Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
November 15-17, 2002
“Lord, Teach us how to pray!”
Matt. 14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
Mark 6:46 After saying farewell to [his disciples], he went up on the mountain to pray.
Luke 6:12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.
Luke 9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
Matt. 26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
Luke 11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
• This purpose of this retreat is to encounter the Living Jesus in prayer. The most important place to start learning how to pray is by going to the Master. Just like the first disciples did, we, too, need to learn how to pray. We come to him saying, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
• In this conference, we’ll focus on four things:
1) Jesus’ teaching us about the importance of prayer by his own constant prayer;
2) Jesus’ teaching us about prayer by focusing on the prayers he prayed to God the Father that the Evangelists recorded for us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
3) Jesus’ teaching us about prayer in what he revealed about the proper dispositions to pray; and
4) Jesus’ teaching us about prayer by the prayer he taught us.
Jesus’ own prayer
• Prayer was something that Jesus always did, as these above passages make clear. He was always taking himself apart to have quiet time with His Father, and to beg for the Father’s help at the decisive moments in his life. We can list some of them:
• before his Father’s witness to him during his baptism, for 40 days in the desert.
• before his Transfiguration,
• before his own fulfillment of the Father’s plan of love by his Passion.
• before his election and call of the Twelve,
• before Peter’s confession of him as “the Christ of God,”
• Before his healing of Lazarus
• that the faith of the chief of the Apostles may not fail when tempted.
• Jesus’ prayer before the events of salvation that the Father has asked him to fulfill is a humble and trusting commitment of his human will to the loving will of the Father.
• Jesus says to us here, as he does in many other circumstances, “follow me!”
• Jesus was 100% God and 100% man, and insofar as he was man, he prayed.
• Jesus needed to learn how to pray according to his human nature:
• He learned from his mother, who treasured in her heart the great things the Almighty has done.
• He learned from his people, in the synagogue and at the Temple.
• He learned to pray for God, a secret source, who told him to be in His Father’s house at 12. Prayer is revealed by him as filial. Father awaits the prayer of his children.
• Jesus was faithful to prayer, even spending all night in vigils.
• Insofar as he fully reveals man to himself, we realize the great need for us to pray.
• The drama of prayer is fully revealed in Word made flesh dwelling among us.
• We’re called to approach Jesus to understand his prayer,
1) to contemplate him in prayer,
2) to hear how he teaches us to pray,
3) to know how he hears our prayer.
• Contemplating Jesus praying
• For the most part, we know that Jesus prayed, but we don’t know the content of those prayers.
• We can presume that much of his prayer was ineffable, incapable of being expressed in words, a dialogue of love.
• We read that sometimes his prayers would take the form of sighs:
Mark 7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
Mark 8:12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” him sigh, groan.
• This would go along with what St. Paul had said about prayer, “groanings” of inexpressible longing.
• But the evangelists have preserved three explicit prayers of Christ’s during his public ministry. They can teach us much about what prayer is. Each begins with Thanksgiving.
• The first comes from St. Matthew’s Gospel. After Jesus had castigated the generation of those who wouldn’t accept the Messiah, all those who thought they knew more than God, he prayed aloud to his Father:
• Matt. 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
• Jesus confesses Father, blesses him.
• His “Yes! Father” expresses depth of his heart and adherence to Father’s pleasure, echoing mother’s fiat.
• His prayer is the loving adherence of his human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father.
• The Son came to reveal the Father and His plan of love, but it’s the humble who hear it, those who trust in the Father.
• Jesus thanks the Father for this revelation and then invites all the humble to him.
• The second explicit prayer came before the healing of Lazarus, in which Jesus revealed himself as the “Resurrection and the Life.” Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus didn’t have to pray aloud, but it’s as if he wanted the Father to receive all the credit. He also thanked him first:
• John 11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
• The Father always hears his petitions. Jesus, therefore, must have been making petitions constantly.
• Before we ask, we should thank the Father. We commit ourself to the Giver. The Giver is more precious than the gift. He is the treasure. The gift is just added.
• The third prayer comes during the Last Supper. We call it the priestly prayer. In this prayer, offered to the Father on the night he was betrayed, shows the depths of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. He opens up his soul in prayer. Let’s listen to Jesus with fresh ears:
John 17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.
5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.
14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.
16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
John 18:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.
• Tradition calls this the “priestly prayer” of Jesus. It’s the prayer of our high priest, inseparable from his sacrifice or passover.
• Priestly prayer reveals ever present prayer of our High Priest and teaches us about prayer to our Father. This allows us a glimpse of his filial prayer, which we see later in Garden and on Cross.
• It embraces whole of economy of creation and salvation, his death and Resurrection.
• Everything is recapitulated in Christ’s paschal and sacrificial prayer.
• God and the world;
• the Word and the flesh;
• eternal life and time;
• the love that hands itself over and the sin that betrays it;
• the disciples present and those who will believe in him by their word;
• humiliation and glory.
• It is the prayer of unity.
• His prayer extends to the end of time, like his sacrifice.
• All troubles of humanity summed up in this prayer and prayer of passion and death. Father accepts them by raising his Son. This answer brings to completion the drama of prayer in economy of creation and salvation.
• Jesus, to whom the Father has given all things, has given himself wholly back to the Father freely.
• Our high priest, who prays for us, is also the one who prays in us and the God who hears our prayer.
• The priestly prayer reveals the knowledge of Father’s and Son’s inseparable unity, which is the very mystery of the life of prayer.
• Jesus teaches us how to pray
• Jesus’ example of going away to a certain place in solitude, often a mountain, to pray inspires disciples to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
• Prayer is contagious.
• By contemplating and hearing the Son, the master of prayer, the children learn to pray to the Father.
• Prayer is to do the will of God, “Thy will be done!”
• We have to learn to pray: as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master himself, like the first disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Lk 11:1). The Lord wants to teach us how to pray, but we have to show up for class! (JP II in NMI)
• JME: “You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray!” you can be sure you’ve already begun.”
• He teaches us several things about prayer
1) By his example — When Jesus prays, he’s already teaching us how to pray, the way to the Father with faith, hope and love.
2) About the Father — He takes us and progressively leads us to the Father. Jesus gives us access to the Father.
3) About the HS — who will lead us into all truth and remind us of what he has commanded us. When our prayer is united to Jesus’, Father sends us HS, “another Advocate, the Spirit of Truth.” In HS, Christian prayer is communion of love with Father, not only through Christ but in him. “Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
4) About the proper dispositions and what not to do. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus insists on:
• conversion of heart,
• reconciliation with others,
• praying to the Father in secret,
• not multiplying words, “Lord, Lord” but doing the will of the Father!
• prayerful forgiveness,
• purity of heart,
• seeking the kingdom of God above all else.
5) About praying with confidence and thanksgiving to Father: “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it and you will.” All things are possible for him who believes.
6) About insistence in prayer through parables in St. Luke
• Importune friend (asking for food for guest) invites us to urgent prayer “Knock and it will be opened to you.” Father will give HS to those who seek him.
• The importune widow against the judge shows necessity of praying always and patience of faith.
7) About humility, through parable of pharisee and tax collector.
8 ) About praying in His name. Lots of things we cannot ask in His name, according to His will. The certainty of our prayer’s being heard is founded on prayer of Jesus. “John 14:13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”