IN THE PARABLE of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Jesus dismisses the first approach to prayer and praises the second. The proper approach to prayer is the attitude of humility, recognising one’s faults and failings. Confronted with the goodness and holiness of God all of us fall short of the mark. ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’ puts us into a right relationship. Luke 18.9-14
But what happens now? The utter difference of God leaves us with nothing we can see or touch. God’s hiddeness and silence may mislead us into thinking that we are simply talking to ourselves. Many give up at this point. In fact, the awareness of silence is part of prayer. God does not actually say something to us in prayer. He speaks the word of our real self to us, speaks through our experience. St John of the Cross So we do not hear anything in addition to ourselves.
Our prayers of petition are a way of expressing our openness to God, a symbol of our surrender to God’s will in real terms. We bring everything to God but leave him free as to his response. ‘Thy will be done’ added to any prayer does not indicate indifference as to the outcome, a kind of fatalist approach, but expresses a willingness to adapt ourselves to the way God sees the situation.
That may mean accepting some suffering. We do not know why God allows us to suffer. We do know that our surrender to the mystery of suffering is a form of surrender to th mystery of God. The more dependant we become on God the freer we become to be ourselves We need to see God’s will not as a pre­structured plan in the mind of God but rather as God’s deep desire that we become our real selves, our loving selves through the way we relate to others, ourselves, the world, and God.
The very transcendence of God is urging us to reach out for something more, in a direction that may not be so clear initially but will certainly lie in the direction of seeking what is the more loving response to any situation.
This will not yield instant answers or excuse us from working at the details of the problem. But it will ensure that we are looking in the right direction, and can expect God’s help.
Following Jesus always includes fidelity to duty and daily humdrum love. The integrity of our prayer reflects our self­knowledge and self-acceptance. It is in prayer that we let go of our need to understand and analyse, trusting that God is acting, surrendering to the mystery of the human condition.
God is not the object of our love next to other objects of our love but rather the horizon of our loving. God is not a ‘You’ among others. There aren’t two kinds of love, God and neighbour. There’s only one love. God is Love. And love of God is shown in our care and consideration of each other, made in his image and likeness.
If we approach life in this way, which Jesus came to show us, we find that peace which the world cannot give. John 14.27. 15/11/3
Peter Knott SJ