Teach us to Pray
“TEACH US TO PRAY”
Let me begin with a confession.
Many years ago, as a young and inexperienced newly ordained priest, I
was approached by a member of my parish youth group who asked me
two simple questions: “Father, how do you pray and can you teach me
to pray?”. To my shame, all I did was reach up to the bookshelf and
hand him a book about prayer. That is not what he asked me; . his
questions were more personal, more intimate.
I recall the occasion when Jesus went off to pray alone and after
he returned, his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And so he did,
beginning with the greatest insight of all, that in prayer we can and must
call on God as “Our Father”.
Prayer is as important to the human spirit as air is to the lungs and food
is to the stomach. People who do not eat, starve. Likewise, people who do
not pray are left spiritually under-nourished. We suffer from spiritual
malnutrition if we do not set aside time to be with and to listen to God in
prayer. Sure, many of us pray in the morning or evening. But
if we are honest, we may have to admit that these prayers have become
routine and rushed—. They have no heart.
To put heart into prayer, spiritual writers today emphasize the importance
of breathing. That simply means that our breath and God’s
breath inter-penetrate through the working of the Holy Spirit, who as the
Bible teaches us, is the “Ruah Elohim” (Hebrew), the very Breadth of God.
It all began when God breathed life into clay. God’s breath puts life into
us. This is the purpose of prayer: to come alive, to sing of the glory of
God, to trust in the mercy and providence of God, and above all, to live
our life in God!
The spiritual writer, Daniel O’Leary puts it this way: “We come into
this world on the breath of God’s compassion, and we go out of this world
on the breath of God’s mercy.”
Since my failure as a newly ordained priest in dealing with a young man
who asked me to help him to pray, I have come to value the importance
of humility, simplicity, and openness in teaching prayer. I say humility
because it is not my work. Prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit whom St
Paul tells us, ‘“comes to help us in our weakness and prays within us with
sighs too deep for words.’”
True prayer is always a gift of the Holy Spirit, leading us, teaching us,
praying in us, and using us to pray for others.
Fr. Larry Kaufmann CSsR