Listen to this story:
As Christians, we are called to be a people of prayer. Oftentimes, prayer is solely associated with asking things of God. While supplication is a part of prayer, it has always been seen as one of the lower forms of prayer. And even then, supplication has to be made in the right spirit.
Once something like this is said, people have sometimes asked, “If prayer isn’t about asking for something, what is it? And what’s the point?”
Both questions indicate a deep need for clarity and some biblical instruction on what prayer is and why it is absolutely important to our lives as children of God.
In trying to compose a definition of prayer, we can turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The fourth of its four parts is completely on prayer and is a rich synthesis of the Church’s spiritual treasury, and as such serves as a great resource on the spiritual life.
In going to the fourth part of the Catechism, the Church begins her teaching on prayer under the subtitle, “Prayer as God’s gift.” This alone is worthy of reflection. It sets things on the right course from its very genesis. Prayer comes from God.
So often we can think that our response to prayer is a gift we give ourselves, or even a gift we give to God. But we are told that, first and foremost, prayer is a gift from God to us. It comes from the heart of God.
It is for this reason that the Catechism continues and teaches us: “… humility is the foundation of prayer, only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer.”
The heart that desires to respond to the gift of prayer, therefore, must be a humble heart. Such a soul must have what the Lord Jesus lived and called “a poverty of spirit.” We must acknowledge that we have nothing to offer, no bargaining chip, no dog in the fight, nothing. We come before God with empty hands, as the Catechism asserts; “Man is a beggar before God.”
After asserting that prayer is God’s gift to us, the Catechism continues and moves its teachings on prayer within the context of the encounter of the Lord Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well. The Lord Jesus enters Samaria and, tired from his journeys, rests at the famous well. The apostles leave to find food, and a sole woman of the region approaches.
It is afternoon and so it is clear that the woman is an outcast, since women traditionally drew water in the early mornings or evenings when the sun was down. The woman came to draw water in the heat of the day because she was not welcomed among the other women.
As the woman approaches, the Lord Jesus begins to speak to her. The conversation is the longest recorded conversation in the gospel books between the Lord and one person.
The Lord Jesus initiates the interaction by asking for something to drink.
The Catechism describes the scene in a dramatic fashion: “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us.”
It is the Lord Jesus who shows vulnerability to the woman. He is thirsty and she has come to draw water. By revealing his own docility, he creates an arena where the woman, who was subject to rejection and is defensive, can let her own guard down and show her own weakness and frailty. It is the disclosure of God’s thirst for us that allows us to confidently show him our own thirst for him.
In a mind-blowing definition of prayer, this portion of the Catechism concludes by teaching us: “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.”
And so, what is prayer? It is the meeting of two thirsts. Why is it important? Because the exchange of such thirsts is the beginning of a loving relationship between ourselves and God. It is the regular, supernatural reminder that we are loved.
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