The call to prayer demands a response. We can either hear the call and begin to pray, or we avoid and neglect the call. And so, whether we say yes or no, a response is given. If we choose not to pray, we’ve given a response. In the summons to pray, there is no neutral space, no plateau. We either say yes and do our best, or we say no and refuse to even try.
If we accept the call of prayer and seek to pray, then we need all the help we can get. Such help includes having examples and exemplars of prayer.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides these examples in abundance. If we don’t know how to pray, but we’re showing up and doing our best, then these examples shine like needed lights on a dark night. Examples of prayer should never be underestimated or dismissed. We need them. If we are going to persevere and grow in prayer.
The examples of prayer provided by the Catechism begin in the Old Testament. After highlighting Abraham and Moses, the Catechism shifts to the period of the Israelite monarchy in salvation history. Before jumping to King David, the Catechism directs our attention to the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple.
The Catechism teaches us: “The prayer of the People of God flourishes in the shadow of God’s dwelling place, first the ark of the covenant and later the Temple.”
Before speaking about any human beings, the Catechism gives us the lay of the land. The Ark and the Temple held the presence of God. We cannot fully understand the prayer of God’s people without understanding this central, essential presence. In a similar fashion, in the New Covenant, we cannot fully understand our call to prayer without pointing to and deferring to the Lord’s True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
After emphasizing the presence of God, the Catechism continues: “At first the leaders of the people – the shepherds and the prophets – teach them to pray.” In this context, the word shepherds is a broad term that can be specifically applied to the kings and holy ones of God’s people. These shepherds are parallel to the prophets, who are the anointed heralds of God, the defenders of his covenant, and who serve as fathers to the poor and forgotten. Both sets of examples are needed in order for us to learn how to pray.
The Catechism goes further and speaks of Samuel, the first formal prophet of God: “The infant Samuel must have learned from his mother Hannah how ‘to stand before the Lord’ and from the priest Eli how to listen to his word: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
In this portion of its teaching, the Catechism is showing us how the prophet Samuel learned to pray from both Hannah and Eli. These shepherds – mother and priest – taught the prophet about prayer. As he grows and receives his vocation, the prophet himself becomes a teacher of prayer.
In this way, we see how the spiritual life is an on-going process of an exchange of spiritual goods. One person teaching another, who then teaches another. The process continues as long as some are willing to teach and others are willing to learn.
The Catechism concludes its example on Samuel: “Later, he will also learn the cost and consequences of intercession: ‘Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.’”
The Catechism is quoting from the prophet’s farewell address as he’s dying. He saw the fall of King Saul, the moral struggles of David, and the waywardness of God’s people, and yet he never wavered in interceding and calling king and people back to God. In this way, the prophet learned the “cost and consequences” of praying and offering supplication for others.
The example of the shepherds and prophets are needed by those who desire to pray. No one is above instruction, and everyone needs guidance when it comes to walking the way of prayer and seeking the depths of the spiritual life.
God made a covenant with a people, and a community of people is exactly what’s needed if we are to learn how to pray and seek the face of God.
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