Today’s Gospel from Luke (11:1-3) contains three distinct, yet interrelated, pieces: the teaching on proper prayer, the teaching on persistence, and the teaching on the giving of good gifts. Each section could be a homily in and of itself. Indeed, scripture scholars and Church Fathers have written extensively on the subjects contained in these 13 verses of sacred text.
Instead of trying to exegete (or “break open”) each of the sections, today’s column will instead focus on the common thread that links all of them together: the art of praying. Like music and medicine, prayer is an art. First, one needs to have a certain structure or method which frames the action of praying. Second, there are certain words or phrases that one uses to assist in formulating the prayer: These include the forms of address (Lord, Oh God, Our Father, Hail Mary, Come Holy Spirit, etc.), titles or designations (Almighty, All- Powerful, Full of Grace, Most Merciful, etc.), and certain phrases that remind us of what God has done in our lives (Oh God, as you did for your people at the Red Sea, so now deliver us…, etc.). Finally, prayer should be continual. It is not a one-time event; rather, prayer continues and is cyclic.
Like music or medicine, prayer takes practice in order to become proficient. As the old joke goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” To become skillful in any profession takes a lot of hard work and determination. So too in prayer: We don’t just pray once and expect miracles to happen. Instead, we pray constantly. The more we pray, the better we get. As St. Benedict observed in his Rule of Life: “prayer and work.” Our prayer takes work and practice and our work should become prayerful. They go hand in hand. Indeed, the entirety of our lives should become prayer.
Although I gave a clinical description of prayer in paragraph two, in reality, prayer is simply conversation with God as St. Theresa noted. Just as we have conversations with our friends and family, so too we should have conversations with God. Sometimes our conversations will be profound; sometimes silly. We may talk about serious subjects or we may focus on the mundane and ordinary. However, in whatever form our conversations occur, they need to take place. This is true in our human relationships; it is even more important in our relationship with God. In other words, how we pray is not as important as that we pray.
As we reflect on the Scriptures this week , I would suggest meditating on the famous line concerning persistence: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”