Week 18 - Prayer (p. 673-725)

If you'll excuse the panegyric, up until now the Catechism has turned out to be a treasurehouse of theological, liturgical, and ethical resources - but I was not prepared for it to be a spiritual classic as well; yet that seems to be the case. In fact though the first three parts are quite intellectually substantial, if we stopped just with them there would be lacking a certain joy and delight in being a Catholic.

The section on prayer is therefore well worth your time in order to progress in this most essential aspect of the Christian life. It's unlikely that you have time at this point in the semester, but it's great summer reading!

It should come as no surprise that the Catechism goes to both Scripture and Tradition for instruction on prayer:

The WHAT of Prayer (Scripture)

Prayer is a "vital and personal realtionship with the living and true God" (2558).

"Whether we realize it or not prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirst that we may thirst for him"(2560).

"This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ" (2565).

Old Testament
Creation - In the early chapters of Genesis, both Enoch and Noah "walked with God" as Adam and Even did in the Garden before the Fall.
Abraham - The "father of faith" passes through different stages of prayer, from constructing an altar, complaining, intercession for others, being tested.
Jacob - This patriarch illustrates the idea of prayer as a battle - His new name, Israel means struggle with God.
Moses - Lest we think prayer a pious exercise of sanctity, we are reminded that Moses "balks, makes excuses, and above all questions" in prayer. He also is the "most striking example of intercessory prayer before Christ.
David - We are even closer to Christ with David, the king "after God's own heart" whose Psalms are still our paradigm for prayer. Solomon will also build the Temple, the "house of prayer."
Elijah - But the Temple brought it's own problems. Catholicism can become empty ritualism as could become the temple Judaism of Elijah's day. The Catechism here states that "ritualism often encouraged an excessively external worhsip. The people needed education in faith and conversion of heart; this was the mission of the prophets..."
Psalms- The five books of the Psalms are the "masterwork of prayer of the Old Testament," but are also "Prayed by Christ and fulfilled in him, the Psalms remain essential to the prayer of the Church."
The New Testament
Jesus is "prayer fully revealed to us." He learned to pray "in his [not only divine, but] human heart... in the words and rhythms of the prayer of his people, in the synagogue at Nazareth and the Temple at Jerusalem."

Jesus calls us to pray in faith, which is "a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand" (2609).

The three principle parables on prayer from St. Luke remind us in the first place to just do it, to be patient and persevere, and to be humble in prayer.

Jesus' great high priestly prayer sums up everything, and was not just for that time, for "his prayer, like his sacrifice, extends until the end of time" (2749).

Christian prayer in the age of the Church included blessing, adoration, petition for needs, intercession for needs of others, thanksgiving, and praise.
The HOW of Prayer (Tradition)

It is not enough to know what the Scriptures say about prayer, one must learn how (2650).

Perhaps we should start with what prayer is NOT
1. It is not "simple psychological activity"
2. It is not an "effort of concentration to reach a mental void"
3. It is not just another thing on the "to do" list to be neglected if we don't have the time.
4. It is not to be neglected because it yields no product or profit.
5. It is not a flight from the world.

Of course prayer can unfortunately become all these things, but this is not what the Catechism means when discussing prayer.
Now onto what Prayer IS

Christian prayer is Trinitarian: Of course prayer is to the Father, but we only have access to the Father if we pray in the name of Christ, the only name that actually "contains the presence it signifies" (2666). But no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit, who is the "Master of Christian prayer" (2670//72). The mystery of Trinitarian prayer is expressed by Augustine: Christ "prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to us as our God" (2616). Deep stuff, hey?

In addition, Mary is the "perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church" (2679).

We are to pray without ceasing, but important to remember is that "we cannot pray 'at all times' if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it" (2697). These include daily set times of prayer, the Church's liturgy, prayer before meals, etc.

Prayer is multiform, but three main categories seem to arise:
1. Vocal Prayer- Because we are embodied, vocal prayer cannot be neglected. But "whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls"(2700).

2. Meditative Prayer - This "quest" of mental prayer is usually helped by books, be they Sacred Scripture, or the "books" of icons, liturgy, writings of the great spiritual fathers, the book of creation or of life. There are various methods of meditation, but be aware that "a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus."

3. Contemplative Prayer - This even more internal and simplest and most intense form of prayer. It is a "gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentivenss to the Word of God, a silent love" (2724). It is a "gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty" ( 2713).
Difficulties in Prayer
1. Distraction. - "To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, wehn all that is ncecessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to"(2729).
ANTIDOTE: Vigilance.

2. Dryness - when the heart is separated from God
ANTIDOTE: Faith - "sheer faith, clinging faithfully to Jesus in his agony and in his tomb" (2731). Lack of faith "expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences" (2372).

3. Acedia - (Amodern translation for this ancient word could be simply "boredom.") This is a "form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart.
ANTIDOTE: Humility - for the "humble are not surprised by their distress; it leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancey"(2733).
We should also take advantage of the many traditions of spirituality within Catholicism, each of which are "refractions of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit" (2684), and find the one that is best for us. There is the religious life of monks, hermits and nuns, the "domestic Church" of the home, prayer groups, eucharistic adoration, prayer with icons, pilgrimages, and much more. One of the most famous is well explained here. John Paul II added the luminous mysteries in 2002. The Catechism also advises caution in choosing a spiritual director.

One of the earliest Christian images of a woman in prayer from the Priscilla catacomb in Rome. Compare with this modern icon.

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