Daily Reflection
February 27th, 2007

Dick Hauser, S.J.

Rector and Theology Department
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19
Matthew 6:7-15

Today’s gospel prompts the question, What is prayer? Jesus challenges “pagans” who identify praying with the recital of many words. He cautions his disciples not to be like them, not to “babble like the pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words.” He even suggests that many words aren’t necessary because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Prayer cannot be identified with the recital of verbal formulas. Rather prayer is a heart movement: it is the movement of our hearts to our Father and to Jesus. Sometimes it is accompanied by words; sometimes it is not. In prayer we may realize anew who God is and who we are and find that words are often inadequate to express this relationship. We know what the psalmist was trying to tell us: “Be still and know that I am God.”

But more, in his epistle to the Romans Paul tells us that this movement of our hearts to God happens only because of the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.” The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts and holds us in communion with God, sometimes without words.

Further Paul tells us that it is only because we have received this Spirit of God that we have become adopted children of God and so are given the privilege of crying out “Abba, Father” -- and of praying the Lord’s own prayer, the Our Father.

Prayer is a gift of the Spirit and a participation in the very life of God. Pope John Paul II notes this truth eloquently in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, “The breath of the divine life, the Holy Spirit, in its simplest and most common manner, expresses itself and makes itself felt in prayer. It is a beautiful and salutary thought that, wherever people are praying in the world, there the Holy Spirit is, the living breath of prayer.... The Holy Spirit is the gift that comes into our heart together with prayer.”

It is easy to understand Jesus’ impatience with those who identify prayer with the recital of their own often lengthy verbal formulas.

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