I would like to return in this article to the theme I have been writing about for a number of weeks: the call to holiness. In particular, I want to dedicate my next few articles to the important topic of prayer. Our ability to respond to God’s call to become holy requires a “training in holiness” adapted to the needs of each person. This training or formation, drawing from the riches of the Church’s spiritual tradition, integrates what is common and available to all with the personal needs and vocation of each individual.
Training in holiness calls for a careful formation in the art of prayer. Prayer, both personal and communal, enables us to develop the kind of intimate conversation with Christ which is characteristic of genuine friendship. Like Jesus’ first disciples, however, we have to learn to pray. We have to be taught: “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Lk 11:1). Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote at the dawn of the new millennium, “Yes, dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love.’” (NMI 33).
The horizons, heights and depths of authentic Christian prayer are limitless. Once we begin to taste divine intimacy in prayer, our hearts will hunger for more and more. As the psalmist writes, “Of you my heart has spoken, seek his face. Your face, Lord, I seek. Hide not your face!” (Ps 27:8-9). Faithfulness to prayer leads us ever more deeply into the eternal dialogue of love between the Father and his Beloved Son under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Christian prayer is a participation in that Trinitarian communication and communion. It draws us into the very heart of God.
Families and parishes, the most basic Christian communities, are to be schools of prayer fostering growth in prayer among each of their members. The same must be said of our Catholic schools and religious education programs. It is not enough to teach about faith or teach about God. All of our pastoral initiatives and faith formation efforts ought to lead to an authentic encounter with Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.
While education in prayer ought to be a key element in pastoral planning in parishes, our archdiocesan offices and ministries stand ready to assist and collaborate in supporting such initiatives. Growth in prayer and the spiritual life is greatly assisted by prudent mentors, spiritual guides and lay ecclesial movements, such as Cursillo, Communion and Liberation and many others. While not everyone may have access to a spiritual director, we all need the encouragement of wise spiritual friends and companions.