“Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples”. These few words jumped out at me while I was reading this Gospel and it brought me to two questions. The first being: who taught me to pray and how important prayer is in my life. Reflecting on the first, I know my mother brought me to Mass with her when I was a child, however, I have no memory of her teaching me how to pray.
So I thought some more and one incident stood out in my mind. I must have been about 3 and I was staying with my paternal grandmother in a small very old farmhouse in rural Ireland. It was the sort of place you would measure your nearest neighbour in miles. When I stayed there I would sleep in my grandmother’s bed, as there really wasn’t any other bed stay in. Except on this occasion I had a pang of independence and decided I would spend the night on her sofa. She warned me I would not last very long alone in the dark and she was right.
As she used tell it, she wasn’t hot in the bed when all of a sudden she heard; “nana, I’m scared can I sleep with you”. Getting into the bed the first thing we had to do was pray. This habit began with my grandmother, she taught me how to pray and it is something I have continued throughout most of my life. The prayers were very standard “Our Father”, “Hail Mary” and “Glory Be” were the staples, though I recall arguing with my grandmother that it was a Holy Spirit, not a Holy Ghost. Ghosts could not be Holy!
I maintained my daily praying through most of my life until I reached university and I found my busy life had no space for prayer. As the years went on and time progressed I noticed that aside to a fall away from going to Mass, I was missing something very important: a regular prayer life. Which brings me to what prayer is, or rather what it became when I began to pray again. Prayer for me is communication with God. Opening yourself to Him and pouring yourself out as a child does to a parent. Just look at the first two words of the prayer Christ taught his disciples; “Our Father”. When we pray we don’t address the soles of the feet of an untouchable deity, we speak with a parent.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Our Lady when talking about prayer and I think of a story from the life of Fr. Pedro Arrupe. When his mother died, his father pointed to a statue of the Virgin Mary and said; “She is your mother now”. It is worth noting that while we have earthly parents, we have a father and mother in heaven who are available and waiting to hear from us. It is not difficult to do we just have to come and speak. I am reminded of some words of St. Edmund of Abingdon who said; “I would rather say five words devoutly with my heart than 5,000 which my soul does not relish with affection”. To echo St. Edmund, prayer does not have to be difficult, or even long!