What would you think of a professional football player who never exercised? How far do you think he would get? He might be able to get by for a while on his natural abilities. But, before long, he would be unable to keep up with the other players who are in shape. There is no future for a professional athlete who fails to exercise.
What exercise is for an athlete, prayer is for a Christian. Without prayer, we cannot live the demands of the gospel. Without prayer, we cannot take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Without prayer, we cannot fight temptation, love our neighbor or forgive our enemies. Prayer empowers us to live as Jesus did, it makes our hearts capable of loving and it inspires us to perform works of charity and mercy. For a while, we might be able to get along on just our willpower and determination. But eventually temptation and the cares of this life will weigh down on us and leave us exhausted and disappointed. Only through prayer can the love and mercy of God shine forth in our lives.
All the great saints were well aware of this. Their holy lives and the good works they performed were a result of intense lives of prayer. Before serving the poor of Calcutta, Mother Theresa would spend hours in prayer every morning before the Blessed Sacrament. Pope John Paul II would pray an entire rosary - all twenty mysteries - every day. Saint Catherine of Siena enjoyed such an intense prayer life that she stopped eating all together. The only nourishment she received was the Holy Eucharist. All these saints loved Jesus so much that prayer for them was not a chore or a burden but an incomparable joy.
Jesus also needed to pray. After His baptism, the gospels tell us that He went to the desert to spend forty days praying and fasting. Many times, He would sneak away from the crowds to spend the whole night in prayer with His Heavenly Father. Before suffering His passion and death, He prayed at the garden of olives that He would have the strength to do God’s will.
Today’s readings are full of examples of prayer in the life of Jesus, His mother and His disciples.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles takes us to the upper room in Jerusalem where the Risen Lord first appeared to the apostles. Jesus has ascended to heaven and told them to wait until they were given the gift of “power on high”, the Holy Spirit. They spend those ten days in intense prayer together with Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is in a sense the Church “in the womb”, waiting for the new life that will be given it by the Holy Spirit. And it all begins with prayer.
The reading from the gospel of Saint John gives us a glimpse into the intimate life of prayer that Jesus shares with His Heavenly Father. It is the hours between His last supper with the apostles and His death on the cross. There are two prayers on Jesus’ lips as he faces the cruelty of His upcoming death. First, He asks that God be glorified by the sacrifice He is about to make. Secondly, He prays for His disciples.
In imitation of Jesus, our prayer should always be that God be glorified in our words, thoughts and actions. We should pray that we may know and do God’s will in all our endeavors. And like Jesus we should pray for one another. Each of us is striving to live good and holy lives, and we need each other’s prayerful support. None of us should get so bogged down in our problems that we fail to think of the needs of our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus’ thoughts were with His disciples before facing His crucifixion, so our thoughts should be with others who may be suffering even more than we are.
Now that we understand what an indispensable part of Christian life prayer is, how can we begin to make it part of our daily lives?
First of all, we need to make time every day for prayer. We need to carve out some time when we drop everything and focus on our Heavenly Father. It may mean waking up a little earlier in the morning or going to bed a little later at night. But, without time, a life of prayer cannot take root and grow.
Secondly, a life of prayer requires trust in God. Prayer is not so much about what we do but what God does in us. When we pray, God takes us by the hand and leads us. Our prayer should always be a prayer of trust that if we make the time for God, He will bless us with His presence. And prayer in its essence is nothing more than basking in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Finally, if we feel stuck and unable to pray, if we are not sure what to say to God or what we should be doing with our prayer time, we can never go wrong by praying the rosary. The rosary is an important prayer for both beginners and those advanced in the spiritual life. Through it we reflect on the mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. As we reflect on those mysteries, we become more like Jesus. And we allow the Blessed Virgin Mary to do what she does best - lead us to her Son, Jesus. The rosary is a powerful means by which we can deepen our prayer life and become holy.
Whatever problems we are facing, whatever anxieties plague us or our loved ones, prayer is the answer. When our lives are deeply rooted in prayer, then all things are possible. So let us commit ourselves to giving part of our day over to the Lord in prayer. Let us trust that in that time He will guide us and speak to us. Then we will see a real transformation take place in ourselves, our families, our Church and our world. That is the example set for us by Jesus and the saints. That is God’s promise to all those who seek Him with sincerity and faith.