This month’s articles are written by Fr. Jacques Philippe, whose books on prayer and spirituality have sold more than a million copies and have been translated into twenty-four languages. A retreat master and spiritual director, he is a member of the Community of the Beatitudes in France.
The last eighteen months have been difficult—and for some of us, the difficulties still remain. Every day the media floods us with news that is not always uplifting. But this experience can also be an invitation to draw closer to God and to deepen our life of prayer. He is the “eternal Rock” (Isaiah 26:4)—our only security, our true hope. In order not to fall into worry or discouragement, we need to rediscover or deepen this relationship. He is the one who, in times of crisis, makes himself closer to us. He is the one who loves us infinitely and who asks only to support and encourage us.
We Need Prayer. We have a great need to put ourselves regularly under God’s gaze, to welcome his gentle presence, to nourish ourselves with his love and his word. It is there, near the God of peace, in this “Ocean of peace that is the Holy Trinity,” as Catherine of Siena says, that we will find peace of heart. It is there that we will find all that we need to face our situations in faith and in trust. As St. John Paul II said in his apostolic exhortation Novo Millenio Ineunte, Christians who do not pray are “Christians at risk” (34).
There are two aspects to our prayer life. The first one involves making our whole lives, as much as possible, a conversation with God. In the course of our days, in a simple and familiar way, we should turn our hearts and thoughts toward him often, believing that he is always looking at us with love. Everything that is part of our lives can nourish this conversation: the beautiful things help us give him praise and thanks, the difficulties help us to ask for his aid, and even our faults help us ask him for forgiveness! This should be very encouraging to us. Everything, good and bad, can become an opportunity to talk to God and to draw closer to him, as a child draws close to his father.
The second one involves taking breaks to regularly spend time just with God—to disconnect ourselves for a moment from the demands of our lives in order to be in his presence. For example, we can start with just fifteen minutes a day, and then periodically devote a longer amount of time, such as an hour of Eucharistic Adoration in the parish chapel. In these times, God can pour out his grace upon us. He can bring us strength and hope, and in his presence, our hearts can change.
Obstacles to Prayer. As we try to grow in faithfulness to prayer, we will encounter obstacles. We might have a certain reluctance to open ourselves to God. We may fear that if we start praying regularly, the Lord will confront our mediocrity or lead us on a path where we will no longer have as much control over our lives. We may be tempted to feel weary or discouraged, or we may feel that we are not making progress. The devil tries to do everything he can to turn us away from prayer because he knows that a soul that prays is lost to him. We may also suffer from the constant pull of the media in modern society, as well as a fear of loneliness and silence. It is easier to scroll on the phone than to stand in silence in the presence of God!
Another obstacle is a false conception of prayer, which is quite common. To be fruitful, to give us peace, to strengthen our faith and increase our charity, we often think that our prayer has to be “successful”—accomplished as perfectly as possible—an accomplishment that we can be satisfied with. But this is not the Christian view of prayer.
To pray is not to perform but to welcome God in our poverty, in our powerlessness. It is not about being effective, about producing a result, but about being with God. God does not need our works, but he thirsts for our love, says Thérèse of Lisieux.
We can sometimes feel poor, distracted, without any enthusiasm, fragile and imperfect, but none of that matters. I would even say the opposite: our weakness forces our prayer to be not a beautiful accomplishment of which we can be proud, but the cry of the poor. “This poor one cried out and the Lord heard,” says Psalm 34:7. And this is the only prayer that pierces through to the heavens. Paradoxically, the prayer of the poor is a joyful prayer: the joy of experiencing that God’s love is infinitely greater than our limits.
It is good to receive graces or enlightenment during prayer, but this is not necessary. For prayer to really make us touch God, and to allow ourselves to be touched by him, it does not need special insights or consolations. It only needs to be faithful and persevering, a sincere act of faith and trust, and an expression of our true desire to love.
I like the words of a young French Christian philosopher, Martin Steffens:
In the ordinary of our lives, we share our talents with the world. In our prayer, we offer up our powerlessness. This is what makes our prayer always possible and timely. . . . We never need to wait for the right circumstances, if what we offer in prayer is our humble condition as women and men. (Newspaper La Croix, April 17, 2020)
The World Needs Our Prayer. The world absolutely needs our prayer. It needs to be visited and touched by the mercy of God; only in a relationship with God will it be renewed and saved. Human remedies like social and political solutions are insufficient. We need to be like those watchmen spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, whom God stationed on the walls of Jerusalem: “By day and by night, they shall never be silent”; they continue to remind God of his promises (62:6). They would not let God rest until he granted his salvation to the holy city! Like the widow of the Gospel before the unjust judge, we must not leave God alone until he has granted us justice, that is, until he has shown mercy to the world (see Luke 18:1-8).
There is a great need for intercession today: for the renewal of the Church, for heads of state, economic leaders, caregivers, for those who are sick, for all those who are living with the consequences of the pandemic in a difficult and painful way.
Every Christian must exercise, by virtue of his baptismal priesthood, a ministry of intercession. Each of us must ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand which particular intentions among the countless needs of the world and the Church God is entrusting to us. I must pray not only for the intentions that come to me spontaneously, such as my needs and the needs of my loved ones, but also for those that God himself entrusts to me. I will be all the more certain that my prayer will be fruitful if it does not come from my own feelings but if the Lord himself asks it of me.
Our prayer for the world must often be specific, but it can also remain implied. In her reflections on prayer, Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us that it is not always necessary to make all our requests. Sometimes it is enough simply to be in the presence of God, to let ourselves be drawn by him, so that a great number of souls will follow us and begin to run toward God. This is how she interprets the phrase from the Song of Songs: “Draw me, Lord, we shall run!” (see 1:4). Simply being in the silence of adoration, of being there for God and for him alone, for his glory and nothing more, like a candle burning in silence, attracts many souls to God!
Your Kingdom Come. God does not always answer our prayers exactly as we expect, but our prayer always changes something in us and in the world. It attracts the presence of God; it brings about the kingdom.
It seems to me that in these unique times in which we are living, our prayer must be a supplication for the coming of the kingdom. We do not know the times or the moments that the Father has set in his sovereign wisdom, but we are clearly facing the end of a world today. We are in one of those unique moments in history, like those very deep tectonic movements that mark the change of a geological era.
According to Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans, creation itself sighs and groans in expectation of its redemption (8:22-23). The world is experiencing the pains of childbirth that are preparation for the coming of the new heavens and the new earth. The request we make in the Our Father—“Your kingdom come!”—takes on a special intensity today. The deepest cry of our prayer must be the one uttered by the Spirit and the Bride at the end of the Book of Revelation: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” Marantha! (22:20).