"In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words."
- Matthew 6:7
In today's gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. It looks a little like the directions given with almost any paper assigned at Saint Louis University. Our teachers give us the topic and the expectations, reminding us that we should not think that the grade on the paper depends on the number of words or the number of pages, but the content. Jesus reminds the disciples that it is not the length of a prayer that matters, it is the content.
He then gives them an example of what a prayer may be, and teaches them the prayer we know as the Our Father. It is a simple prayer. It begins by stating that we believe our relationship with God to be like a loving father ... a father who has power over all of heaven and earth. We then ask for those things we always need and for forgiveness for all those things we have or have not done. We ask to remain connected with Him, even though we may not always do what is best for this relationship ... or what is good for us.
Though this is a short and simple prayer, it remains the prime example of prayer for most Christians. St. Ignatius, asked the people participating in his Spiritual Exercises to recite this prayer slowly, reflecting on the powerful meaning of each word. He wanted people to find what he found: prayer does not need to be a particular form, or even done in a particular posture or style. He reminds us that praying is simply talking and listening with God. Its purpose is equally simple: for us to build our awareness of God. The words, the length of time we spend is not the most important consideration. The content, the heart of prayer, the relationship we develop and increase, are the important considerations.
For many of us, we try to pray and we may believe it's not working. We get involved in the words we think we need to say, or the posture we believe we need to assume. The words, the acts, get in the way of really praying. Our concern about doing it correctly gets in the way of its clear and simple purpose
. We are tempted to think that if we do not do it right, God will not listen to us, God will not answer us. We make prayer more complex than what prayer is.
As we continue to celebrate Lent, let us remember that our prayer is meant to help us become closer to God — something St. Ignatius learned and taught us all ... something Jesus tries to teach his disciples today.
If Jesus was asked how to pray today, he may have borrowed the phase from Nike ... Just do it. Let us remember that to pray well is to connect with God, in whatever form — words or action — it may take.
Just do it.
May God bless you,
and may your prayer be filled with God's presence.
D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.