God is an absolute mystery. No matter what we can say about him, God is infinitely more. And yet, in an act of abounding love, he has revealed himself to us and calls us to be with him.
At the beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are told: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength…”.
God has revealed himself, disclosed himself, unveiled himself. In popular jargon, we would say that he has shared himself with us. He has given us his own knowledge of himself, so that by knowing him, we can love him. By knowing him, we can understand the immense love he has for us and so seek to reciprocate his love.
God reveals himself because he desires a relationship with us. Our relationship with the living God is grounded in Jesus Christ, the God-made-man. In the Lord Jesus, God searches us out and desires to bring us into a loving relationship with him.
Our acceptance and following of the way of the Lord Jesus is called discipleship, and the core of discipleship is prayer. Christians are called to be a people of prayer. We can look at the life of the Lord Jesus and clearly see a man of prayer. He began and concluded each day in prayer. He prayed in moments of healing, spiritual battle, joy, and sorrow. As disciples, we are called to follow him and live his way and imitate his example of prayer.
Pope Francis reminds us: “Jesus gave us the example of continual prayer, practiced with perseverance. Constant dialogue with His Father, in silence and in recollection, was the fulcrum of His entire mission. The Gospels also report His exhortations to the disciples, that they pray insistently, without growing tired.”
With such a summons, it’s important that we know what prayer is and what it is not.
Prayer is not a wish list for God. Sometimes even adult Christians can still fall into this misconception and denigrate prayer to something it is not. People will make their list, check it twice, and command God to obey them.
When they don’t get what they want, when they want, and how they want it, they assert that prayer doesn’t work. But such a vocalization of raw demands and pride is not prayer. It is merely giving voice to narcissism and self-centeredness.
Many adult Christians have not grown into a knowledge of prayer. As such, they still approach prayer with a juvenile and immature spirit. As children ask (or demand) for things, so adults imitate this practice in prayer and approach God with self-centered demands.
In this view of prayer, God is seen as one large vending machine. If we push a button, we expect to get our desired product.
But God isn’t a vending machine and prayer isn’t about demands. When petitions are made in prayer, they are always made in the light of higher aspects of prayer such as adoration and thanksgiving. They are also marked by the heartfelt and sincere declaration before God: Your will be done.
Prayer, therefore, is about being with God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that prayer is when God’s thirst for us meets our thirst for him. Prayer is about being in a loving relationship with God. It is being in his presence and knowing that we are loved. Prayer is suspending the demands, expectations, and assertions of life and simply dwelling in God’s presence, basking in his love for us, and seeking to give him our whole heart in return.
For these reasons, the Catechism further defines prayer as “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God.” Prayer unites us with God.
Prayer is vital to human life. It’s not an option. Just as oxygen and food are vital for the body, so prayer is vital for a fully abundant life. In spite of a fallen world telling us otherwise, prayer is essential and necessary to our lives. As human beings, we need to belong and have connections with others. This begins with God, and prayer is the path to communion with God.
Prayer is when we embrace the revelations God has given us and accept and thrive in the love he has for us.