And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray (Mk 6:46). We often read in the Gospels that Jesus went off by himself to pray. I am sure this was not a practice that he began during his public ministry, but one that he learned and developed from Mary and Joseph. The Apostles themselves witnessed Jesus praying, and in the account of Luke 11:1, one of his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray.
Pope Francis in a general audience he gave in 2013 shared that, “the Church is apostolic because she is founded on the preaching and prayer of the apostles” (Francis 2014, 37). Jesus prayed, he taught his Apostles to pray, and we are at our best when we are people of prayer. We hear of prayer and that we need to pray, but what is prayer and how do we pray?
That we even desire to pray, that we even want to be closer to God is already a prayer. This is true because we are experiencing an invitation from God to draw close to him, to develop a relationship with him, to come to know the one who knows us better than we know our self. God is ever and always present.
Fr. William Barry in his book, God and You, describes how prayer is becoming consciously aware of our relationship with God. This helps to counter the idea that God is like a gumball machine in the sky, we just need to say the right types of prayers, be good, say them in the proper order and we will get what we want, we will be happy. “God is in relationship with each and every created thing in the universe and in relationship to the whole of it… whether that being is aware of the relationship or not.” The amazing thing about God is that “he will not force himself on us. He continually tries to arouse our awareness and interest in him” (Barry 1987, 12-13).
God reaches out to us in so many ways such as a majestic sunrise or sunset, the ebb and flow of the waves on a beach, and the brilliant radiance of a starlit sky. He can also do so through our trials of sickness, pain, others who are being hurt, or encountering injustice, he is also present through our every day relationships and experiences. The key is to be aware of what is being stirred up within us when we experience something and allow ourselves to “wonder about the experience and its meaning” (Barry, 13).
What is most important regarding becoming people of prayer is our awareness, our becoming conscious that we have a relationship with God. “This relationship is based on God’s actions to establish it and his desire that we become conscious of who he is and wants to be for us. Our consciousness depends on our willingness to pay attention to God’s actions, or at least to experiences that might be actions of God, and to let our desires for God be aroused” (Barry, 14).
Another question that Fr. Barry answers regarding prayer is that if God knows everything about us, why bother to pray at all? God is not just wanting information, he is inviting us to participate in a relationship. He wants to know whether we believe he cares how we feel and whether we are willing to let him in, to let him know what we feel and desire. We need to be honest in our dialogue of prayer and be willing to reveal something of ourselves, while at the same time, be open and willing to allow God to reveal what he seeks to reveal to us. This is how we build authentic relationships with God and each other (cf. Barry, 15).
Jesus, you invite us in so many small ways each day, though often, we allow our harried pace, distractions, temptations, and hard hearts to lead us away or block us from the gift of your presence. Please help us to slow down and rest in the wonder that God our Father is present to us and how the Holy Spirit is working in our life each and every day. Help us to realize we do not need to be perfect to come to you, to say the right words to be heard by you, nor to feel that we have to say any word at all, but we can just rest in your loving gaze. Help us to be conscious, to be aware of how much God cares about us, that God is interested in how we feel and what we think, that he cares. Help us to remember that we are all called to be holy, to be saints, to be mystics because you call each and every one of us to be in a relationship with you.
Photo: Fr. William Barry, SJ, (accessed from americamagazine.org) who went home to God this past December 18, 2020 at 90. May he now be at rest in God’s loving embrace.
Barry, William A. S.J. God and You: Prayer as a Personal Relationship by William Barry SJ. New York: Paulist Press, 1987.