Relationship is a key word in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope continually reminds us that our faith is not only about doctrine and rules but that it is essentially about a relationship – a relationship with Jesus. We are called by name into a love relationship with Jesus.
One of the channels by which this relationship is developed we call prayer, specifically prayer of the heart or relational prayer. This prayer is different from formal, ritual or thought out prayers such as The Mass, Stations of the Cross, favorite prayers to Saints or the Rosary. This relational prayer is prayer that springs spontaneously from the heart. Patience, fidelity and invoking the Holy Spirit is necessary for developing this kind of prayer. We don’t simply pray when we “feel” like it. We make it a discipline of praying each day. We begin by invoking the Holy Spirit and inviting the Holy Spirit to open up our hearts to the Lord.
I suggest that there are five movements of relational/prayer of the heart:
- Share what is in our hearts. Think in terms of a human love relationship. If a young man and a young woman want to develop a relationship, they must eventually go beyond just talking about the weather. Gradually, they involve themselves in self-revelation. They share with each other their hopes and dreams and allow the other to know who they are. The same in our prayer. We share our hopes, dreams, frustrations, depression, temptations, anger, guilt, sinfulness, joys, desires – whatever we find in our hearts. It’s true that God already knows the secrets of our hearts, but that is not the point. The point is that we make a choice to open ourselves up to Him and share ourselves with Him. We are talking about developing a love relationship. Therefore, we must go below the surface. A number of years ago, Josephine, the head of my pastoral visitors (a program of volunteers who visited the sick and the dying) told me that when she had something to say to God, especially when she was angry, she would go and stand directly before the crucifix and tell God exactly what was on her mind. I remember being taken aback then, but today I know that she was right. We need to be upfront with God.
2. We listen for God speaks. If a young couple simply talk at each other and never stop and listen, the relationship will not go far. Listening is essential in any human relationship. We know that God hears every prayer. But there are times that we find ourselves frustrated and perhaps even angry. We may pray and pray for something good but not get a response. God hears. God answers but always on God’s time; always with God’s agenda which so often is not our own. We are faced with mystery. The great WHY? The challenge is to accept the Will of God as it unfolds in my life. Not everything is the Will of God so I have to pray, consult a trusted believing friend, a spiritual director or guide . I may not understand what is going on in my life, but I hand my life over to God – most likely grudgingly and with all kinds of reservations. My prayer needs to be a prayer of ACCEPTANCE. In struggling with acceptance, I will eventually find peace. ACCEPTANCE IS THE KEY TO A DEEP INNER PEACE.
I recently read a meditation which said:God insists that we ask, not because He needs to know our situation, but because we need the spiritual discipline of asking … but getting our wishes granted isn’t the purpose of prayer. Getting to know God is the purpose – that is developing a relationship with Him.
3. Silence is important for developing a relationship. A young couple eventually comes to the realization that there are times when there is nothing to say and that the times of silence together can be most fruitful. The same is true with God. We need to create times for silence in our lives where we can invite the Holy Spirit to work. The Scriptures remind us: Be still and know that I am God.
4. An attitude of waiting – not a passive attitude but an active attitude. God is at work in our lives. We need to make good choices on a daily basis. We live; however, with the expectation that God will bring us where we need to be. The same for a young couple. They make the best choices possible, but they also realize that there is much that will unfold as time goes on.
5. Gratitude. How important to live with a grateful heart not only for what we perceive to be the good things of life but for the totality of our lives. God has been at work in the painful, frustrating, sinful times as well as in the good. We are where we are today because of the totality of our life experiences. The same is true of the young couple. Their marriage will be the sum total of all of their experiences, good and not so good. And God will be in the midst of the totality.
We are called into a deep, personal relationship with Jesus. We thirst for relationship with Him and He thirsts for relationship with us. Prayer of the Heart – relational prayer – is a channel for developing this relationship.