A few years ago, an elderly man approached me after Mass, and his facial expression was one of great concern. When I asked him what was wrong, he responded, “Deacon Mike, I’m not sure I know how to pray.” I was touched that a man in his 70s was still concerned about the most effective way to communicate with God. I praised him for his sincere and strong desire to enter into a deeper relationship with God and reminded him that St. Teresa of Ávila described prayer as a friendly conversation with Him who loves us. Regardless of age or where a person might be on his or her faith journey, prayer is a necessary component of our relationship with God.
In today’s Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount by addressing prayer. Jesus reminds us that prayer does not have to consist of many words or be eloquent, because, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Prayer is the vehicle through which we discover the many ways in which Christ’s love, mercy, kindness, and compassion are alive in our hearts. We are made in the image of God, and He wants us to realize that our lives and how we live them can be a prayer if we dedicate our actions and our words to glorifying Him who is Love.
Jesus shares with us His prayer, the “Our Father.” As we pray, let us recite the “Our Father” slowly so that we can think about each line and how it can bring us closer to God this Lent. After Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He reminds them, and us, to practice mercy through forgiveness: “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Jesus wants us never to forget that His prayer is meaningless if we do not practice what we pray in our daily lives.
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the pillars of our Lenten journey, and we should remember this Lent as we pray, fast, and give alms that our identity and mission as sons and daughters of God are rooted in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In today’s reading from Isaiah, God reminds us that our mission as twenty-first century apostles is to give glory to Him through our words and actions. And we may do so through fasting and feasting. Fast from discontent, anger, bitterness, self-concern, discouragement, laziness, suspicion, guilt. Feast on gratitude, patience, forgiveness, compassion for others, hope, commitment, truth, and the mercy of God. As we pray this Lent and seek to grow closer to God, let us enter into conversation with God, remembering that His love is the greatest source of peace and strength in our lives.
-Deacon Mike McGrath is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Savannah. He ministers to the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities at St. Matthew Catholic Church (Statesboro, GA). Deacon Mike is the editor of the book Answering the Call: How God Transformed the Lives of Nineteen Catholic Deacons.