“I know how to say prayers but I’m not sure I know how to pray.” I have heard this from catechists, teachers, and parents over the years. Distinguishing between prayers and praying is at least a starting point for those unsure of how to deepen their spiritual lives. Did Jesus’ disciples face a similar dilemma when they requested a lesson on prayer? “Teach us to pray,” they asked, not “teach us a prayer.” Jesus responds by giving them one of our most cherished prayers – the Our Father – but it is clear this is more than a single prayer. It is a way to pray.
Catechetical Sunday 2016
I don’t know exactly when I started breathing the Our Father but it has since become one of my favorite ways to pray. Reflecting on one phrase, such as “Our Father”, I will draw in a breath. Sometimes I exhale with the next phrase; other times I let the words linger in my mind and settle into the heart. There are times when the words stick and I can go no further. “Give us this day our daily bread”, for example. So many reflections emerge from this simple petition. The hope in God’s infinite generosity. The desire for all to be fed rather than just me. The “this day” reminder to be in the moment. The regular need for bread that sustains and nurtures.
My mother lived out her last few years in a nursing home. As an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, I used to bring her communion. A simple ritual emerged in which we would pray the Our Father together before she took the host. An avid devotee of the rosary, Mom must have said the Our Father thousands of times over the course of her life. At those moments of communion, however, she seemed to take in the familiar words and ponder them. Once she stopped in mid-sentence to ask what it really means to “trespass.” This sacred prayer had gone beyond the recitation of words. Perhaps this is what it means to learn a prayer by heart.
Teaching others to pray is one of the most beautiful of the catechist’s tasks. What a privilege to introduce children to different forms of prayer, such as petition, praise, and thanksgiving, as well as expressions of prayer through words and silence, music and reflection, meditation and contemplation. In the process we come to know how saying prayers leads to a deeper recognition of and appreciation for the gift of prayer.