A few of us were discussing our efforts to pray, something we don’t do too often! - discussing it, I mean! One woman said she always prayed to Jesus, but another one said she prayed just to God. Then someone asked her did she mean God the Father, or just God in general - you know what I mean. What about praying to Our Lady and the saints? Can you enlighten us? Deirdre M.
Dear Deirdre, Thanks for your question, which goes to the heart of the matter.
In the gospels the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. It seems to us a strange request. Jews prayed every day since childhood. Why would they ask him now to teach them to pray? They were asking him for a distinctive prayer as his disciples. John's disciples had a special kind of prayer, but Jesus's disciples apparently did not. In answer to their request he taught them the Our Father. This makes it very special: it is not just any prayer, it is a distinctively Christian prayer.
But look now: there is no mention in it of any of the Christian mysteries! There is no mention of Jesus, nor of his passion, death and resurrection, there is no mention of the Trinity.... What sense can we make of this? Here is how I came to some kind of clarity on it.
I remember praying a few years ago at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, surrounded by Jews. It’s the only remaining part of the Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 A.D. There is a very deep nostalgia, it seemed to me, in their prayer.
My tears have become my bread,
By night, by day,
As I hear it said all the day long:
'Where is your God?' (Psalm 41)
They have a custom of rocking back and forth as they pray. It is as if it is too much for the mind and has to overflow into the body. I thought of Jesus, a Jew, as I stood there groping in my mind for words. I realised that any Jewish person at that Wailing Wall could pray the words of the Our Father and not find them the least bit alien. Jesus was among his own people. But how then can the Our Father be the distinctive prayer of a Christian?
Suddenly it came to me: if there is no mention of Jesus, his life, death or resurrection, nor of any of the Christian mysteries, it is because this was his own prayer - this was how he prayed himself. In prayer he was seized by one single awareness: the Father; he was not thinking about himself. When we pray the Our Father we are not praying to him, but with him; we are praying his prayer. We are so close to him that we cannot see him; like him, we see only the Father. We are, as it were, inside his head, looking out through his eyes: seeing the Father, and seeing the world as he sees it. There is no distance, we don’t see him somehow ‘over there’. We are totally identified with him - we are indeed his disciples. We are praying through him. Our prayers usually end with the words, “through Our Lord Jesus Christ….”
In her Shewings Julian of Norwich spoke of “Adam’s tunic”, by which she meant human nature. It is worn by Adam, which means all of us (“in the sight of God all humankind is Adam and Adam is all humankind”), and of course by Jesus. Jesus wears our tunic, our human nature. This phrase of Julian’s is a vivid image of our ‘incorporation in Christ’. We could also speak of ‘the Christ-nature’ or ‘the Christ-mind’, as Buddhists speak of the Buddha-nature and the Buddha-mind. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” St Paul wrote (Philippians 2:5); and “We have the mind of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 2:16). He puts it even more strongly, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). You could apply this to prayer and say, “It is no longer I who pray, but it is Christ who prays in me.”
Have you noticed that the Eucharistic Prayers and all the prayers at Mass (except just one) are addressed to God the Father? Then at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer it says, “Through him (that is, Christ), with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” The Liturgy teaches us how to pray. This is the structure, always the same. We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. To pray is to be drawn into the intimate life of God - not just ‘God in general’, but Father, Son and Spirit.
Having said that, I have to say something else! It makes perfect sense to pray to Jesus, as millions have always done, and still do. Many people find it easier, somehow more intimate, to pray to Jesus. We can't imagine that he would somehow keep our prayer to himself! Everything given to Jesus passes through his mind and heart to the Father. The same goes for praying to Mary and the saints. It’s no problem; whatever helps, helps. We’re not robbing Peter to pay Paul, we’re the family of God. When I was young it didn’t matter who wore whose socks, so long as they fitted, more or less. That's what a family is. The blood running in the veins of the Christian family is the blood of Jesus. The Catholic understanding is that we are all part of the Communion of Saints, and no one is less likely to distract you from God than a saint.
So, Deirdre, my advice is: pray any way you can. But don’t forget, too, that the Liturgy shows us the great lines, the great structure, of prayer.
God bless the work!