Prayer as God’s Gift
St. John Damascene writes that, "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or "out of the depths" of a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 130:1)? He who humbles himself will be exalted (Lk 18:9-14); humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that "we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26), are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. As St. Augustine writes, "Man is a beggar before God.” (CCC 2559)
Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink at the well. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God's desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. St. Augustine writes that, “God thirsts that we may thirst for him.” (CCC 2560) God puts the desire within us to desire him; our response to that desire for God is the root of prayer.
Paradoxically our prayer of petition is a response to the plea of the living God: "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer 2:13). (CCC 2561)
Prayer as Covenant
Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole person who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain. (CCC 2562)
The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, of encountering our relational God in whose image we are made. The heart is, therefore, also the place of covenant. (CCC 2563)
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. (CCC 2564)
Prayer as Communion
In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes that the grace of the Kingdom is "the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit." Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ (Rom 6:5). Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body.
The Universal Call to Prayer
In the act of creation, God calls every being from nothingness into existence. "Crowned with glory and honor," man is, after the angels, capable of acknowledging "how majestic is the name of the Lord in all the earth” (Psalm 8:5,1). Even after losing through his sin his likeness to God, man remains an image of his Creator, and retains the desire for the one who calls him into existence. All religions bear witness to humanity's essential search for God (Acts 17:27). (CCC 2566)
Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God's initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation.