“Prayer: The Faith Prayed”
Who first taught you how to pray? For most, the answer is “my parents.” The earliest memory of prayer for many people is praying at meals or before going to bed. This was probably the experience of Jesus too, with prayer being the constant background of his life growing up with the premier models of faith, Mary and Joseph, and throughout his days.
We know from scripture that Jesus prayed privately and communally. He prayed the divinely inspired prayers that are the heart of the Jewish tradition, especially the Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4), the Sabbath prayers, and the Psalms, which collectively include the various forms of prayer of praise, adoration, blessing, thanksgiving and petition.
John the Evangelist explains Jesus’ continual prayer to God in light of his special relationship to the Father (cf. John 8:12-59; 10:29-38; 12:27-28). Raising Lazarus from the dead, he thanked the Father for hearing him (John 11:41-42). After the Last Supper, the Son specially commended his followers to the Father. “Consecrate them in the truth,” he pleaded, desiring that we all be one with and in God and his eternal love (John 17:1-26). In his prayerful agony in the garden, he adhered in “his human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father” (CCC 2603). Then on the Cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” before crying out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Tomorrow, the Church celebrates Catechetical Sunday and the theme for this year, “Prayer: the Faith Prayed,” recognizes how learning to pray is fundamental to believing. Throughout the Gospels, we read how often Jesus went off to pray. Seeing this, the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, so he taught them and us the Our Father, a perfect form of prayer (Luke 11:1-4). As a teacher of prayer, Jesus frequently highlighted its importance in our lives and in the life of the Church (CCC 2607-15). Luke recounts how the Lord told his followers to be persistent, “to pray always without becoming weary,” assuring them, “I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:5-13; 18:1).
Jesus teaches us the spirit in which we should pray and he invites all of us to make prayer the background of our lives. He also gives us the gifts of parents and family members who are our first teachers of prayer. Catechists and other educators join them in the awesome responsibility of teaching children – and adults – how to pray.
Catechists share in the Jesus’ ministry of teaching because they “exemplify the manner in which we cooperate with God’s grace to ensure the growth of the faith” (National Directory of Catechesis, ch. 53). On Catechetical Sunday tomorrow, pastors in parishes across the archdiocese will call forth catechetical leaders and catechists and commission them to pass on the faith to children, young adults and adults in religious education and faith formation programs. The National Directory of Catechesis reminds us that such commissioning “expresses the Church’s call, recognizes the catechist’s generous response, and confidently sends them out to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (ch. 55).
Critical to this ministry of catechesis is a life of prayer since you cannot bear personal witness to God if we do not really have a personal loving relationship with him. As Pope Francis has explained, “Being a catechist is not a title, it is an attitude: abiding with Jesus, and it lasts for a lifetime! It means abiding in the Lord’s presence and letting ourselves be led by him” (Address of September 27, 2013).
Most particularly, “to be a catechist requires love, an ever stronger love for Christ,” emphasizes our Holy Father. “This love comes from Christ! It is Christ’s gift! And if it comes from Christ, it also starts with Christ” (Id.).
On this Catechetical Sunday, for all those catechists and other teachers of the faith who help unwrap that gift of Christ’s love and freely put it to use, we start with Christ. We ask the Lord that, through our prayer and the catechists’ own, their love for Jesus will be strong and the witness of their faith will be a gift to the parish, the entire Church and the world.