February 2010 - Vol. 37
Prayer – The Spokesman of Hope
by Christoph Schonborn
Just before her conversion, Blessed Edith Stein went into the cathedral in Frankfurt and saw a simple woman come in from the market, kneel down, and pray. By Edith Stein's own testimony, the sight of this woman made a decisive impression upon her on her journey toward the faith: a simple woman, kneeling and praying in the cathedral. Something inexpressible, very simple, so ordinary, and yet so full of mystery: this intimate contact with the invisible God. Not a self-absorbed meditation, but quiet relaxation in the presence of a mysterious Other. What Edith Stein sensed in this humble praying woman would soon become a certainty for her: God exists, and in prayer we turn toward him.
Longing to pray
Does it not move us when we come into church and find someone silently praying there? Docs this sight awaken in us the longing to pray? Do we hear at this moment the murmuring of the spring that summons us to the living water? As the martyr Ignatius of Antioch writes: “Living water murmurs within me, saying inwardly: ‘Come to the Father!’” (1) The longing for prayer is the lure within us of the Holy Spirit, who draws us to the Father, Yes, this longing is already prayer, is already the prayer of the Spirit within us, “with sighs too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).
Is the ground
of prayer dried up today?
And yet we are permitted to hope that no secularization can entirely drown out the call of God in the hearts of men. …For prayer is the expression of a longing, which has not been “produced” by us but has been placed in the hearts of men by God. It is an expression of the “fecisti nos ad Te” of Saint Augustine (Thou madest us for thyself). …He who prays hopes. For someone who cannot hope to be heard cannot ask. After all we only ask other human beings for something when we have the hope that our petition bas a chance of being granted. "Prayer," says Saint Thomas, “is the spokesman of hope”(2)
For what do we
pray and hope?
Since prayer is a kind of spokesman for our desires with God, we only ask for something in prayer rightly if we desire it rightly. In the Lord’s Prayer not only do we ask for all that we may rightly desire, we also ask for them in the order in which we are supposed to desire them. This prayer, then, not only teaches us to ask, it also shapes all our affections (sit informative totius nostri affectus). (3)
A wonderful statement: The Our Father shapes our whole affective life into its right proportions; it places in us desires and yearnings and therefore the right priorities in our praying.
Is it really reasonable for our primary hope, and therefore our greatest longing, to be: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”? We have a concern for our “daily bread” (think how many of our people are worrying about their jobs or have already lost them!). We want to get on well with one another (“Forgive us our trespasses ...”). Above all, we beg for protection from evil and temptation, from anguish and despair (“Lead us not into temptation,” “Deliver us from evil”). All of these petitions develop out of the problems of our life. They force their way to the front of our attention and harass our hearts. They are usual1y, therefore, our first and most pressing petitions.
Prayer is the
language of hope
Saint Thomas [Aquinas] says that the Our Father is "informativa totius nostri affectus": it shapes all our desires and feelings. And indeed, time and again, we hear of people being healed in the very roots of their lives through the Our Father. I am thinking, for example, of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's friend Dimitri Panin,(6) or of Tatiana Gorischeva, who received the grace of conversion through reciting the Our Father. When our affectus is shaped by the Our Father, our desires and yearnings are sound and in conformity to the action of God, and then our prayer will be more and more efficacious, because it really will be in harmony with God's plan, really will be cooperating with God's providence. Then our praying will be in harmony with the "sighs" of the Spirit, who "intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:27). In the Compendium theologiae, Saint Thomas says: "The Our Father is the prayer through which our hope in God is raised up to the highest degree."(7)
Just as faith is certain, because it believes God, so hope does not disappoint (cf. Romans 5:5), because, full of trust, it expects from God what he promises. It is from God alone that hope derives its triumphant certainty: "In te, Domine speravi, non confundar in aeternum" (In thee, O Lord, have I trusted, let me never be confounded).
(1) Epistula ad Romanus 7, 2.
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