Responding to God and Opening our Hearts to Him
During these forty days of Lent, we are, once again, invited to draw closer to God as we make our way through life. The Church invites us to reflect on our lives in this journey of spiritual renewal which uses prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as noted in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday to help us move beyond our own narrow preoccupations to embrace more closely our loving God. The aim of Lenten practices is to help us turn towards Jesus Christ, eliminating what is sinful, embracing what is holy, and increasingly conforming our lives to the Lord.
All of us feel a need to move beyond the narrow limits of the material world that surrounds us. We recognize in our hearts a yearning for communion with the transcendent reality we know is God. Prayer is an essential element in this journey – it is our speaking with God – our lifting our minds and hearts to God. Therefore the starting point of our journey must necessarily be humble prayer, and we must continue to be prayerful throughout. If we seek communion with God, then we must communicate with God; we must respond affirmatively to the call of love that He has already initiated.
To be Christian means more than having an intellectual knowledge of various facts about Jesus, as if He were merely some historical figure from ancient Nazareth. To be Christian means having a close and intimate encounter with Him, it means establishing a relationship with Him. And that means entering into prayer with Him. In thus responding to God’s initiative, we open our hearts to Him and thereby allow His grace to transform our hearts so that we might live in the fullness of love and truth.
The human person, by his very nature, has a need for prayer. As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has noted during a series of talks on prayer,
“Man bears within him a thirst for the infinite, a longing for eternity, a quest for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and for truth which impel him towards the Absolute; man bears within him the desire for God. And man knows, in a certain way, that he can turn to God, he knows he can pray to Him” (General Audience of May 11, 2011).
Without prayer, which opens us to the mystery of God, our lives will lack sense and direction. Without this connection to the vine (Jn 15:1-7), our lives will wither and be barren. With this connection to God through prayer, only then do we become truly alive, only then do we bear fruit.
So, even with all the distractions of our noisy world during this Lenten season, consider making a more concerted effort toward a prayerful life. Try to find moments in the day to shut out the world and spend time with God. Open your heart to Him and allow Him to speak to you, including allowing Him to teach you how to pray better. If you have difficulty praying in your own words, you might pray with all the faithful through the standardized prayers – the Our Father, the Glory Be, the Hail Mary, etc. – or you might even consider learning the prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours. Of course, prayer does not always require words – many people have found that simply sharing quiet moments with God is a comfort and joy. When you read scripture, you might consider the practice of Lectio Divina, whereby you prayerfully contemplate and meditate upon the word of God.
Each moment in the course of our daily activities can be an occasion for prayer, for inviting God into our hearts. Saint John Chrysostom urges us:
“Embellish your house with modesty and humility with the practice of prayer. Make your dwelling place shine with the light of justice; adorn its walls with good works, like a luster of pure gold, and replace walls and precious stones with faith and supernatural magnanimity, putting prayer above all other things, high up in the gables, to give the whole complex decorum. You will thus prepare a worthy dwelling place for the Lord, you will welcome Him in a splendid palace. He will grant you to transform your soul into a temple of His presence” (Homily 6 on Prayer: PG 64, 466).
During our journey of Lent, let us ask the Lord to come and walk with us. In the communion of prayer, let us join ourselves with His Mother, our Blessed Mother, and the other saints, so that they might ever be at our side, guiding us and praying with and for us. Joined as one with God and all the saints in prayer, our hearts are made fertile and we will grow and bear fruit, and the world can be transformed.