To this point we have looked at the basic truths and core teachings of the Catholic faith. We have examined the Creed that expresses the truths of the nature of God Himself as a Trinity of persons and of His saving works; we have looked at the commandments that articulate how we are called to live in relationship with Him; we have studied the sacraments to see how God Himself offers us a share in His own divine life. One final pillar remains – within which we are invited to relate to God and continue to grow in deeper union and communion with Him – what we call “prayer.”
When asked “what is prayer,” many correctly assert that it is “talking to and listening to God.” Prayer does involve communication, including through ways of attentiveness and presence. As our own human relationships show us, we grow in knowledge and love of another human being by spending time in their presence, communicating with them and even through just “being” with them. These elements of our relating to one another are also true from our human perspective in how we relate to God. What is different in prayer is that we are invited to be in relationship with one who holds our very existence in His own being. God loves us and knows us perfectly (infinitely better than we know ourselves). To that end, it is important to understand that prayer is more than communication, as it involves our receiving of life, grace, and knowledge from God, drawing us more fully into His divine life.
To help flesh out what prayer is, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church the entire fourth part that is focused upon prayer begins with three key characteristics of prayer. First, prayer is considered a “gift,” that God Himself places within us which requires of us a “humble” and “faithful” response. Humility is so necessary in fact that paragraph 2559 calls this virtue “the foundation of prayer,” such that we only enter fully into the way of prayer by our awareness that “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” As such, prayer is a gift from God, inspired by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, that draws us toward God and opens us to desire to receive even more from Him.
Second, the Catechism shows prayer to be a “covenant.” As with all covenants that God establishes, in prayer He once again is the initiator who invites and offers relationship with Him, showing us the way to respond and be faithful to the relationship – drawing us toward the third element of prayer: communion. It is in being in communion with the Trinity that prayer most properly persists and abides. In other words, as we learn and grow in prayer, we accept God’s love for us to such a degree that the whole of our lives is being transformed into dwelling in Him – and it is this dwelling in God that is what “heaven” really is. Thus, the goal of prayer is to be in such union with God that we enter more and more into communion with Him in the Trinity in this life onto being perfectly one with Him and all the saints in heaven – in a perfect communion of love.
In the upcoming installments we will look specifically at particular elements of prayer. First, we will consider prayer as shown in the Scriptures: both in the righteous ones of the Old Testament and in Jesus’s own prayer in the New Testament. Next, we will consider particular ways of prayer in the life of the Church. Third, we will look at the life of personal prayer. Fourth, we will consider “the battle” of prayer – and how such things as distraction or loss of interest effect our prayer. Finally, we will give a very brief look to the Lord’s Prayer as the perfect prayer that summarizes the Gospel.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2558-2565 give a very brief introduction and definition of prayer.