Prayer is the connection between God and man, the channel of communication and the bridge which allows and facilitates that communication. It is in prayer, where we come before the Lord in all our littleness, that we truly open ourselves to Him and to the action of His merciful grace. In opening ourselves to the Lord in this way through prayer, we begin to encounter Him, as a child encountering his father.
For Christians, prayer is indispensable; it would be easier for our bodies to live without air, than for our souls to truly live without prayer.
In his weekly catechesis, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has recently been teaching the faithful about prayer. He began his series by speaking about the prayer of the Psalms, that ancient form of prayer practised by the Lord Himself after generations before Him, and in every age of the Church since, in the liturgy and in the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church.
Speaking about the Psalms, the Holy Father talks about a figure often mentioned in them – ‘the wicked’. He says the wicked person is the one who lives away from the presence of God, without fear of His divine justice; such a person lives in this way, says the Holy Father, because they have no transcendent point of reference, leading them to become arrogant in their way of life. The Pope says that –
“For this reason, the Psalter presents prayer as the fundamental reality of life. The reference to the absolute and to the transcendent — which the spiritual masters call the “holy fear of God” — is what makes us completely human, it is the boundary that saves us from ourselves, preventing us from venturing into life in a predatory and voracious manner. Prayer is the salvation of the human being.”
The Holy Father warns us of various dangers surrounding prayer – the prayer offered in order to be seen by others, for example; and the prayer of rote. Instead, he says, our prayer should be authentic – it needs to come from the heart, to be the centre of our lives, so that it might be transformative and acquire depth. He goes on to add that the Psalms are a great school for this type of prayer and for this reason, the Psalms take shape in the liturgy and in the human heart –
“and thus, personal prayer draws from and is nourished first by the prayer of the people of Israel, then by the prayer of the Church”.
He went on to speak about the communal nature of the Psalms, even those which address the Lord from the perspective of the individual. He said –
“The prayer of Christians has this ‘breath’, this spiritual ‘tension’ that holds the temple and the world together. Prayer can begin in the half light of a church’s nave, but then come to an end on the city streets. And vice versa, it can blossom during the day’s activities and reach its fulfillment in the liturgy.”
The world, the Pope tells us, “is always present in the Psalter’s prayer”. The Psalms echo the cry of the poor and the weak, and the warning to a world seeing only the temporal and passing; they allow the human gaze to rise above the horizon, to see the presence and the action of God in the world.
The Holy Father reminds us that where the Lord is, the human person must be there too; we love, he tells us, because the Lord loves us first. The Lord looks toward us, waits for us to come to Him – both directly and in the person of our neighbour. Our prayer is not authentic if it does not transform our dealings with all those around us. The Pope has this to say –
“God cannot stand the ‘atheism’ of those who repudiate the divine image that is imprinted in every human being. That everyday atheism: I believe in God but I keep my distance from others and I allow myself to hate others. This is practical atheism. Not recognising the human person as the image of God is a sacrilege, an abomination, the worst offence that can be directed toward the temple and the altar.”
He ends with this prayer –
“May we learn to pray the Psalms more consciously, letting their voice become our own, as we seek to grow in love for God, trust in the fulfilment of his saving plan, and charity towards all our brothers and sisters.”