The life of prayer is not easy. It’s a tremendous blessing and encouragement, therefore, to see others pray and to receive a living testimony to prayer. Throughout the spiritual tradition of the Church, many of our saints and spiritual masters were led to a life of prayer by seeing one simple person pray.
With a need for such witnesses, the Catechism of the Catholic Church points us to the great figures of salvation history. We are told about Abraham as a person of prayer and then led to Moses.
Moses lived in a difficult time. God’s people had been enslaved in Egypt for four centuries. They cried for deliverance and yearned for liberation. In response, God raised up Moses. He was a man of questionable behavior, convicted of a capital crime and guilty of murder. He had limited speech, possibly even having a stutter. And, worst of all, he was not a willing participant in the plans of God. He wasn’t searching for God. He was content living in exile, with his wife’s family, and serving as a desert shepherd.
Such a way of life was the paradigm of contentment, until God showed up. God was searching for Moses. He knew Moses’ heart better than Moses himself. He knew what Moses could do and he called him from a burning bush. The bush burned but was not consumed. God spoke and Moses argued with him. God told him to go back to Egypt and the man threw everything he had at God to justify why he couldn’t go back to that place. At every turn of the argument, God responded and told Moses he wanted him to go.
Imagine the shock in Moses’ heart when he later realized that he had literally been in an argument with the living God, the God of his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Imagine his surprise when he realized that he was praying!
Such an encounter became a standard part of Moses’ life, and prayer became something he did regularly and almost casually. Prayer just flowed from his soul. He was in a living, vital relationship with God. Prayer just became a natural part of that relationship.
Quoting the Bible, the Catechism tells us: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
Such a statement could be made because Moses had truly became a friend of God. He was on the journey of the Exodus with the living God. God was his companion and he had himself become a companion to the true God.
The Catechism continues: “Moses’ prayer is characteristic of contemplative prayer by which God’s servant remains faithful to his mission. Moses converses with God often and at length, climbing the mountain to hear and entreat him and coming down to the people to repeat the words of his God for their guidance.”
Within the Sacred Scriptures themselves, and echoed by the Catechism, Moses is presented as a contemplative and a witness to prayer. He communes with God and then teaches God’s people. Moses gives moral instruction, but also knowledge of the covenant of God and God’s desire to have union with his people. As a part of the covenant, God’s people must pray. And so, Moses reflects such a life of prayer and teaches God’s people to pray by example.
Quoting the Bible again, the Catechism tells us: “Moses ‘is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly, not in riddles,” for ‘Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.”
In this selection of Bible quotes, the Catechism highlights the elementary truth of the spiritual life again, namely, prayer begins and is nourished by humility. The proud cannot pray, or they pray only to themselves. The proud constantly relish in self-worship. The humble, however, have open hearts. They can see the movements of God and they wait for him. Moses was a humble man. As such, he became a man of deep and profound prayer.
Amidst the hubris and arrogance of our age, such a call to humility can seem overwhelming. Such a struggle would have been understood by Moses. He was not some removed figure without a fallen heart. He was not a distant figure to the human family but was one of us. He was raised in a palace and was of noble status.
Moses had to abandon all such things from his past and accept – with whatever struggles he may have had in his own heart – his new status as a desert shepherd, who worked for his father-in-law, and was unknown by the world. It is no surprise that Moses lived in the desert for forty years with his wife’s family before God appeared to him.
Sometimes humility takes time. When it’s present, however, great things happen. Prayer happens.