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Teach Us to Pray: The Our Father and Communion with God

By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 8th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

What Jesus is teaching is a Way of Life. We can have the same relationship Jesus has with the Father, the intimate communion the disciples witnessed when they came upon Him prayer. The same relationship they witnesses as they walked with Him daily. We also walk with Him daily.From this, and the other accounts of the same exchange, we have been given the beautiful form prayer we were taught as children. It is the prayer we pray at every Holy Mass, the Our Father. However, Jesus is teaching us all much more than one form of prayer, he is revealing to his friends and followers the relationship which is itself the very heart of prayer. Lord, Teach us to Pray.

CHESAPEAKE,VA (Catholic Online) - The Gospel proclaimed at the Liturgy of the Catholic Church today is excerpted from St. Luke's account of the beautiful exchange between the disciples and Jesus where they ask Him to teach them how to pray:

"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.

"He said to them, When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test." (Luke 11:1-4)

From this, and the other accounts of the same exchange, we have been given the beautiful form prayer we were taught as children. It is the prayer we pray at every Holy Mass, the Our Father.

However, Jesus is teaching us all much more than one form prayer. He is revealing to his friends and followers the relationship which is the very heart of prayer.

Jesus sets forth the relational framework within which life itself can become an ongoing dialogue of prayer. The Our Father reveals the path for every one of us to living in a continual communion with God.

Following this account, Jesus tells the disciples a parable concerning one type of prayer, persevering prayer for needs. (Luke 11:1-13) He instructs them throughout His public ministry concerning various types of prayer.

However, He Himself is Prayer.

In His continual communion with the Father, He opens the Way to the Father. His entire time with the disciples is an instruction in Prayer. He shows them the pattern of living in such a continual communion with the Father. He then invites them - and he invites us - into that communion of love which He has with the Father, in the Holy Spirit. This is prayer.

Through His saving Incarnation, His Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus also removes the impediment to our being able to enter into that communion. He makes it possible for us to begin living in that communion in the here and now. That occurs through grace.

We are invited to cultivate lifestyles of prayer which lead us into an ever deepening communion with the Lord. This kind of communion is available to all of us, no matter what our state in life or specific vocation.

Through prayer, we learn the path to the peace we long for, even in the midst of the turbulence which is so common in daily life; a peace which comes from such a communion with the Father - Our Father - in the Son and through the Holy Spirit.

After the Resurrection, the Apostle Paul, who had not walked with the Lord during His earthly ministry but was, even so, a witness to the Resurrection, writes these compelling words to the early Christians:

"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 wrote those words to the early Christians in Greece who did not live lives of ease, in any sense of the word. They had families, occupations, and struggles, beyond what many of us could imagine. They also suffered greatly for their faith.

Yet, he instructed them to Pray without ceasing. Did he really mean it? I believe that he did. He lived it and wanted the same gift for all those who bore the name Christian entrusted to his pastoral care.

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 absolutely believe that Paul meant exactly what he said to the Thessalonians - and that his words are important to those of us who bear the name Christian today.

We can pray without ceasing as well.

Prayer is an ongoing dialogue which opens up an intimate communion with God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Prayer can become continual, as we learn to live in the Lord.

God fashioned men and women as the crown of His creation, creating us in His Image, for this kind of loving, relational conversation of life with Him. At the heart of understanding what it means to be created in His Image is to understand the immense gift of human freedom and what has happened to our capacity to choose. Our freedom is patterned after God's freedom. Love is never coerced, it is freely given.

However, our relationship with God was broken, separated and wounded through the first sin, the sin of origins or what is called theologically original sin. That sin, like all sin since, is, at its root, a misuse of freedom infected by pride and self sufficiency.

Our ability to exercise our freedom rightly, to live in His Image by directing our capacity for free choice always toward the good and true , was impeded through the fall. Our freedom was fractured.

The Cross of Jesus Christ is the only splint capable of healing that fracture.

The Good News is that through Jesus Christ, the Way has now been opened for us to have an even fuller communion with God than our first parents, 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, the place where they make their fundamental choices, what the Bible calls the heart. This making a place is the essence of Christian prayer. It is not about doing, but about being, in communion with the Trinity.(See, e.g. John 14:23)

The Lord invites us to freely choose to respond to His continual invitations to love now every day, every moment. We find our fulfillment as human persons by entering into that kind of relationship. This is the meaning and purpose of life itself - to commune with God.

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, through prayer.

Prayer is the pathway to that peace the Lord promised, which the world cannot give - and the world cannot take away. " Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)

Prayer is about falling in love with the living 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.

"At every moment of his life, even when it appears to stop, it is secretly at work in him continuously, one of the Fathers, the bearers of Christ, says that prayer is the silence of the pure. For their thoughts are divine motions. The movements of the heart and the intellect that have been purified are the voices full of sweetness with which such people never cease to sing in secret to the hidden God."

Jesus opens up -to you and me- a full communion with God the Father through living in Him. We are sons and daughters in the Son.

Jesus 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 begin to experience a progressive, dynamic and intimate relationship with the Father, in Jesus, by grace.

The Holy Spirit begins to transform us from within as we yield to the Father's will and cooperate with grace, the dynamic life of God which is mediated to us through the Son.

As Isaac explained in this beautiful writing, we really can become prayer as we empty ourselves in order to be filled with the very life of God. Through prayer, daily life can then take 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 can begin to understand why this communion seems so elusive at times; as we struggle with our own disordered appetites, and live in a manner at odds with the beauty and order of the creation within which we dwell only to find a new beginning whenever we confess our sin and return to our first love. Prayer opens us up to Revelation, expands our capacity to comprehend truth and equips us to change.

Through prayer we are increasingly 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.

Through prayer, heavenly wisdom is planted in the field of our hearts and we experience a deepening communion with the Trinitarian God. We become, in the words of the Apostle Peter partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4) That participation will only be fully complete when we are with Him in the fullness of His embrace, in Resurrected Bodies in a New Heaven and a New earth, but it begins now, in the grace of this present moment.

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." (1 John 3:1-4)

As we become prayer our daily life is revealed as a field of choice and we are capacitated by grace 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 following after Jesus.

Prayer provides the environment for such ongoing recollection as it exposes the darkness and helps us surrender it to the light of Love, the Living God who is 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 through grace. As we become prayer, that likeness begins to emerge. We give ourselves over to Jesus, the One who gave Himself to us. We learn to cry out with Jesus Christ, Abba Father.

No longer alienated from God, we begin to participate in the inner life of God who now dwells within us. We also dwell in Him through His Spirit. This dwelling in God 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.

The late Fr. 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."

By choosing us as his preferred dwelling place, he invites us to choose him as our preferred dwelling place.  This is the mystery of the incarnation.  Here we come to see what discipline in the spiritual life means.  It means a gradual process of coming home to where we belong and listening there to the voice which desires our attention.  Home is the place where that first love dwells and speaks gently to us.  Prayer is the most concrete way to make our home in God.

We are His contemporary disciples. We need to ask Him the same question, Lord, Teach us to Pray, as we approach the altar to receive Him, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, into our very selves. Then, filled with His Divine Life within us, we too can learn how to become prayer by learning to make our home in God.

What Jesus is teaching us in this Gospel account from Luke is a really about a New Way of Life. We can have the same relationship Jesus has with the Father, the intimate communion the disciples witnessed when they came upon Him prayer. The same relationship they witnesses as they walked with Him daily.

We also walk with Him daily.  He has been raised from the dead and He is with us!

Lord, Teach us to Pray.

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Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate.

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