An absolutely essential thing for us as Christians is prayer or praying. In fact, we might say that prayer is also an essential part of being human; as important as other basic human things such as breathing or eating. After all, we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1: 26) and so we are spiritual beings; hard-wired as it were for prayer. If we do not pray then we will slowly wither and die in our very heart and soul, just as would happen to us physically speaking if we did not eat or hydrate properly.

Many studies have shown that those who pray live longer, are healthier, are less stressed. Researchers have even observed the human brain as people pray. The parietal lobe and the limbic system are engaged so that the people studied are more relaxed, focused and engaged. Our Second Reading (Colossians 2: 12-14) also reminds us that the great Sacrament of Baptism by which we are brought to life, also gives us the priestly gift of being able to pray and to intercede.

Furthermore, we seem to have an instinct to pray for others. We see this in our First Reading (Genesis 18: 20-32) where Abraham pleads for the city of Sodom. We hear how wicked the inhabitants are and Abraham does not know them, yet he prays to God to spare them. In fact, we might even say that Abraham pesters God as his mathematical countdown continues. God is patient and merciful indeed! God hears Abraham’s prayer; a vital lesson in the importance of intercessory prayer and we may thank God for all the wonderful prayer warriors in our parishes. Our psalm (Psalm 138) gives us another form of prayer: a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for God’s love, mercy and kindness. Prayer has many forms indeed. 

However, prayer can be difficult. Not surprisingly, in our Gospel (Luke 11: 1-13), the disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response, Jesus gives them (and us!) the prayer: the “Our Father.” This is a prayer in itself, of course; but it can also serve as the model or pattern of not only what we should pray, but how we should pray. (Remember the disciples asked Jesus not so much what to pray for, but rather how should they pray.) The prayer is really a series of statements and petitions. We begin by giving praise and honor to God, who is in heaven and whose name is hallowed (or holy) and ask that God’s will be done. After that, we then make various petitions for ourselves and our community (daily bread, forgiveness, not to be subject to the final test). This then is our basic pattern or model of how to pray.

All this means is that everyone, yes everyone can pray. St. Francis de Sales remarked that there should be no person who writes themselves off as not able to pray. Why? Well because he says, “…so long as they are capable of grace, they are capable of prayer.” In fact, he goes on to say that “…it is only the devil who is incapable of prayer, because he alone is incapable of love.” No excuses then! It is true that sometimes prayer can seem very hard or even impossible because we are experiencing a spiritual dryness due to illness, or a crisis in our lives or just because. Perhaps even here we can pray simply by offering in prayer our inability at that time to pray (a suggestion borrowed from a small book of prayer for cancer patients called “The Pink Book of Prayer.”) 

The Our Father gives us a pattern or model of what we call prayers of intercession and petition. Jesus Christ, of course, is the intercessor, but we too can pray in this way. But with prayers of intercession, the Our Father teaches us that we seek not so much to change God’s mind as it were with our intercessions, but rather to seek out His will (“thy will be done.”) As Pope Francis says “we can say that God’s heart is touched by our intercession, yet in reality He is there first. What our intercession achieves is that His power, His love and His faithfulness are shown ever more clearly.” We pray this way at the prayer of the faithful during Mass, or when we pray the Our Father; or when we offer fervent prayers, or light a candle for a special need or in a time of crisis or suffering. The introduction to the Our Father at Mass reminds us of the greatness and wonder of this prayer: “at the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say…” So, as we pray (not just “say”) the Our Father, let us savor its richness as our model and pattern of prayer. Let us dare to pray!