Witness

Christian prayer is a great gift

Last time, we began exploring the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on prayer. We saw that prayer involves both the mind and the heart. Today we delve into what it means to say that prayer is a gift.

The Catechism begins the section “Prayer as God’s gift” with this quote from St. John Damascene: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (no. 2559). As we saw previously, prayer begins below the surface. “Humility is the foundation of prayer” (ibid.). We cannot raise our hearts and minds to God unless we acknowledge that he is infinitely above us.

Some new forms of prayer, like the Eastern meditation techniques that they resemble, lead to the idea that we are already one with God; we only have to become aware of it. Instead of conversion, they focus on consciousness. Teachers of these methods reject the idea that we can be separated from God, even though the Catechism speaks of this separation: “The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (no. 1035). Separation from God comes about through sin (see no. 1263).

Truly Christian prayer has humility as its very foundation. We must recognize that we are not divine. Far from being in union with God, we are born with original sin, separated from God until baptism. Following baptism, we must live in God’s grace or risk the eternal separation of hell. A gulf exists between God and humanity. Only Jesus, as both God and Man, can bridge that gulf. Through his death and resurrection, we can come back into union with God. We dare to address God in prayer, not by trying to assume his level, but by accepting the fact that he came down to our level. He took on a human nature for our sake. Without Jesus, prayer would be fruitless.

Salvation is a pure gift. We can do nothing to achieve it on our own. We must, however, receive it, welcome it. Likewise, prayer is a gift. The Catechism quotes St. Paul, who taught that we do not even know how to pray properly without the aid of the Holy Spirit (no. 2560, citing Rom 8:26). We rely on God to give us the words to talk to him! And what does the Holy Spirit teach us? He teaches us to call God our Father (Rom 8:15-17).

So also, Jesus taught us. As we shall see in a future column, Jesus’ prayer and teaching about prayer focused on our filial relationship with God. Through faith in Jesus, we share in his Sonship. We become God’s children. As children, we are required to listen, to be obedient, to respect and honor God, and to be grateful for all that he has done and will do for us. We recognize also that God is not obligated to answer our prayers in the way we think is best. He “knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8). He answers prayer out of love and care for us.

Christian prayer is a great gift. God enables sinful humans to return to an intimate relationship with him, helping us every step of the way. He gives us the gift of prayer and teaches us how to practice it. May we humbly accept his teaching and his love.

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.