Many years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Vatican Museum of Modern Art with an accomplished artist. I had been to the museum many times before. I visited each of the many times I had been in Rome for meetings. I thought I knew it well.
This time was different. As we walked, sat, looked, and spoke, it was like I had never been there before. His insightful commentary helped me realize how much I had been “seeing but not seeing.” I saw so much for the first time!
The experience gave me another insight into T. S. Eliot’s often quoted lines…
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
I recently “binged” on Pope Francis’ series Wednesday reflections on the Our Father. I am into my ninth decade of praying it. I have read many thoughtful commentaries. Yet the Holy Father is helping me pray the Our Father as if for the first time.
Let me begin to share some things that help me pray in ways I have rarely explored.
Jesus was a man of prayer… and his apostles noticed
Jesus prayed constantly in every circumstance of his life.
“Jesus prayed with intensity in public moments, sharing the liturgy of his people, but also seeking withdrawn places, away from the turbulence of the world, places that allowed him to dwell in the privacy of his soul: he is the prophet who knows the stones of the desert and goes up high into the mountains.”
“Jesus’ last words before dying on the Cross are words from the psalms, that is, of prayer, the prayer of the Jews: he prayed with the prayers that his mother had taught him.”
His disciples notice
They could see prayer was important to him. So, they asked: “Teacher, teach us to pray!”.
How many times have I read this? Yet, how many times have I actually… and directly… sat with this in my heart. I wonder if, for me, “teach me” jumps too quickly into finding the right words to lay out my needs.
It is true there are seven specific things Jesus teaches us to pray for.
“There are seven requests in the “Our Father”, easily divisible into two subgroups.
The first three have at the center ‘Thou/You’ addressed to God the Father; the other four have at the center ‘us’ and our human needs.
In the first part Jesus lets us enter his wishes… everyone turning to the Father: “hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done”;
in the second it is He who enters us and becomes the interpreter of our needs: daily bread, forgiveness of sins, help in temptation and liberation from evil.”
Teach me to Pray
But my sense now is that I must first ask “teach me to pray”.
“The first step of every Christian prayer is the entry into a mystery, that of the fatherhood of God. One cannot pray like parrots. Either you enter into the mystery, in the awareness that God is your Father, or you do not pray. If I want to pray to God my Father, I begin with the mystery.”
I now ask myself whether I am open to the mystery of the fatherhood… and even the motherhood of God.
And this mystery is what each of Pope Francis’ following meditations challenges me to explore.
To be continued…
See my earlier post Is the Our Father a Radical Prayer?
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk