“I don’t have time to pray!,” some argue. “That is not true,” I tell them. They give me a thousand excuses and leave. Then time goes by and I observe them. Long hours spent watching TV and YouTube videos, checking Facebook, playing games, listening to music, pursuing a hobby… in short, everything is justifiable on some level, since basically we always find time for what matters to us, even for the most trivial things (and even more so when it comes to things that truly important). Why does the same not happen with prayer? I mean, I don’t believe this excuse of not having time to pray. That is not the problem. “Do you want to pray?” “Yes,” must be your answer. “Do you have time?” “Yes.” Now we are coming to an understanding. But before going on, we need to answer the question: What is prayer?
There is a plethora of eloquent definitions from great saints that answer this question in depth. Saint Therese of Lisieux, for example, said: “Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of joy!” Or as Saint Augustine explained: “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him.” Nevertheless, these definitions seem to fall short.
We know these answers do not cover all aspects of what prayer really implies. In fact, that was not the aim of the saints quoted above, nor is it ours. Not even a treatise on prayer would be sufficient to describe and explain thoroughly the numerous types (praise, forgiveness, thanksgiving); methods (Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina, the Rosary, praying in the name of Jesus); and experiences (personal, liturgical, sacramental), that exist, in which prayer can be lived and understood.
Even so, we must try to be able to describe prayer’s ultimate basis, that is, to try to define what is at its foundation, and what constitutes its essence with respect to ourselves. In that sense, I believe we can affirm that prayer is a relationship, a relationship of love between God and us. A relationship that leads to reconciliation… re-conciliation which is the dynamic of reunification between the human and the divine.
Let me explain. Man was not created only through the Word, but also in His image and likeness, for that reason man is the only visible creature capable of establishing a dialogue of love with his Creator (Gen 12:3). As Cardinal Ratzinger explained in his commentary on the Book of Genesis, “God blew the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, for which divinity has literally entered into him, turning his dust into God’s image.”
Image that is the ability to open oneself to love, and which can reach divine likeness. For this reason, the breath of man goes beyond being a mere mechanism necessary for the conservation of his worldly life. In his case, what is decisive is his ability to breath the life of the Spirit, which is God’s life. Man is capable of God. His heart (understood as his whole person), can cherish Trinitarian life, thus his body’s substance can become an authentic sanctuary – a temple – of the Holy Spirit. In this way he glorifies God (1 Cor 6:19-20), because he is the bearer of God’s glory. Yes, Saint Irenaeus was right, “the Glory of God is man fully alive.”
The nature of the man of prayer, in coming into communion with God, is transfigured and becomes divine by taking part in divine nature (in His love, because God is Love.) In prayer, the most important and decisive thing is this relationship of communion. It is in this context that we can understand how man’s whole existence can become prayer. On this, Origen of Alexandria said: “For the saying ‘pray without ceasing’ [1 Thes 5;17] can only be accepted by us as a possibility if we may speak of the whole life of a saint as one great continuous prayer… Of such prayer, what is usually termed prayer is indeed a part…” (Origen on Prayer 12,2). The relationship of love with God characterizes our entire existence, and from it arises a new operational modality that transforms all our activity.
This relationship, obviously, depends firstly on God. God loved us first (1 Jn 4:19) and He has never ceased loving and calling us, even after we sin. Although it is true that original sin had and continues to have serious consequences (the deprivation of original holiness and justice, the wounded nature, the imbalance of the cosmos, etc.) God does not abandon us; He confirms His faithfulness. His relationship to us is not interrupted, but is reconstructed with unprecedented novelty. Christ, the new and definitive Dia-logos, between the Father and man is the Word that becomes Flesh. Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection, become the movement of reconciliation that gives us back the life of the Spirit. That breath of eternal life that we had lost, is given to us again. God blows again into our wounded clay. Divinity has literally entered into us again, reviving and resurrecting us. This is what Baptism is: to die in order to be revived in the life of Christ. The coherent living of this baptismal dynamism is the source of the life of prayer. He who is conformed with Christ can only tend, like Him, to the sincere devotion of his life to the well-being of others. This devotion to others finds its fount and apex in the Eucharist, which is, likewise, the fount and apex of the devotion to Christ and, consequently the fount and apex of the whole Christian life.
The man of prayer is the one who, by living his baptism, becomes a Eucharistic man. Through Christ, with Him and in Him, all his activity (and with it the cosmos, itself), becomes a pleasing oblation (prayer), directed and raised to the Father. From this perspective, we can say that this communion and reconciliation in Christ, who unites us through the Spirit to the Father, is at the heart of prayer. This is the essence of Christian life: the love of the Holy Trinity that germinates in our hearts, leading us to devote ourselves to others in a constant everyday liturgical gesture, “offering our bodies as a living Host, holy and pleasing to God; this is our reasonable spiritual worship” (cf. Rom 12;1-2.) Then we experience what Isaac of Nineveh described:
When the Spirit dwells in a person, prayer never from then on departs from his soul. Whether he is eating or drinking or sleeping or whatever else he is doing, even in deepest sleep, the fragrance of prayer rises without effort in his heart. Prayer never again deserts him. Even his silence is prayer, and the movements of his heart are like a secret and silent voice that sings to God.
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