During the celebration of baptism, the priest or deacon anoints the child on the forehead with the sacred Chrism which is the same holy oil used to anoint the hands of the deacon, the priest and the bishop. We may wonder what the significance of the ritual is. This anointing demonstrates that through baptism the baby shares in the priesthood of Christ. One of the principal functions of the priest is to offer worship and praise to God. Through this simple gesture, the Church reminds all of us that as baptized one of our main privileges as well as our duties is to offer worship and praise to God.
Through our baptism, therefore, all of us are called upon to praise God through prayer. Thus our need to pray springs from our very identity as baptized Christians. We are summoned to join the angels and saints in heaven, the suffering Church in purgatory and the Pilgrim Church here on earth, in offering our supplications to God. That is why priests are expected to pray the Divine Office on a daily basis. They are obliged to pray five times a day. Even ordinary Christians are expected to spend adequate time in prayer.
Once we accept our duty to pray, we are faced with the inevitable question: How do we pray? In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray. The Lord does not give them a manual on prayer. He teaches them the Our Father. He says to them that the Our Father is the model of authentic prayer. In this column I would like to draw from that prayer three simple lessons that will help us to pray better.
If we look at the Lord’s Prayer closely, we will notice one important feature. The first part of the prayer is all about God and the second part is about us. The first lesson we learn is that prayer is all about God and not about us. Prayer is not our strategy to twist God’s arm so that He will do our bidding. Real prayer is supposed to enable us to align ourselves completely with God’s will. The Our Father says, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Even though we should pray in this fashion always, such prayer becomes more necessary at certain moments of our lives – when tragedy strikes, when we lose someone dear, or when life hands us unexpected sorrow. It is in those moments that we need to bow our heads in total surrender to God’s design. Such prayer will help us follow the example of our Blessed Mother who spoke those memorable words to Archangel Gabriel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.” Such prayer will enable us to walk in the footsteps of the Son of God who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His passion: “Father, let this cup pass from Me, but not my will, but yours be done!”
The second aspect that stands out is that the Lord encourages us to ask, to pray for things. We can ask for daily bread and we can also ask for forgiveness. We can pray for protection from evil. Even though God knows our needs, He wants us to ask. In asking, however, we must bear in mind two things. First of all, we are encouraged to pray not just for ourselves but mostly for others. This type of prayer is known as the prayer of intercession. This type of prayer is powerfully present in the Biblical tradition. Abraham pleaded with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. How many times Moses begs God to turn his anger away from the Israelites who were stiff-necked people! Jesus Himself prayed for His disciples and for the Church at the Last Supper. As baptized, we are called to pray for others. Through intercessory prayer God gives us the opportunity to channel God’s power for the benefit of our world. Parents and grandparents should pray for their children and grandchildren following the example of holy mothers like St Monica who prayed for her son, Augustine.
We can also pray for things. While we can pray for daily bread, we can ask for a little butter too. If you are on a diet, you can ask for a touch of “I can’t believe it is not butter!” We can ask but God reserves the right to respond. He always answers our prayers. His response comes in three forms: Yes, no, and not now. God orchestrates everything for our eternal salvation. If something we pray for will pose a threat to that ultimate goal, God will not grant it to us.
The third lesson that I would to draw from the Lord’s Prayer is that our prayer should be childlike. The Master asked us to address God as “Our Father.” The word used in Aramaic can be translated as “daddy” or “papa.” In other words, in our prayer we should become like little children. Sometimes we become too sophisticated for our own good. We no longer believe in miracles. The Father Who gave us chocolate and coffee – which we obviously do not need for survival – will give gifts beyond our imagining or our merits. Often I have asked the Lord for signs when I am facing a challenge. Sometimes He does provide a sign. One day a 5-year-old girl prayed: “Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive others’ trash baskets. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us some email. Amen.” I am sure that the Lord smiled on her prayer.
Just as the disciples asked the Lord, let us ask Him to teach us how to pray.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...