Do We Know How to Pray? - Lin Wilder
Do we know how to pray?
The blue-jacketed 40 Days for Life prayer warrior approached the driver of the car leaving the San Antonio Planned Parenthood building with her small pink bag of free gifts. I watched as the young woman’s face contorted in rage. Rolling down her window and using her middle finger as emphasis to words I didn’t need to hear, she shouted at Racquel. Then angrily drove away. Walking back to where I stood praying, Racquel was smiling.
“It’s all good. I’ve done worse. I used to be there, too. One day she’ll see.”
Prayer is the fulcrom of Lent, of our life as Christians. But recent readings in the litrugy make me wonder , “Do we know how to pray.”
These past weeks in the Christian liturgy, we read first Daniel’s prayer:
I, Daniel, understood… that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes….
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws…Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you.
You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster…Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him…”
Daniel is the quintessence of holiness, purity and trust in his Lord. His refusal of unclean food, gifts of prophecy and counsel to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar reveal a man of holiness. And yet he places himself in the collective with his passionate entreaties to the Lord for mercy. “We have been wicked and rebelled…”
Then last week,
we read of Esther and her mission to save her nation. I know a little about Esther because she appeared in my head a couple of years ago and stayed there for nearly a year.
A novel about her life.
Stepping out past the courtyard into the chariot, I felt the prayers of my people lifting me up. See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I’m setting before you today?…
I felt a chill, for autumn had arrived. The sun was rising slowly behind me, and every nerve I possessed seemed to stand on end.
Am I afraid to die? No. The Lord has placed me here in this place and in this time.
They’re brought to us each Lent, Daniel and Esther. Because they are prophets, they speak for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And they carry their sinful nation on their backs.
This Lent of 2023, I read their prayers and wonder: do we know how to pray?
Specifically, am I doing my part of carrying the sins of our nation on my back? Much of my prayer is words. Devotionals like the Liturgy of the, Rosary, Auxilium Christianorum, Divine Mercy Chaplet and the like.
Recently. I read three of New York Rabbi Jonathan Cahn’s books. Each confirmed a longheld belief: 21st century America and ancient Israel are mirror images of one another.
Both nations chosen and prodigiously blessed by God.
Each country turning its back on our Creator and prostituting itself with the gods of pride, lust, wealth, greed and power—stomping on His Law.
I trust in the power of my prayers…but, is there more?
On the Friday after Ash Wednesday, the second reading was from a homily by Saint John Chrysostom, Prayer is the light of the spirit. He begins by talking about prayer as a supreme good…calling it a partnership and union with God. And qualifies his statements:
I do not mean the prayer of outward observance but prayer from the heart, not confined to fixed times or periods but continuous throughout the day and night…Prayer stands before God as an honored ambassador. It gives joy to the spirit, peace to the heart. I speak of prayer, not words…[italics mine]
It is the longing for God, love too deep for words, a gift not given by man but by God’s grace. The apostle Paul says: We do not know how we are to pray but the Spirit himself pleads for us with inexpressible longings.
Prayer is the light of the Spirit
Yes, there’s more. But it isn’t coming easily. But then, nothing worth doing is easy.
Pope Francis exhorts us to pray for the grace of combative hope. This spiritual hope is much more than mere optimism. It is not full of fan-fare, nor is it afraid of silence. Rather, it penetrates deep down within us, like sap in winter roots. Hope is certain, and it is the Father of Truth who gives it to us. Hope discerns between good and evil. It does not worship at the altar of success: falling into optimism; nor is it content with failure: wallowing in pessimism. Because hope discerns between good and evil, it is called to do combat. Yet it fights without anxiety or illusion, with the assurance of one who knows that he pursues a sure goal…