By Father Benjamin Alforque, MSC, VF
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside
Fr. Thomas Green, SJ, - a physicist-philosopher-theologian and spiritual master, all rolled into one- introduced me to prayer. Under his guidance and with his friendship, together with the community, I slowly learned a little bit more about prayer and how to pray.
Prayer is an initiative of God, inviting us to a relationship with Him! He claims us for Himself, and He empowers us to be able to respond to His claim. Prayer too is our personal response to this invitation. In our experience, prayer as our response comes to us as a first moment of awareness. It seems like the desire to pray, and prayer itself, depend solely on our decisions. But when we are able to relate to Him in a deeper way, in that second moment, we realize that we are able to pray because He has invited us first, and enabled us to do so. This is so because God has so loved us that He created us, in His own image and likeness, to be with Him. This is so because then we realize how radically fragile we are, sinful in our humanity and in need of God’s loving intervention.
Opening to God: this is the first act of prayer as our response to God. We open ourselves to Him: “Here I am Lord.” with hearts full of gratitude to the God who gives us life and who calls us to be with Him always. But this gratitude can only come from one who is humble. Proud hearts cannot genuinely say “thank you” for they claim credit for themselves. No, only when we are empty, only when we accept that we are nothing can we be filled by the grace of God, and find our identity in His divinity. People who are full have no more space left for God. Before Him, we cultivate an attitude of honesty and truthfulness: Lord, how do You really see the kind of person that I am now? This fundamental self-revelation demands from us a vulnerability and transparency, because before God we cannot boast or lie. Of course, we often flatter ourselves before Him, of how good and generous we have been, like that Pharisee in Luke’s Gospel (18,11). Instead, let our prayerful stance be like that of a tax collector who said: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18,13). Let our prayerful stance be that of the poor of God.
As I look back to my own growth in prayer, I realize how my mother was “used” by God to invite me to Him. She just didn’t guide my hand to write my name. She guided my hand to make the sign of the Cross, with the words: In the name of the Father.. and that provoked me to ask her: why, mama? She said something about God and the Cross. But more than that, she was my first experience of a loving God and a redeeming Cross. And the sign with its words that she taught me has been with me ever since.