What is the goal of prayer?
December 19, 2019
We continue our discussion of the Spanish bishops’ document, “My Soul Thirsts for God, for the Living God,” with an examination of the goal of prayer. Why do we pray? What do we hope to gain?
Prayer “is an act of trust in God” (“My Soul Thirsts,” no. 29). When trouble and anxiety hit us, we turn to God for help. Sometimes we see an immediate answer. Other times, God keeps us waiting, or does not answer in the way we desired. Perseverance in prayer at such times shows that we are learning to surrender ourselves into the hands of God. “Conversely, the abandonment of prayer is evidence of a weak and inconstant faith” (ibid.). We pray not only for a relief from anxiety, but for an increase of faith and the grace to persevere.
Prayer also increases our hope (no. 30). Only a relationship with God through Christ can fulfill our deepest desires. Again, in difficult times, “prayer gives us the certainty that we are not alone, that we are heard, that there is an absolute Hope, although many of the concrete and partial hopes that characterize our life have not been fulfilled” (ibid.). It helps us to move from desiring good things from God to desiring God himself. In doing so, prayer prepares us for a greater union with him.
Finally, prayer is an act of love and helps our love to deepen. The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts, enabling us to pray when we do not know how to address God. “He guides us inwardly so that we may enter the deepest part of the same life of the Trinitarian God that is love” (no. 31). God is a personal being, not a mere life force nor a state of mind. In prayer we come to know him as three Persons. We begin to love the Father with the Son’s love, through the Holy Spirit.
Faith, hope and love are the three theological virtues. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the theological virtues relate directly to God. They are infused by him through the sacraments and through deep prayer. All the other virtues stem from these three. Without them, we cannot truly serve God or act in accordance with his will (nos. 1812-13).
The bishops of Spain write, “When it is authentic, Christian prayer carries inseparably with it the love of God and love of neighbor. A genuine relationship with God must be verified in our lives” (“My Soul Thirsts,” no. 32). If our spiritual practices cause us to feel contempt for others, disregarding the poor, for example, those practices are suspect. Authentic Christian prayer is validated in love of neighbor, most particularly in our eagerness to share the Gospel with others.
The goal of Christian prayer, then, is intimacy with the Holy Trinity through grace. God is always at the center of prayer (no. 28). The encounter with him changes every relationship in our lives. It makes us children of God who resemble our Father.