Having recently returned from the retreat of which I have written in the past two weeks, I have been slowly unpacking the various graces that the Lord shared with me during that time, graces which I know were not just for me, but for the people I am blessed to serve as a priest. I would like to share one particular grace that I think applies to our reflections on the topic of prayer.
As I began retreat, I could sense the Lord was trying to invite me to a central focus during my time with Him. In previous retreats, I would often pray about my identity as a priest, the various duties that I carry out as a priest, and how to infuse those activities with a greater love for God and zeal for the souls of the people under my care. To be sure, those have been very fruitful reflections. But on this retreat, I got the very clear message from the Lord: “This retreat is not primarily about your becoming a better priest. First and foremost, it is about become a better friend to me.” That thought resonated so well in my soul, and I found great consolation and peace, for the Lord was helping me realize that if my friendship with Him was strong, it would yield a more fruitful ministry in service to His people. I therefore kept going back to the words of Jesus to His Apostles: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” (Jn 15:15)
One of the great saints of the Church who has left us with a wealth of wisdom on prayer is the Spanish Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila. When describing prayer, she wrote simply, yet powerfully: “For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” (The Book of Her Life, ch. 8, 5) How lovely of an image that is for us to think about when we go to prayer! Is that how we see Him when we pray? Sometimes we might see Him like our boss, and our prayer consists in our asking what tasks He wants us to accomplish for the day. Perhaps we see Him as our personal assistant, telling Him the tasks that we want Him to accomplish for the day. The Lord desires for us to see our time of prayer as a time spent with a friend – not just any friend, but the very best of friends, the one who knows us best, and the one who loves us best.
Seeing prayer as a time of sharing between friends does not conflict with our also approaching Him as our Father. After all, when teaching His disciples to pray, He invites us to address our prayer to Him beginning with these words: “Our Father.” I have no problem calling my earthly father a friend, nor should I fear calling the Lord both Father and friend.
I invite all of us to spend some time this week reflecting on those words of Jesus that I quoted above: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” (Jn 15:15) Although God is all-powerful and mighty, and we owe Him our service for all that He has done for us, He has also drawn very close to us through His Son Jesus, who makes it possible for us to live in an intimate relationship of friendship.