As you read this article, I am spending five days in silence for my annual retreat that is part of a three-year Spiritual Direction Training program. Very often, at the beginning of a retreat, I will repeat the request that the disciples of Jesus made to Him in the Gospel: “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1) Perhaps that sounds a little strange to you. As a priest of more than a decade, shouldn’t I already know how to pray? Sure, I have learned a lot about how to pray and I have spent many hours in prayer, yet I know full well that the process of growing in prayer is far from over, and that I am constantly in need of learning how the Lord is inviting me into a deeper encounter with him through prayer.
I share that little reflection as a way of encouragement to all of us as we embark on this year of faith formation focusing on the topic of Christian Prayer, the fourth of four sections in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This first month will provide an opportunity to reflect on the basic question: What is prayer? As much as we think we know or don’t know about prayer, there is always room to grow. So before we even begin to address that question, I think it would be beneficial for all of us to take some time this week making this very simple, yet powerful request: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Making this request is an act of humility on our part, acknowledging that we are not where we desire to be in our prayer life. But the Lord delights to receive this humble request, for He longs to share His life with us in prayer. He will never force it upon us, though. Rather, He patiently waits for us to invite Him in, to let Him reveal His presence to us, and to lead us to greater unity and intimacy with Him.
Asking the Lord to continue teach us to pray is also a recognition that prayer is first and foremost a gift. Even though we express our desire to learn, perhaps the better word is that our request is a desire to receive the gift of prayer from Him, and in receiving it, to let Him instruct us in how He desires to draw closer to us in the various forms of prayer that make up our lives as Catholics.
Along those lines, we can identify those various forms of prayer in which we engage on a regular basis: personal prayer and meditation, reading the Scriptures, praying the Rosary, intercessory prayer for our needs and the needs of others, and most importantly, praying at Mass. We will be addressing all these forms of prayer throughout the year in various ways. But once again, I invite us all to see these as places to receive anew the gift of prayer that these various forms of prayer are for us.
So before learning anything new (or reviewing what we think we already know) about prayer, let us first ask the Lord in all humility, faith, and love: “Lord, teach us to pray.”