Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How Do You Pray?

Pope John Paul II was once asked how to pray. He responded, “This is a simple matter. Pray any way you like, so long as you pray.” This is a reassuring thought for those of us who can get caught up in the “right” or the “wrong” way to do just about anything. Shall I recite a traditional prayer or use my own words? Catholics wonder if they should recite the Our Father or thumb through a decade of the Rosary. Evangelicals have so many acronyms for prayer it’s hard to keep them straight (is it F.A.C.T. or A.C.T. or P.R.A.Y. or P.R.A.I.S.E.?). Long before Nike coined the phrase, Saint John Paul the Great’s approach might’ve been summed up in three words, “Just do it.”

The point is not to get too caught up in forms. Perhaps prayer, best articulated, wasn’t meant to be formulaic at all. The “Little Flower,” Therese of Lisieux once described prayer as a “surge of the heart.” Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite mystic and reformer, suggested that “prayer is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it is taking time to frequently be alone with him who we know loves us.” Nehemiah records the longest prayer in the Bible.[1] A penitent sinner babbled one of the shortest prayers in Scripture, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”[2] Not to be outdone, the ever-impetuous Peter manages an even shorter prayer, “Lord, save me!”[3]

Pope Francis, in a recent homily, turns the question on us. “How do you pray?” he asks.[4] And there are many answers. For those who pray the prayers they learned as children, he responds, “Good.” For those who pray the Rosary, “It is good to pray the Rosary,” he says. For those who talk to the Lord conversationally, “This is good too.” It seems that Pope Francis is simply swimming in the same stream as his Polish predecessor. Pray any way you like, as long as you pray.

And then he surprises us.

If you really want to know the Lord, Pope Francis says, “pick up the Gospel and pray in contemplation.” Letting his Ignatian colors shine, he continues:

“Pick up the Gospel, a short passage, imagine what is happening, and talk to Jesus about it.” In doing so, “your eyes will be fixed on Jesus and not as much on soap operas. Your ears will be fixed on the words of Jesus and not as much on the gossip of your neighbor.”

This is the way Pope Francis prays and he urges us to do the same. With his heart buried in the Gospels and his eyes fixed on Jesus, Pope Francis compels us all with this simple, biblical, Christ-centered practice: “Read the Gospel, imagine, and speak with Jesus. Nothing more.”

So pick up that Bible. Every day. Open the Gospels. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Spend some time in contemplation. Then talk to Him. Let your heart surge. Be alone with He who loves you. Truly contemplate the Savior. Simple. Powerful. Transformative. Just do it . . . today.

[1] Nehemiah 9:5-38 suggests that in addition to this most verbose prayer, the Israelites also spent at least 3 hours reading Scripture (OT) and 3 hours in confession and worship that day.
[2] Luke 18:13.
[3] Matthew 14:30. This is the shortest recorded prayer in the Bible.
[4] Pope Francis, homily from Santa Marta Mass, February 3, 2015.

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