Prayer. We all know we should pray. The problem is that we don’t tend to do it very often. And when we do pray, it is usually when our back is up against a wall, and we don’t know what else to do. Then, I suspect, we feel a little bit guilty. We come to God mostly when we’re in trouble, and we know that we should be praying all the time, every day.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to his disciples and to us about prayer. He is well aware of the problem, the reluctance we· have in praying. The problem is not one of technique. It will not be solved by the countless resolutions we have made to have that daily quiet time with God - resolutions we routinely break. Jesus’ words reveal the source of the problem with prayer to be a problem of relationship, a problem of faith, of trust. Prayer, you see, arises out of relationship of trust, out of knowing God as our Father and ourselves as his dearly loved children. When we live in that relationship, prayer blossoms of its own accord. We chatter on endlessly to God then, just as children run on when they are with their parents.
With their parents. We have a problem of not seeing that we are always with the Father. He is always with us. We forget that, and that is one reason why our prayer life falters. I don’t know how many times I have read the Scripture where Jesus says: “Even the hairs of your head are numbered.” I know that I used to think that meant God, way up in heaven, far away, knew in his divine knowing even the number of my hairs - like some distant computer bank simply chocked full of information about us down here on earth. I think I was missing the point. The point Jesus was trying to get across is that the Father is not far away. The Father walks with us and we walk with him. He is so close to us that He counts our hairs. He is that near!
Prayer is talking to God the way a little one talks to mother or father. Such prayer bubbles up of its own accord when we remember that we are always walking in His sight, that He never leaves us, never forsakes us. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that. Remember that the words that he speaks in today’s Gospel were spoken on the night of his betrayal. He is not going to be with the disciples in the same way that he had been with them before. The cross and the empty tomb, the death and resurrection of Jesus, will bring a change in the manner of His presence. He will no longer be with them in the same way. But the Father’s presence which Jesus had sought to show them, to teach them, that will not change. The Father will be by them, with them, even through the dark days and hours ahead, and He’s just waiting for them to realize it and talk to him.
You see, Jesus did many wonderful things in the presence of the disciples. Miracles. Teachings that astounded and awed them. But only one thing that Jesus did moved the disciples to ask: “Teach us to do that too. Like you do.” That one thing was prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus prayed like no one had ever prayed before. Jesus spoke to the Father in the complete assurance of the Father’s acceptance and love. Jesus spoke to the Father not as to some absent deity, but as to a lovingly present parent. “Teach us to do that too.”
Jesus spent three years teaching them. He spoke to the Father constantly. In the middle of a conversation with them, he would lift his eyes and speak to the Father and then turn right back and speak to the disciples. He took prayer out from the temple and onto the streets; out from the synagogues and into the homes. He showed them that prayer wasn’t religious - in the sense of being something that was confined only to certain areas of our life. Prayer was a conversation with the Father that goes on wherever you happen to be. It doesn’t need a special time or a special place. All times and all places are prayer times and prayer places because the Father walks with you wherever you may go.
Think of what that means for us! Prayer is talking to God as his much loved child in the middle of your work day, as you’re driving the car, as you’re washing the dishes, as you’re plowing your fields, as you’re eating your meals, and as you’re lying down to sleep at night or waking up in the morning. Prayer is such speaking to the Father when you realize He is with you wherever you go and whatever you are doing. Prayer is the confession that you live in the presence of the Father.
And Jesus says that all talk to the Father is made in Jesus’, name. “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full.” The joy that is in the name of Jesus is that we have a confident access to His Father as our Father. He is the Only Begotten Son of the Father. He invites us into His relationship with the Father, calls us His brothers, His sisters. Makes us coheirs with Him - all that is His, He gives to us. His Father He makes our Father. His home He makes our home. His Kingdom, He makes our kingdom. That is what Baptism is all about.
When we make our prayer then, in the name of Jesus, we are acknowledging that we have a Father in heaven who loves us and who regards us as his very own children all for the sake of Jesus Christ. Jesus came forth from the Father a single Son, an only Child. He returns with joy to the Father, and through cross and resurrection brings with Him many sisters and brothers, a whole family.
When our prayer is anchored in the name of Jesus we speak to the Father with absolute confidence and boldness. We know that He loves us, that He hears us, that He answers us for sure. Our sureness is based solidly on the fact that Jesus has brought us into this relationship with His Father and has told us to make ourselves at home.
The Church as the children of the family is marked by her family rituals. We talk to our Father together at certain times and at certain times we talk to our Father alone. The catechism teaches us to remember that we are God’s children by reciting the name that made us God’s children in our Baptism and by retracing the sign of the holy cross by which we were redeemed and then to talk to Him when we get up in the morning and receive a new day of grace from His loving hand: to thank Him for keeping us safely through the night and to ask that He would keep us also through the day that our life may please Him. The catechism teaches us to remember that we are God’s beloved children and to talk to Him whenever we receive the gift of food and drink from his hand, when we sit at table and when we rise from the table, saying thank you! The catechism teaches us to remember that we are God’s beloved children by reciting the name that made us His children and by retracing the sign of the holy cross by which we were redeemed and to talk to Him at night, when we are ready to lay down our bodies and rest: then we ask for his forgiveness for all the times we have failed to live as His children during the day just past and we ask for His loving protection through the night.
That is the basic framework of each day. By framing the day with prayer and punctuating it with prayer at the moments when we receive God’s gifts, the Catechism would teach us to live our lives in the presence of a loving heavenly Father, confident of the Father’s love because of the salvation won for us by Jesus Christ. Fullness of joy will be ours indeed when we remember who we are: children of the heavenly Father, who take God up on His invitation to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.