May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you. These words, from today’s psalm, instinctively make me think of CJM and their happy approach to a ministry of music. Another favourite of mine is their ‘great Amen’: We lift our hearts and our voices to you, as we sing, Aaaamen...
This is, to quote St John Damascene, the definition of prayer: the raising of one’s mind and heart to God. St Therese of Lisieux, a source of much prayer in recent days, says: For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
Prayer is the heart of all that we are and for this reason this weekend we are presenting all those in year three, who are preparing for first confession and first communion, with a set of rosary beads. We learnt the essential prayers of the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory be when we were children ourselves. It is wrong if we, in our own time, do not share these simple and yet profound prayers with our own children. Yes, prayer both leads us to the Eucharist and prayer flows from it, too.
Prayer is, then, both deeply personal but it is also communal. We gather today for the greatest prayer of thanksgiving known and that is the Eucharist. In our opening prayer we said of God ‘our source of power and inspiration’. All prayer is inspired by God. It is from God that we are called to prayer, he moves our heart to desire him and so we can be confident that he stands ever ready to hear our prayer. God does not, however, ask of us something which is any different to that which Jesus undertook.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is “the supreme high priest.” He knows our needs and he presents to the Father more than we even dare to ask ourselves. All of our prayer is through Jesus and “it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us.” He knows our struggles, our hopes and our desires and he knows the temptations which may lead us from prayer. He’s been there, even if he didn’t actually buy the t-shirt like we all seem to have done. Jesus prayed at the key moments of his own life as well as regularly through his day. He learnt to prayer from his own mother, Mary, from his religious tradition, in Judaism, but also, “his prayer springs from an otherwise secret source” says the Catechism of the Church.
In Mark’s account of the Gospel, we hear of James and John asking something, through Jesus, which only the Father can answer. They ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left when in heaven. He answers them that they must drink the same cup and undergo the same baptism, which they happily agree to. Little do they know the suffering they will endure! But their prayer is answered. They seek to follow Jesus, no matter the cost, in order that they can be with him in the eternal life, in his Glory. Now whether they get, in the end, to sit on the seats next to Jesus is a moot point. He doesn’t say they will not, rather he says “they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.” Perhaps James and John followed the Lord’s teaching and learnt to be “slave to all”.
It is in being faithful to the teaching of Christ and most especially in his word and example of prayer that we, too, come to learn to be like him. Whether it is through adoration, petition, intercession, praise or, like now, through thanksgiving at Mass, we seek to be a people of prayer. We share our prayer with our children, and our children’s children and they in turn will do the same. It is, after all, our children who will pray over us in our final moments in this life.
In a few minutes we will begin our liturgy of the Eucharist, which will conclude today with the prayer “may this Eucharist help us to remain faithful. May it teach us the way to eternal life.” To this I say, Amen, so let it be.