“Prayer comes from God and Returns to God” (3/12/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Our first reading and Gospel both teach us that true prayer comes from God and returns to God. Like the rain that comes from the heavens, so prayer comes down from God and causes a fruitfulness in the human soul that springs up in prayer to God. Like the word that comes from God and returns to Him, not empty but bearing up human prayer and praise. And in our Gospel, we can see the Our Father in these terms. It is a prayer coming to us from God, God teaches it to us, and it returns to God as we pray it. It fulfills what we saw in Isaiah about the rain coming down from heaven and making the soul fruitful, in prayer and praise returned to God. True prayer comes from God and returns to God.
Primarily, Christian prayer is not a result of our own initiative. We do not generate prayer on our own. Prayer comes from God and returns to God. Prayer is a conversation with God and He is the one who begins the conversation. Prayer is a share in the life of the Blessed Trinity and we do not gain access to the divine life on our own. We do not have the capacities on our own to enter into the knowing and loving of the Trinity. But in Christian prayer we enter into it. In Christian prayer we enter into fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A couple caveats need to be made. As we go along in day-to-day life, we in the course of things do take the initiative to begin praying or not. We don’t just wait in silence for something to happen. No, we take the initiative in beginning to pray in the here and now. But more fundamentally we do this as Christians because God has already taken the initiative with us. He has already spoken to us in the Holy Word of God. He has already begun the most intimate conversation with us in Jesus Christ.
Moreover on the natural level, there is a longing for God in every human heart. So prayer is a very human thing, perhaps the most human thing. But it cannot be fulfilled unless God the Father does what he has done in Jesus Christ and in sending the Holy Spirit to us. God must bring to fulfillment what stirs in every human heart. And the Father does this through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The Catechism says, “Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man” (2564).
So we see that prayer is truly an act of man. But it is not the action of man alone. “It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves” and through union with Jesus Christ. The Trinitarian form of liturgical prayer makes this clear and helps bring this about. We pray to the Father, through Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. We are not praying on our own. True prayer comes from God and returns to God.
St. Maximus the Confessor goes so far to find the Trinity in the Lord’s Prayer. He does so in the first three phrases of the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father who art in heaven,” clearly refers to the Father. “Hallowed be thy name,” he sees in terms of the Son. And “thy Kingdom come,” he sees in terms of the Holy Spirit.
St. Maximus says, “For these opening words of the prayer contain a revelation of the Father, of the name of the Father, and of the kingdom of the Father, so that from this beginning we may be taught to revere, invoke and worship the Trinity in unity. For the name of God the Father exists in substantial form as the only-begotten Son. Again, the kingdom of God the Father exists in substantial form as the Holy Spirit” (Phlkia II, 290).
Whatever we make of this suggestion, the main point is that in prayer, we are wrapped up in the mystery of the Trinity whether in praying the Lord’s Prayer or any other Christian prayer, written or spontaneous from our hearts,. We know by faith, that we do not pray on our own but the Son and Holy Spirit enliven and perfect our prayer even without our knowing it. Prayer comes from God and returns to God. The Lord Jesus stands behind our prayer. The Holy Spirit lives in our prayer. And the Father draws our prayer to himself. This is the confidence of the Christian at prayer, by which united with Christ, we cry out in the Spirit, “Abba! Father!” or “Our Father.”