Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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Countless writings today underline the urgency for our modern world, in all of its hustle and bustle, to rediscover the value of meditation, silence and prayer. Secular man has become aware of how little power he has, in spite of all the power that he does have. Faced with war, pollution, racial strife, violence and hatred he realizes that there are demonic forces at work that may destroy him unless some superior power intervenes.

Prayer which is acknowledging our dependence does not come easy to secular man who wants to be independent. Yet he feels his contingency, his limitations, and his desire for the necessary and the ultimate. No matter how marvelous his control over the forces of nature, the powers of life and death still escape his control, and he knows deep in his heart that they always will. It is through prayer that he can genuinely express his conviction about his origin and his destiny and the inner possibility of self-realization and authentic deliverance from his fundamental impotency.

So there is a great interest in prayer today. Not so long ago we left prayer for work. Our work became our prayer. Production and achievement determined our value and our success. Some of us even became workaholics. Now, with crisis after crisis facing us here and abroad, we realize that we have labored all night and caught nothing.

So we have returned to prayer. Not that we are neglecting our work. It is not a question of work or prayer but of both work and prayer. Now we realize that the most effective and productive work is that which is the fruit of prayer. We are no longer contemptible in action but contemplative in action.

Strange as it may seem, the interest in prayer today is not so much in prayer as an exercise of religion, the interest is in the effect of prayer. Some use prayer as a means of personal health and happiness. Others see prayer as a means of developing their human potential; as a means of success in athletics, business, politics or in the social world. Still others see prayer as a welcome relief from the tensions of the hustle and bustle of the daily rat race. All of these benefits are, of course, a by-product, a marvelous side effect, of communicating with God, our first beginning and our last end. The Sermon on the Mount teaches us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you besides.” Matt. 6:33

What is prayer? How did prayer begin? Whose idea was it? Was it the idea of Abraham, of Moses, of Isaiah, of Simon Peter? No, it was God’s idea. To understand what prayer is and how important it is, it is necessary to realize that prayer was God’s idea. Genesis tells us that in the beginning God created light, the universe, plants, fish, birds and animals. And he saw that it was good. But it was an impersonal world, a world that was determined by physical, chemical and biological laws and instinct. In this world there was no one with whom he could have a personal relationship; no one with whom he could communicate. So God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” And so he did.

Now he had someone with whom he could have a personal relationship. Now he had a partner in dialogue; someone to whom he could speak, and someone who could understand and respond freely without compulsion. Then he looked at everything and saw that it was very good. This personal relationship, this communication, this dialogue between the Creator and the creature is what is meant by prayer. Since God can read our minds and hearts this prayer can be done through silence as well as through words, thoughts, affections of the will and actions.

The importance of prayer is that God wants it and we need it. We need it to be our true self. God is the source of all reality, the really real. To be out of touch with God is to be out of touch with reality, to live in a world of fantasy, a world of creatures without a Creator. Prayer is not only our greatest need it is also our greatest privilege and highest dignity. We are most God-like and most human when we pray. Prayer is the interaction of the two most powerful forces in the world: God’s relentless search for us and our insatiable desire for God.

God is love. Our personal relationship with God is a relationship of love. The first and the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matt. 22: 37. So love is the first and the greatest prayer. All other prayer flows from love. And we can pray always simply by being-in-love.

No one can teach us how to pray. Prayer is as natural and as spontaneous as breathing. And prayer is as necessary to our spiritual life as breathing is to our physical life. Each person is unique and each one prays in a unique way. And it is a way that each one has to discover for himself. We are all beginners in prayer and we will always be beginners in prayer. We are continually discovering how to pray. The life of prayer is full of surprises.


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