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Bible Alive is a Catholic scripture magazine which draws its strength, inspiration and direction from the liturgical cycle. Latest edition out now.

The Gift of Prayer in the Year of Mercy

The Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis is on the horizon. Beginning on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, it will be a time of special and extraordinary blessing for the Church and each of us individually.

However, as St Augustine commented, ‘God created us without us; but he did not will to save us without us.’ In other words, we are called to participate and respond to the invitations of the Holy Spirit as we move through our day.

Of course, the blessing available to us throughout the Holy Year is that we grow and deepen our understanding of God as Merciful Father. This is another way of saying that we would grow in our knowledge of God’s love for God’s love is merciful and his mercy is loving. St John of the Cross taught that in the evening of our lives we will be judged on love, and so living a life of love is what it means to live a life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We can only love if we know we are loved; we can only give mercy if we ourselves have received mercy; we can only find the strength to forgive if we live with a lively sense of being forgiven. For it is in loving that we are loved, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven and it is in giving mercy that we receive mercy.

But how do we know and experience this blessing? We can only truly come to know and experience God’s love and mercy in prayer. Prayer is the meeting place between ourselves and God. It is where we come into his presence, rest in his peace and are embraced by his love.
Bible Alive is rooted in the Scriptures from the daily liturgy but we can only truly plumb their depths and enter their mystery through the gift of prayer.

Gift-of-Prayer_2But which comes first? Faith or understanding? Understanding or faith? St Anselm answered this quandary many centuries ago when he wrote, ‘Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.’ Belief or faith is fuelled by prayer. The Year of Mercy will offer us a unique opportunity to experience a renewed interior life, the life of prayer, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, our prayer life cannot fail to be renewed as we realize the great thirst of God, revealed by Jesus, for us all to come close to him in prayer and the amazing truth that even our smallest efforts unite us with the prayer of Jesus himself to the Father.

In January 2001 Pope John Paul II wrote a very beautiful and powerful letter to the Church. It was called ‘At the beginning of the New Millennium’ (Novo millennio ineunte). In this letter he was setting out a vision for the renewal of the Church and her mission for this new millennium. Among the things he spoke about was the call to prayer. He said that ‘prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the Divine Beloved [Jesus], vibrating at the Spirit’s touch, resting filially within the Father’s heart’ (para. 33).

There is perhaps no better summary of the content of the Catechism’s teaching on Christian prayer. The Pope also said that ‘learning this Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer and living it fully, above all in the liturgy…but also in personal experience, is the secret of a truly vital Christianity’ (para. 32).

At the heart of Christian prayer are the following central themes:
• God is Most Holy and Blessed Trinity, Three Persons in One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
• The Person of Christ. Christian prayer is essentially a sharing in the prayer of Christ.
• The paschal mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
• The dignity of the human person. We are created in the image and likeness of God.

God thirsts for us and longs for us to enjoy, in ever-deeper measure, a close and intimate relationship with him. Jesus asked the woman of Samaria for drink even as he thirsted to give her salvation. ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water’ (John 4:10). Jesus thirsts to give us his life-giving Spirit, the Spirit that cries out within us, ‘Abba, Father.’ From the gift of the Spirit flows the gift of prayer. Yet a gift is not fully a gift until it is opened, accepted and rejoiced in, and the giver thanked. We must respond to God’s gift. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ‘Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort’ (para. 2725), and, ‘In order to pray, one must have the will to pray’ (para. 2650).

Gift-of-Prayer_3There is within each of us, as St Augustine says, a restlessness, an ache or itch: ‘our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in you’ (CCC 30). This desire, yes thirst, has been put there by the good Creator. We were created to know and love God. As the Psalmist prays, ‘my soul thirsts for thee…in a dry and weary land’ (Ps. 63:1). Jesus invites us to drink at the wellspring of prayer and gave us the gift of the Spirit to comfort us, console us and to give us the grace to pray. The Holy Spirit is the interior Master of Christian prayer and, although God created us without us, he needs us to co-operate and collaborate with him as we pursue a life of prayer.

The battle to prayer is a real and daily one. Jesus taught us that we should pray and not give up (Luke 18:1). We need many gifts of the Spirit to help us to engage in the battle of prayer. We need the gift of perseverance, endurance, the ability to manage our time and the wisdom to find the right place to pray. Many today say things like, ‘My life is a prayer, I am too busy to set aside a special time’, or, ‘My good works and my acts of charity are my prayer.’ Of course, during our day we can offer up prayers and it is right and proper that we should. And, without a doubt, acts of love and charity are a kind of prayer.

However, there can be no substitute for carving out time to be still and to be with the Lord. When we do this we allow ourselves to hear the Lord speak to us. When the young St Francis of Assisi was praying before the crucifix in the little chapel of San Damiano, he heard Christ crucified call him by name, saying: ‘Francis, go and repair my house, which, as you see, is falling completely into ruin.’ Francis initially took this to mean a literal rebuilding of the church at San Damiano. However, through prayer and by contemplating these words of Christ spoken to him personally, he began to understand the Lord was talking to him about not just the building but the whole mystery of the Church on earth.

The building of the Church is not simply a construction of bricks and mortar but of prayer, of love for God and a raising up of our hearts and minds in love and worship of God. St Francis used to say to his followers: ‘What is in your heart?’ It is through prayer and in reading God’s Word that we come to know what is in our own heart and in this knowledge we come before God as beggars. We also come to know something of God’s heart. And in this knowledge and understanding we raise our hearts and minds in praise and worship of the Living God. God’s Spirit was sent to help us in our weaknesses and need. The truth is that we often don’t know how to pray as we ought to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us, gives us his strength and pours into our hearts the love of God.

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