For any sincere Christian and determined apostle, prayer is an absolute must. It isn’t rare that many seem to doubt in the power of prayer. In fact, I would say it is perhaps the fundamental temptation: God does not listen. Still, more times than not, we are lacking two key ingredients for a deeper and more authentic grasp of what prayer is all about: humility and patience. The Saints prayer quotes can inspire us and lead us in fully understanding these concepts.
Like the oracles of long ago, do our prayers aspire to unveil the future? Are we more motivated by curiosity and insecurity? By desperate desires to draw back the curtain and know what’s going on or, better yet, to control what’s going on?
This was the temptation of Saul who was faced with the imminent prospect of a perilous battle with the Philistines. His prayers were answered only with silence and he couldn’t bear the silence of God. So he rides and asks Endor, a woman who conjures the dead. If God won’t answer, someone will. (Cfr. Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth)
Figures like Moses (Ex 33:11), and ultimately Jesus reveal the true nature of prayer: his task isn’t reporting tomorrow events or resolving today’s fiascos; rather, he shows us the face of God, and in doing so he shows us the path we have to take.
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This is when humility and patience come in handy. We must be humble because there’s always the temptation of pride, the temptation to take God by the hand and explain to him how things are going to be. “Listen God, I have this problem and this is how you are going to help me fix it.” Ambition promises you control and turns prayer into a business negotiation. “I’ll give you a bit of moral living, some acts of charity and a few minutes of prayer if you give me…” This strategy turned out poorly for Saul and hasn’t seen good results since.
Patience comes into play when we are facing another tasty temptation: triumphalism. Let’s start off by admitting that discerning God’s will amongst the ambiguities of life is fatiguing. JPII spoke of the “heaviness of heart” that Mary experienced in living in intimacy with the mystery of her Son. Don’t we wish that the Lord would make things clearer?
Many times the Lord seems to hold his silence, or at least, what seems to be silence. Triumphalism, on the contrary, say’s “Well, if He isn’t talking, its time to get things done.” This a tough one for all of us who like to see immediate results, to see progress made and problems resolved. This is, however, in the word’s of Bergoglio, a “Coca-Colization” of the faith. Often, in essence, we are simply running from the cross. For the cross is the antithesis of efficient planning and successful, strategic problem-solving. Mary was there, she was one of the few that knew how to bear the silence. He was meant to be great, to be the Lord who would receive David’s throne; yet, here he lies, nailed to the cross. What kind of triumph is this? The Lord has his ways and Mary believed.
Prayer then is nothing more and nothing less than placing ourselves face to face with God. It offers us nothing more and nothing less than God himself. He does indeed listen. He does indeed act. He does indeed transform you. He does indeed conquer this world. Yet He does it all in his own way and we are invited to learn a logic different than our own.