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Growing in Prayer

Growing in Prayer

Last month, I wrote that discipleship will be a recurring theme the Inland Catholic columns during this year. Our experience of the life of a disciple-begins when we encounter Jesus Christ. We hear and read about Jesus but to know him takes, not only our openness to God's grace,  but effort on our part. Prayer is that necessary next step.

Now that we are in the season of Lent, the Church calls us to prayer, penance, and acts of generosity . For most of us, our Lenten practices involve "giving up" things, taking on additional time for prayer (Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours ), daily Mass and charitable  giving. The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent offers us the account of the temptation of Jesus by the devil. A closer look at this passage offers us insight into the very nature of prayer.

Look first at the last of the three temptations. Here, the devil proposes to Jesus that He worship Satan, and in return, receive power over the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus replies, saying, "It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve." (Mt 4:10) In prayer, we first recognize who God is and who we are. He is our creator and we owe Him worship. We go to God with our needs and petitions. We offer praise and thanksgiving for all  that He has given us. In humility and trust, we grow in our awareness that it is from God, that all good things come. But greatest obstacle to this realization: the sin of pride.

In the second temptation, the devil suggests that,  if Jesus would throw himself off the temple, God would send his angels to save him. But Jesus responds, "Again, it is written You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test." (Mt 4:7)  We can recognize from this encounter that God is not a vending machine, dispensing desired spiritual favors to all who insert their prayer petitions. Christ was in perfect communion with His Father, and was obedient to God's will. We should voice our needs but our requests should always be a desire to know and follow the God's providential plan for each of us. It is in His will that we will find peace.

Though it is the first of the temptations, I offer it as a final point of reflection. Recall that Satan told Jesus he should turn stones into bread. Again, our Lord resists, answering the devil with scripture: "One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." (Mt 4:4) Our prayer must be rooted in the word of God for it is there that He speaks to us. And we need to listen.  All too often, our prayer is more likely "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking" rather then, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." Silence, never easy, is required to truly know God's unique plans for each of us.

The words of Saint Catherine Laboure, the young Daughter of Charity who, at the request of our Blessed Mother, in 1830, went to the Arcbhishop of Paris, asked that a medal, , be struck, wrote: If you listen, God will also speak to you, for with the God Lord, you have to both speak and listen. God always speaks to you when you approach him plainly and simply." Words that we all understand.

Prayer is not complicated, but it does require fidelity. Weekly participation in the Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, grace before meals, a few moments of reflection on the day's readings all  demand personal discipline. There is always a risk that one's prayer is disconnected from the reality of day to day living. On the contrary, prayer should immerse us in the world in which we live. A true disciple believes this and knows that our Lord is always waiting for us. St. Vincent de Paul, captures this reality in his words: "There is not a hand outstretched that our Lord will not grasp."

Know that I pray for all of you each day. And I ask for your prayers for me, as we walk the path of discipleship each day.