Pray like Jesus
How should we start a new calendar year in our discussion of prayer? How better than by looking at how Jesus prayed while on earth?
Jesus prayed as a man, being fully human. He gave us an example to follow. But he also prayed as God the Son, addressing his prayers to the Father. In the life of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit eternally commune with one another. It is a communion of perfect love. Jesus invites us into this communion. He enables us to enter it. We can commune with God through the sacraments and prayer.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of Jesus’ prayer in this way: “The Son of God who became Son of the Virgin also learned to pray according to his human heart. He learns the formulas of prayer from his mother, who kept in her heart and meditated upon all the ‘great things’ done by the Almighty” (no. 2599). To understand the way Jesus prayed, then, we must start with the prayer of Mary.
While our parents and teachers taught us to say Grace, the Hail Mary, and the Guardian Angel Prayer when we were little, Mary taught Jesus traditional Jewish prayers. The Jewish people memorized prayers to say throughout the day to help them bless God in all circumstances. They also prayed words from Scripture, particularly the Psalms. Mary had practiced these prayers all her life. She shared them with her son. Thus, like us, Jesus began with the type of prayer we call vocal prayer.
Mary’s instruction did not stop there, however. She also taught Jesus the next stage of prayer, meditation. Unlike the meditation of Buddhists, Hindus and others, Mary’s meditation involved pondering what God had done. God’s interventions in her life became her “treasures.” She not only thought about these “great things,” but she broke out into spontaneous praise of his goodness in her Magnificat. She was not seeking great intellectual insight in her prayer, nor was she overly focused on methods. Her prayer was a heartfelt “yes” to God’s will, a meditation on what God was saying to her through the events of her life and an outpouring of love.
The Catechism encourages us to imagine Mary passing on this deeper expression of prayer to her Son. Scripture does not give us many details about Jesus’ own mental prayer, the prayer of his heart. We can assume he began as his mother did, pondering the Father’s greatness and offering a fervent “yes” to all God was asking him at each particular moment.
Jesus withdrew often to pray silently by himself. Even though he was always in communion with God in his divine nature, he set aside time to be exclusively with his Father. He taught us that praying throughout the day, as vital as that is, is not enough to grow in relationship with God. We must take time to be alone with him.
Jesus also attended services at the local synagogue. He joined in the Jewish feasts, visiting the temple at Passover, for example. He showed us the importance of praying as a community, and of offering sacrifices to God.
The Catechism says, “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit” (no. 2565). If we want to have a continuing relationship with the Holy Trinity, we must cultivate prayer. The Mass, vocal prayer and mental prayer can each in their own way deepen our intimacy with God through Jesus.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.