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CHRISTIAN PRAYER
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Thursday, First Week of Lent, February 18, 2016
Esther 14:1, 3-5, 12-14, Psalm 137, Matthew 7:7-12


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).


Jesus teaches us that we are to pray for what we need, and he assures us that we will receive it if we pray with faith and in his name. We are to pray to the Father in Christ's name with faith and without doubting for the things that are in accord with his will, and we are assured by him that we will receive what we ask for.


A Christian's life should be filled with prayer, not only at fixed times, but throughout the day. We should ask God for what we need. Before and even during the writing of a sermon, I pray that God will make me his channel to write and communicate both to myself and to others exactly what he wants to say to me and to you. We should not live independently, on our own, with only our own ideas and those of others to help us. Rather, we should turn to God in the midst of our daily work and ask him to arrange things for us. We should pray that he keep the snares and temptations of the devil away from us. We should also pray for the good of the Church and of our country and for a solution to the problems of violence in the world. This is the prayer of petition, where we ask God for all the big and little things that we need. He wants us to ask him for what we are concerned and worried about, no matter how small or personal it is. This is how God wants us to live, in constant inner dialogue with him. This kind of prayer should be going on all day long in our heart.


Jesus tells us that our prayers are to be directed directly to God in Jesus' name or to Jesus. He tells us this repeatedly. This should, therefore, be our primary form of personal prayer. It is an error to refuse to pray directly to God and to only pray to the poor souls or to the Blessed Mother or to the saints. Our prayers are primarily to be directed directly to God in Christ's name or to Christ.


Contemplative prayer is also very important in the life of a Christian. This is a prayer of very few words, in which we sit in silence before God in love. We do not use the Psalms or the rosary or written or memorized prayers during contemplative prayer, except for only a very short prayer, like the Jesus Prayer, or something similar. The whole point of contemplative prayer is to rest in the Lord. Therefore we cannot do it standing up or walking around or while reading prayers or reciting memorized prayers. It is done with our eyes closed, our body motionless (because movement distracts this kind of prayer and makes us fall out of it), and comfortably seated, resting in the Lord in love.


This kind of prayer should be part of our daily routine, preferably in the pre-dawn hours of the very early morning, after awakening and dressing. We do it in our room in a comfortable chair, with the lights off, for half an hour, or an hour, or an hour and a half. Contemplative prayer gives us comfort, peace, and rest in the Lord, the center of our being. It is best done when we are well rested just after a full night's sleep, but before the worries, distractions, anxieties, and work of the day have begun. When nature and all around us is still, in the silence of the night, long before dawn, and before our daily obligations have begun, is the best time for silent, listening, resting, loving, peaceful contemplation, during which we often experience the consoling love of God.


This kind of prayer must be directly to God, not to the saints, or the Blessed Mother, or the faithful departed. It can be addressed to the Father in Christ's name, or to Christ. "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14). "Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23-24).


It is also important to abide in Christ if we want him to hear our prayer. "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7). If we are avoiding evil and doing what pleases God, we will receive whatever we ask for. "And we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him" (1 John 3:22).


We should try to ask for things that we know are according to God's will, not for worldly or sinful or spiritually harmful things. We should have confidence that he will give us these good things when we ask him for them. "And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us" (1 John 5:14).


We should ask with confidence that God will hear us, and not doubt. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:5-8 NKJV). Indeed, if we seek God with all our heart and do not doubt that he will answer us, we will find him. "You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 29:13-14).


The doctrine of justification through faith, "apart from works" (Romans 4:6), because of the reparation-making work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on the cross, as a sin offering, to atone for our sins, by dying for them, is of central importance to Christian prayer. We can pray the Jesus prayer meditatively, asking Jesus to forgive our sins ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner") and then add, "You have done so, O Lord, you have done so! And I am most grateful!" He has had mercy on me, a sinner. His work on the cross has cleansed me and filled me with the splendor of his own righteousness. Then I can rest in the happy and peaceful realization that my prayer has indeed been answered, my sins are forgiven and removed, their punishment is canceled, my future is free and happy, and I am at peace with God, with a clean conscience and a happy heart, with no further reparation to make before God, and I am filled with the splendor of God's own righteousness, which he has reckoned to me, because of my faith (Romans 4:3, 5, 23-24).


There is no joy like the joy of a clean conscience, cleansed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, whose merits have made reparation for my sins before God, for he has suffered their punishment instead of me, freeing me from all need to make any further reparation for my sins before God. This sets me free in peace and joy. "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2). This gives me joy in my prayer and in my new life in Christ, renewed by his justifying, saving sacrifice, through my faith in him. And so I am eager to truly live a new life as a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

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