Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Hypocrites pray loudly and at length in the synagogues and on street corners so that they can be heard and admired. When their piety is praised, Jesus say, “They have received their reward;” that is, the praise of men is all these phonies really want, and they get it. If we're to avoid praying like the hypocrites, we must go into our inner room to pray. Why secret ourselves away while praying? Jesus says, “. . .[b/c] your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Thus, our lives in Christ cannot be double-hearted or double-minded. Only with the clarity and focus of the mind of Christ can we live lives of sacrificial love. Christian prayer then has an overriding purpose: to nurture the humble heart and eager mind of a person who knows and loves God as the source and summit of his/her very existence. Jesus tells us not to babble on like the pagans but rather to ask for what we need b/c the Father knows our needs before we ask. If this is true, then why pray at all? Why ask God for what we need if He already knows what we need? By asking for what we need, we acknowledge that we need and that God is the source of our fulfillment.
Why ask God for what we need if He already knows what we need? Asked this way, the question assumes that the only purpose of prayer is to get something that we need. Since God already knows our needs, and yet we are taught to pray for what we need anyway, there must be some other purpose to praying. There is: we pray so that we might grow in humility—that is, we pray so that the reality of our total dependence on God for everything we are and everything we have might free us from selfishness and make sacrificial love a joyous feature of our daily lives. In other words, the act of asking for what need is itself an admission that we have needs that we cannot provide for ourselves. By asking, we confess our dependence on God and recognize that He is the source of all that we call Good. How much easier is it to sacrifice when you know that nothing you have is truly yours? When everything you have and everything you are is a freely given gift given to you so that you might give it away in turn? Prayer provides us with the practice we need to perfect a life lived for others in sacrifice. So, we don't pray in order to get the stuff we need. We pray in order to build up the humility necessary to excel as instruments of God's love on earth.
How can the prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples lead us deeper into humility and thus prepare us to live in sacrificial love? Our Lord instructs us how to pray in a series of petitions: give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. All of these petitions come after we acknowledge that the Father's name is holy, and that we long for His will to be done here among us as it is done in heaven. Everything we say in this prayer and believe as a result of this prayer makes it absolutely clear that we are totally dependent on God, completely reliant on His providential care. We need Him for our daily existence; for the forgiveness of our sins; so that we might forgive the sins of others; as a defense against temptation; and we need Him to rescue us from evil. The difference between thriving in creation and dissolving into an abyss is the compassionate care our Creator gives to His creatures. The sooner we acknowledge this truth and begin to live our lives with this truth front and center, the sooner we begin to flourish in humility, and to practice the holy art of loving through surrender and sacrifice. Ask for all that you think you need and then receive the only One you truly need.
Feedback is always welcomed and appreciated!