good News" is that through Jesus Christ, the way has been opened for an even fuller communion with God, one that is restored through His Incarnation, Saving life, Death and Resurrection. In Jesus Christ we are being re-created, re-fashioned and redeemed. He comes to live in all who make a place for Him within the center of their lives. This "making a place" is the essence of Christian prayer. It is not about doing, but about being.
The Lord wants us to freely choose to respond to His continual invitations to love. We will only find our fulfillment as human persons by entering into that kind of relationship. This is the meaning and purpose of life itself. As we grow in faith through our participation in the life of grace, lived out in the Church, our capacity to respond to His loving invitation grows as well, through prayer. Prayer is also the pathway to that peace which the world cannot give - and the world cannot take away.
Prayer is about falling in love with God. Isaac of Ninevah was an early eighth century monk, Bishop and theologian. For centuries he was mostly revered in the Eastern Christian Church for his writings on prayer. In the last century the beauty of his insights on prayer are being embraced once again by both lungs, East and West, of the Church. He wrote these words in one of his many treatises on Prayer:
"When the Spirit dwells in a person, from the moment in which that person has become prayer, he never leaves him. For the Spirit himself never ceases to pray in him. Whether the person is asleep or awake, prayer never from then on departs from his soul. Whether he is eating or drinking or sleeping or whatever else he is doing, even in deepest sleep, the fragrance of prayer rises without effort in hid heart. Prayer never again deserts him."
The Christian faith answers the existential questions that plague every human heart and trouble every generation. Through His Incarnation, Saving Life, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus opens full communion with God for all men and women. He leads us out of the emptiness and despair that is the rotted fruit of narcissism, nihilism and materialism. When we enter into the dialogue of prayer, we can experience a progressive, dynamic and intimate relationship with God and He transforms us from within. We, as Isaac said, can "become prayer" as we empty ourselves in order to be filled with Him.
Through prayer, daily life takes on new meaning. It becomes a classroom of communion. In that classroom we learn the truth about who we are - and who we are becoming - in Jesus. Through prayer we receive new glasses through which we see the true landscape of life. Through prayer darkness is dispelled and the path of progress is illuminated.
Through prayer we are drawn by Love into a deepening relationship with Jesus whose loving embrace on the hill of Golgotha bridged heaven with earth; His relationship with His Father is opened now to us; the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead begins to give us new life as we are converted, transfigured and made new.
The beloved disciple John became prayer. He writes in the letter he penned in his later years: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness" 1John 3:1-4
As we "become prayer" our daily life becomes the field of choice and we are capacitated to choose the "more excellent way" of love of which the great Apostle paul wrote. (1 Cor. 13) Pondering the implications of the exercise of our human freedom becomes a regular part of our life, as we learn to "examine our conscience", repent of our sin and become joyful penitents. Prayer provides the environment for such recollection as it exposes the darkness and helps us surrender it to the light of Love, the Living God dwelling within us.
"Becoming prayer" is possible for all Christians, no matter their state in life or vocation, because God holds nothing back from those whom He loves. This relationship of communion is initiated by Him. Our part is to respond. That response should flow from a heart that beats in surrendered love, in the process of being freed from the entanglements that weigh us down. The God who is Love hungers for the communion of sons and daughters - and we hunger for communion with Him - because He made us this way. Nothing else will satisfy. The early Church Father Origen once wrote: "Every spiritual being is, by nature, a temple of God, created to receive into itself the glory of God."
We were made in the "image" of God and are now being recreated into His likeness in Jesus Christ. As we "become prayer', that likeness begins to emerge. We give ourselves fully to the One who gave Himself to us and cry out with Jesus Christ "Abba Father." No longer alienated, we participate in the inner life of God who now dwells within us. We also dwell in Him through His Spirit. This dwelling is prayer. It is not about doing or getting but about being, becoming, receiving, giving, and loving. We will live the way we love and we will love the way we pray.
A wonderful spiritual writer of our own time, Henri Nouwen, understood the intimacy of prayer and the call to live in God. He wrote these words in his work entitled Lifesigns: "Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells, has become our home by making his home in us he allows us to make our home in him. By entering into the intimacy of our innermost self he offers us the opportunity to enter into his own intimacy with God."
We are His contemporary disciples. We need to ask the same question, "Lord, Teach us to Pray". Then, filled with His very Divine Life within us, we can learn how to "become prayer" by learning to "make our home in God". The path to peace passes through prayer.
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