BISHOP JAMES SCHUERMAN
Do you remember who taught you how to pray? One of my earliest memories is that of my mother taking my right hand and guiding it as I attempted to make the sign of the cross.
I also remember my first grade teacher in St. Joseph’s Grade School in Lyons, Wisconsin, leading our class in the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary,” and the “Glory Be” each day, and how we quickly committed those prayers to memory. Soon, we learned to pray the rosary, and learned the responses to the Mass prayers.
Parents, teachers, catechists and clergy all play a role in teaching children and young people the ways of prayer. They learn from example and from formal instruction. Those blessed with good teachers and guides may learn to converse with God, pour their hearts out to him and reveal their soul to him.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” In the Gospels, Jesus stands out as an exceptional teacher of prayer. I find it interesting that most depictions of Jesus in works of art or in movies focus on him performing some action. Jesus calls the fishermen, changes water into wine, heals the sick, multiplies the loaves and the fishes, walks on water, dies on the cross and appears to his disciples. Jesus is a man of action; but what often gets lost in all of these images and depictions of Jesus is that he is just as much a man of prayer. Of all of the paintings and sculptures of Christ that you have seen, how many of them depict him in prayer? The one that comes to mind is the painting of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died. My parents had a version of this scene, which they kept on top of their dresser – Jesus, in distress and agony, kneeling before a rock with his eyes fixed on the sky.
A close look at the Gospels paints a different picture of Jesus – he was a man of prayer, who prayed unceasingly. Jesus began his ministry with intense prayer and fasting in the desert, struggling with the powers of evil and rejecting the temptations of Satan. (Luke 4:1-13) In the midst of his ministry of preaching and healing, he would withdraw to deserted places to pray. (Mark 1:35) He prayed in important moments in his public life, such as when he spent the whole night in prayer before he chose his Twelve Apostles, or when, after feeding the multitude and dismissing them, he went up the mountain to pray. (Luke 6:12; Mark 6:46)
His disciples, who were devout, prayerful people, realized that Jesus’ way of praying was different from their own. They could sense that he had an intimate connection with the Father, and they so they approached him with the request, “Lord teach us to pray.” Jesus then instructed them to call God “Abba,” a familiar term for “father” akin to “daddy,” demonstrating intimacy and union with God. He taught them to ask for the coming of God’s Kingdom, for their daily bread, for fo
rgiveness, for the ability to forgive and for strength in time of trial. (Luke 11:1-4)
Jesus prayed for his disciples on the night before he died. (John 17:1-26) In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed that the cup of suffering might pass him by, but also prayed that his Father’s will be done. (Matthew 26:39) On the cross, he prayed for his persecutors. (Luke 23:34) In his moment of intense suffering and distress, cried out the words of Psalm 22:2, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Finally, Jesus surrendered his life with the prayer, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46).
Jesus’ whole life was an example of prayer to his disciples, and besides setting an example for them, he also instructed them about different dimensions of prayer through his teachings. He taught them to go into their “inner room” and pray “in secret” to their Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:6) While he saw value in gathering together to pray, he also saw the need for personal prayer, free of d
istractions and free of the temptation to pray in order to be seen by others. (Matthew 6:5) The “inner room” could literally mean a private space, or, figuratively, it could refer to the depths of the heart.
Jesus taught his disciples that their Father in heaven loved them and cared for them more that any earthly father could, and so they should ask for what they need with confidence. (Matthew 7:11) He taught them that it is necessary to pray when confronting evil. (Mark 9:29) He instructed them about the importance of praying for strength in time of tribulation. (Luke 21:36). He emboldened them to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 11:13) He challenged them to pray for their enemies. (Matthew 5:44)
“Lord, teach us to pray.” A careful reading of the Gospels could inspire us, in the midst of the activities of our busy lives, to be people of prayer. What better teacher can we have than Christ himself? May we learn from his example and his teachings to accompany all of our activities with prayer.