“This is how you are to pray” Matthew 6:9
As a Passionist priest, I have given many a retreat conference on prayer, as well as some workshops on how to pray. There have also been many a conversation with people who wanted help with their prayer life. As I look back on these talks and conferences and conversations, I am not so sure how beneficial they were. So many times I approached this subject as a “teacher” and my objective was to help people learn how to pray in different ways.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus winding up his comments on prayer. It seems that he must have been reflecting on his experience of how people around him prayed every day. First, he describes the way many people were praying. Then, instead of giving another lecture on prayer, he gave his followers an example of how to pray by praying. What a great example this is for all of us!
There are certain kinds of prayers that are easy to recite. We can memorize them and then say them over and over again. And there are certain kinds of prayers that are experiences rather than litanies of prayers. The Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass is an example of this. The New Sacramentary that came out a couple of years ago gives us an awareness of just how many ways there are to pray a sacred prayer. These Eucharistic prayers emphasize aspects of our relationship to God and with each other. They connect us with our God in special ways. Truly they are prayer experiences.
My own personal experience of praying, I suspect, is similar to the vast majority of people who try to pray daily. There are some days that are better than others. But having the “Our Father” as the example of how we are to pray is so helpful, because we can begin to reflect on Jesus’ relationship with his Father and his desire for all of us: God’s will be done everywhere. This is not an asking prayer for those things of life that have no major consequence for us. We are to ask for our daily bread and that is truly all of the material things we need to ask for. We are also to ask for grace, the grace to forgive, the grace to avoid temptation and the grace to be delivered from all evil. What more do we need in this life?
My experience tells me that we will never learn how to pray successfully. However, we can try each day to pray better. Each day is a day to acknowledge God as our Father and to praise his holy name. Each day is a day to seek the Will of God. Each day is a day to ask for our daily bread. Each day is a day to ask for forgiveness and to extend unconditional forgiveness to those who have wronged us. Each day is a day we need help in avoiding temptation and to be delivered from evil. That is why we need to pray each and every day.
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Mater Dolorosa Community in Sierra Madre, California.