Make it your care to pray without ceasing for prayer is light to the soul, and it acts as a guard to the body. Pray not just when you are standing in prayer, but also when you are moving around or doing something, and even when you are asleep, and when you are eating. When your mouth is occupied with nourishment, let your heart be occupied with prayer While your right hand is looking after your body’s needs at table, let your mind be given to praise and thanksgiving to him who provides for your needs. In this way your food will be blessed and hallowed in your body, without your being concerned about this.
(Babai of Nisibis, Letter to Cyriacus, ¶ 32)
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2559, emphasis in the original)
As he concludes his first letter to the Christians in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, Saint Paul gives them a series of brief instructions. Among other things he tells them:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
What do you think is the benefit of this advice?
A beggar approached a man, made a drammatic bow and seemed about to make a grand speech. She stopped herself, took a more natural attitude, and said sincerely, “I don’t know what I need, but you know what I need.” What parallels can you draw between this real-life event and our real-life prayer?
The Gospel for Sunday of the Sixteenth Week of Pentecost
Luke, the Evangelist, wrote:
[Jesus] told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Our prayers are not meant to move God or conform God to our will, but to conform our will to God’s will and conform our lives to Christ’s life.
In the prayer of the tax collector, we hear what could be the most common prayer: “Lord, have mercy!” These words are the basis of one of the oldest forms of quiet, meditative prayer in Eastern Christianity, the Jesus Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
have mercy on me a sinner!
What more do we need to ask of God?
A version of the Jesus Prayer in Arabic found in the old Monastery of Saint Elijah the Prophet in Wadi Qadisha, Lebanon. It translates as:
“Jesus, my Lord, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner, and save me.”
Some people are concerned about how to pray. They want to have just the right words and to inspire with their prayers. But Jesus teaches us that prayer should be simple and honest. Our prayers may move others, which is a wonderful grace; but it is not the point of prayer. It is not our responsibility to move and inspire others; that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus gave us the most excellent model for prayer. It is a prayer we should not only learn to repeat, but to live.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,*
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Cf. Matthew 6:9-13)
* In Syriac, the translation used by Maronites says “forgive us our debts and our goings astray.” In Arabic, the translation used by Maronites says “forgive us our sins and our goings astray.”
How do you understand our relationship with God as expressed in each phrase of the Lord’s prayer?
Monks and hermits
with the angels and the saints
sing their praise to God.
And like incense
offered to our Lord on high
their sweet prayers ascend
like the pure morning mist,
while they shine like the dawn
in the light of Christ.
(From the Qolo Hymn of the Prayer of Forgiveness, or Hoosoyo, for the Feast of the Saint Maron, Book of Offering)
When the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was to be the Mother of God, her response was:
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:37)
A Byzantine bronze clasp with the image of Our Lady of the Sign, the Blessed Virgin Mary in the “orans” or “praying” pose, with Christ in her womb, recalling the words from the Prophet Isaiah:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Whenever we pray, we are united to Christ, and so we are united to His Body, the Church. When we pray the prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Liturgy we are united with the Church in a very particular way. Any liturgical prayer, even when said by one person in solitude, is corporate prayer, prayer of the Body of Christ.
There are many ways to pray, both privately and corporately. Describe different kinds of prayer you have experienced or kinds of prayer you have heard about and are interested in learning more about them.
The Opening Prayer from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lord Jesus, make us worthy to celebrate the exaltation of your glorious cross with sacred hymns and psalms. When you appear on the last day and the sign of your cross will shine brighter than the sun, gather us before you, and surround us with your eternal light, that we may raise glory and thanks to you, to your Father, and to your Holy Spirit, for ever. Amen.
The coming of the Holy Spirit from the Rabbula Gospels.
[After Jesus had ascended into Heaven,] they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, [the eleven] went to the room upstairs where they were staying, ...[They] were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.(Acts 1:12-14)
The reference below each statement links to the official English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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the publishing house of the Eparchies
of the Antiochene Syriac Maronite Catholic Church
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