The Gospel of Matthew (6:7-15), informs us that ‘The disciples had asked Jesus a few times: “Master, teach us to pray”’. In fact, they ‘did not know how to pray, and they saw that John’s disciples prayed, so they asked Jesus’. For his part, the Lord ‘is clear and simple in his teaching: “First”, he says ‘when praying, in prayer, do not waste words as the pagans do: they believe that they are heard because of their
many words”’
.

Perhaps Jesus had in mind the prophets of Baal who, on Mount Carmel, cried out in prayer to their idol, to their god. The priests of Baal prayed, jumping from side to side, and carved engravings: no, this is a waste, a waste of words; this is not prayer. The pagans, Jesus tells us think that they will be heard for their many words, as if they were magic words. This is why Jesus advises: ‘Do not be like them, God does not need words, because ‘your Father knows what you need even before you ask him’.

Jesus sets aside this prayer of words, of only words, and says: Pray then like this. Thus, in a word: ‘Father’, Jesus tells us precisely the space of prayer. Indeed, God knows what we need before we ask; this Father who listens to us in secret, in secret, like Him, Jesus recommends that we pray in secret. The Father, gives us precisely the identity of children. Therefore, when I say ‘Father’ I am going to the roots of my identity: my Christian identity is being a child and this is a grace of the Spirit. In fact, no one can say ‘Father’ without the grace of the Spirit.

‘Father’ is the word that Jesus used in the most significant moments: when He was full of joy and emotion: ‘Father, I praise You because You reveal these things to children’. Or when He is weeping at the tomb of His friend Lazarus: ‘Father, I thank You because you have heard Me’. And again, in anguish, in the final moments of His life: ‘Father, if it is possible that this cup pass away from Me, let it pass’. Then, when everything is finished, He says, ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit’. In short in the most significant moments, Jesus says: ‘Father’; this is the word that He uses most. This is the way of prayer and this, I would say, is the space of prayer.

Without feeling that we are children, without feeling that we are His children, without saying ‘Father’, our prayer is pagan, a prayer of words. It is certainly good to pray to Our Lady because she is a very beloved daughter of the Father. The same applies to the angels and saints who are all beloved by the Father and who intercede for us. But ‘Father’ is the cornerstone of prayer. If you are not able to begin the prayer by saying the word ‘Father’ with your heart and your voice, the prayer will not do.

Praying like so means to feel the Father’s gaze upon us and to feel that the word ‘Father’ is not a waste like the words of the prayers of pagans, but that it is a call to the One who gave me the identity of a son. This is precisely the space of Christian prayer — ‘Father’ — and in this way we all pray, with all the saints and angels in the awareness that we are children with a Father who loves us and knows all of our needs.

 

Extracted and adapter from Pope Francis’ MORNING MEDITATION IN THE CHAPEL OF THE DOMUS SANCTAE MARTHAE, Thursday, 16 June 2016 by L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly ed. in English, n. 25, 24 June 2016)

This article can be found in Mirror 0616.