Pray with John 17: 20-26
Fr. Tom Flanagan
When we are children our parents tell us many things about life. Some of them remain with us like taped recordings that later turn on by themselves and begin to play in our mind. We hear their words and see with our mind’s eye the image of our parents and the situation in which they spoke to us. Some of the “tapes” that continue to play are helpful for us, others are not. One of the helpful ones for me is a proverb that my parents quoted to my siblings and me. That is, “the family that prays together stays together.” That proverb was also written on a small plaque that hung in our kitchen at home. We tried to put the message into practice in our daily family life.
The “family” today takes on many different forms: some possibilities are the traditional family of two parents and their children, sometimes with extended family members added, or the family might be a single parent with children, or it may be adult siblings or friends who live in the same home, or a married couple with no children. Another way to describe all of these families would be to call them a “household.” While not exactly a family, a single person who lives alone also constitutes a household. I think of the household as the smallest cell of the church. For all of these “families” – even the single person household – prayer is an important element. These praying “cells” are the building blocks for a praying church.
There must be many definitions of prayer. One definition that I read recently appeals to me: prayer is the meeting of two loves: the love of God and our love (Catherine de Hueck Doherty). When we pray we take time out from the busyness of our lives to bring our love to God. In prayer we discover what is really on our mind and in our heart, we get in contact with our deepest needs and desires. And that is where we can meet God's love. In prayer we experience God's all-embracing love for us. We discover what God thinks and feels. But that is a risky business! By opening ourselves up to listen to God we also invite the possibility of having our attitudes changed, of seeing things from a new perspective, of having our plans altered. The meeting of the love of God and our love produces a catalyst for change. We are not always ready for change; we do not always welcome it. But if we know that the change asked of us originates in God's love, then we can confidently try to accomplish it.
Personal prayer is the way we pray when we are alone; communal prayer is the prayer of two or more people. Both of these forms of prayer are important and they are dependent upon each other. We know that "they pray best together who also pray alone." Our personal prayer and meditation each day contributes to the quality of our communal prayer. I like to tell people, though, that it is important to “pray as we can and not as we can’t.” One form of prayer may be meaningful to one person but not to another. Our personal prayer expresses our relationship with God, which is unique to us. The important thing is “that” we prayer not “how” we pray.
In the Catholic Church our greatest form of prayer together is the celebration of the Eucharist, which is part of the liturgical and ritual prayer of the church. In that prayer we offer our greatest thanksgiving for all that God does for us. Jesus becomes present for us in God's Word and in the eucharistic forms of bread and wine.
As a church we pray in our individual members and families, and we pray our communal, ritual, eucharistic prayer. But as individual people and families and even the whole church itself, perhaps the more important thing is not the various techniques and ways to pray that we might learn, but to know that prayer is a relationship we enter with God and with one another. We acknowledge that God is the one who created each individual person, and that God is the one who called the church into being. The whole church stands before God like a dependent child. We look to God to lead us and we are ready to follow.
Our readiness to be led by God is part of our faith, just as the relationship we build with God through prayer is part of our faith. We believe that no matter what might be happening to us in life, God is taking care of us. God guides each one of us as God guides the whole church. God gives meaning to our individual daily lives and to the life of the church. God calls us as individuals to become all that God intends us to be and God challenges the church to become more and more his living, loving body on earth. Faith, prayer and life are all woven together for us individually and for us as church. And they are all part of our relationship with God. When we pray individually we have a chance to take notice of our lives, to regain perspective, and to see how God may be speaking to us. When we pray communally as church, we join our prayer to that of others, we experience the joy and unity of community, and we also share the sorrow that may befall us or other members. We strengthen one another as we direct our attention toward worshipping God.
In the Letter to the Thessalonians (5: 16-18) we discover three characteristics of the Church: joy, prayer, gratitude. These are characteristics of our individual lives as well, even if they are not always evident in their fullness. The more we meet God in love through prayer, the more we will be filled with joy and the more we will be grateful for all the blessings that are ours. As one author on spirituality and prayer writes, "the only way you can fail at prayer is to not show up" (Thomas Keating). Prayer is the meeting of love.