By Fr. Dennis Mason, OFM Conv.
Our desire, our need, to go to the Lord is instinctive, it’s automatic, again, it’s second nature to us.
In my life as a Franciscan Friar, I am often asked about prayer. Here at our Shrine of St. Anthony and through our Companions of St. Anthony program, we get questions from all over the country about prayer. Today I’d like to share with you some reflections about prayer. I want to base these meditations not on some theory of prayer, but on our actual experience of praying.
But let’s begin by asking a simple, but very important question: Why do we pray? It seems that prayer is second nature to us. When life brings us a struggle, we automatically go to God in prayer: “God, please help me.” When a difficult time has passed, we naturally think and say: “Thank God that’s over.” Even when we’ve been startled by some news we didn’t expect, isn’t it true that without even thinking, our hearts and minds so often come out with “Oh, my God?” Our desire, our need, to go to the Lord is instinctive, it’s automatic, again, it’s second nature to us. But where does it come from?
I believe that it comes from a deep longing in our hearts – a yearning that maybe we can’t even name, but we know is there. It’s a longing for connection, a yearning for something, or better said, someone to fill our hearts. I believe our desire and need to pray comes from a deep longing to be connected with the God from Whom we came.
You and I were made in the image of God. And God is three Persons- Father, Son and Spirit. Those three Persons are connected to one another. They are related to each other, they are with one another, and they are for one another. Love radiates between Father, Son and Spirit. And since we are made in the image of the Trinity God, we have a built-in need and desire to be connected to each other, but most of all to be connected with God in love.
We call our loving connection with God: prayer. However, prayer is not first of all the words we say or the actions we do. Prayer is first of all being connected to God. Being in a relationship with God. Our words and actions in prayer are what foster and deepen that connection. But the connection, the relationship, comes first.
It’s like the married couple, sitting in the living room, content and grateful just to be with one another. Love radiates between them before a word is spoken or a kiss is given. They simply are with one another, connected in heart, related in love. And that’s a good image to start with when we talk about prayer: simply being with the God Who loves us, the God Whom we love.
How much it must please God when we try to make ourselves present to Him, quietly resting in His company, as God is always present to us! This relationship to God starts when we allow the longing in our heart to rise to the surface: “Lord I just want to be with You.”
Throughout our day we take God with us. He is always connected to us and we renew our connection to Him in simple ways. A pause to breathe in the breath of the Spirit when things are hectic. A heart-deep yearning to have Jesus accompany us to our doctor’s appointment. A heart-felt sentiment of gratitude for a blessing God has given.
Again, it’s like the married couple who throughout the day have one another in mind and turn to one another in heart even when distance separates them. Each remembers the place the beloved has in their heart and looks forward, longs, and yearns simply to be with the beloved again.
Words and actions are important to the life of prayer just as they are important in any relationship. Spouses who never share how their day went are in for trouble. Friends who don’t keep in contact will lose a friendship. But underlying all the words and actions is the relationship, the deep connection, with God. It comes from a God-given yearning to be with the Lord. The quiet resting in the assurance that God is there for us- that God’s bond with us is secure-that God’s love for us is true. The experience of that love radiating between God and us. That is the foundation, the basis, of all prayer.
Like our God, a Trinity, we are made for relationship, for connection. Our most important relationship is the one we have with God. And prayer begins with our longing to experience that relationship. Prayer develops as we appreciate that relationship more, are more grateful for that connection, and more quietly rest in that love.
Why do we pray? Because we long to be connected with the God Who is always connected with us. †
This reflection is the first of a four-part video series on prayer presented by Fr. Dennis. Watch the first part below, or at our Facebook page.
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