Ps 138 R/. On the day I called, O Lord, you answered me.
Last week, in my homily I shared about how we’re called to offer our sufferings to Jesus in prayer. Today, in our Gospel today, Jesus gives us a lesson in prayer. Through two short parables, Jesus shows us that He wants us to turn to Him in prayer. God wants us to pray to Him; He wants us ask for mercy, for grace, for help, for the Holy Spirit. That’s because He is the friend who won’t turn us away, He is the Father who won’t give us a snake. Ask, and it will be given; search, and you will find… [H]ow much more will the heavenly Father give [you] the Holy Spirit… (Lk 11: )
You see, prayer is about talking with God, a conversation between friends. And like any conversation with a friend, prayer is about ‘dialogue over time’. The more time we spend together talking and listening, the deeper the friendship gets and the stronger it becomes. This is what God wants with us! A strong, deep, intimate friendship with us.
In spending this time together with God we come to know Him and ourselves. Time in prayer opens our hearts to see God, to hear Him. It opens our hearts and minds to His love and to the demands of that Love. It forms and informs our conscience about what’s good and what’s evil.
But praying isn’t just about reciting specific prayers; there’s a difference between ‘saying prayers’ and ‘praying’. Formulated prayers are good, but they’re meant to lead us into a more profound interior movement of the heart and mind toward God. They set the tone and focus our attention so that we can learn to speak from the heart, because that’s what lovers do, they speak heart to heart, and this is what God wants from us.
Jesus wants us to share with Him what’s on our hearts: our joys and our sufferings, our dreams and hopes, our fears and disappointments, our frustrations and successes. He wants us to talk with Him in the very same way that we talk with family or friends: heart speaking to heart, with the full honesty and vulnerability that this requires. Jesus already knows what’s going on in your life and in your heart; you can’t hide anything from Him. But He respects you and won’t intrude, that’s why He invites you to share yourself with Him. And this is the goal of prayer.
But as with any relationship, this emotional and spiritual intimacy is only built up over time and with the frequency of our visits. It doesn’t happen with a ‘one-off’, but through repetition as the relationship grows and develops, and goes deeper and deeper the more time is spent together in conversation, in talking and listening. And this is exactly what Jesus wants with each of us: an intimate relationship rooted in His love for us that builds up and strengthens our love for Him. That’s why prayer is the life-blood of the Christian life; without it, we have no real relationship to God; without it, we aren’t grafted to Christ; without it, we have no way of knowing Him. So what’s the best way to build such a relationship? What’s a good way to begin this kind of prayer? Here are four easy steps:
Now, it’s important not to try to take on too much. Every relationship begins with small steps. In prayer, that means we don’t try and take an hour the first time we sit down, and we don’t try to cram everything in. So first, set aside a specific amount of time in a quiet place, free of distractions. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and your Bible, sit in your favourite chair, and shut off your phone for ten minutes. Or even come by the church during office hours.
I recommend starting with a decade of the Rosary as a way to compose yourself and focus your heart and thoughts on Jesus. Then call on the Holy Spirit: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, open my heart, fill me with your love; bring Jesus to me and me to Jesus’, or something like that.
Second, tell Jesus about what’s going on in your life. What are the good things happening? What are the struggles you’re facing? What are your needs, your concerns? Tell Him what’s on your heart, and ask Him to be with you in each of those things.
Third, open up your Bible. Conversation isn’t just about talking; it also about listening. The Bible is God’s Word for us; through it, Jesus speaks to us, so it’s important to include the Bible in prayer. Begin with the Mass readings of the day, or with the Gospel of Luke or one of Paul’s Letters. Carefully read one paragraph, or a single story or event. Reread it again slowly. Then in silence, ask something like: ‘Jesus, what are you trying to tell me in this passage? What are you trying to teach me? What does this reveal about you? About me?’ Slowly reread the passage again. If a phrase, a word, an event or an image from that passage catches your attention, go with it. Focus on that and ask Jesus these questions again. Then, in silence and stillness, give Him the space and the time to answer. Give this at least three minutes to start.
Fourth, thank Jesus for the gift of this time together, for His love, and for anything He’s given you in that time. Then present Him with some intentions, some prayer requests for other people, and finish with an Our Father. This can all be done in about ten minutes or so, but you need to do it frequently, working up to doing it everyday.
It can even be done in a group. Do it as a family once a week, using the next Sunday’s Gospel and share your insights. It’s a great way to prepare for Mass.
At first, it might seem awkward or forced, but prayer is also an art. It takes practice, and the more you do it, the easier and the more natural it becomes. In fact, the more you do it, the more time you’ll want to give to it; let it grow as the relationship grows.
Jesus loves you and wants you to come to know and experience this love. He wants to tell you how much He loves you and wants you to come to know Him as a living person, not just an idea. All of this is the goal of prayer, and prayer is the only means by which it can be done. May we all make the time, then, to be with God in prayer, to speak with Him from the heart, to listen to Him with the heart, and allow Him share His love with us. Amen.