The traditional goals of prayer have often been listed as petition, adoration, reparation, and thanksgiving. (P A R T is an easy memory aid for recalling these four ends.) The Glory to God during Mass would certainly deserve the adoration label. The tradition of saying grace before meals, whether employing the familiar “Bless us, O Lord…” or speaking spontaneously, is clearly a prayer of thanksgiving. Certainly the Act of Contrition memorized as a child is spoken as an act of reparation. Indeed, the most frequent form of prayer is petition, asking God to look kindly on everything from a desperate situation in the hospital emergency room to making a toss from the free throw line during the high school basketball game. Clearly, prayer manifests itself in assorted ways: praising, appreciating, regretting, requesting. But at its root, all prayer manifests an appreciation of the presence of God in the soul of the believer.
Consider an episode that St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) narrates concerning the appreciation of the presence of God in the life of the believer. Before her conversion from Judaism to Catholicism, Edith had attended many religious services in her native Germany. Certainly, Jewish rituals in her neighborhood synagogue as well as many Protestant gatherings in Germany’s abundant Lutheran churches found Miss Stein in attendance. And of course, Edith witnessed many Roman Catholic ceremonies as well. Recalling her extensive contacts with the assorted houses of worship in Germany, Edith noted that when arriving at a Jewish synagogue or a Protestant church the congregation simply took their seats and awaited the opening rites. But when entering a Catholic church, worshippers knelt briefly, usually signed themselves, folded their hands, bowed their head, and then noticeably placed themselves in the presence of God whom they believed was readily available to them. These few moments of recollection, this brief time of deliberately recalling the nearness of God, was the routine Edith observed throughout Catholic Germany. Everyone reading The Quiet Corner right now can just as surely recall similar episodes in their own religious experiences and, indeed, in their own religious lives.
Any student of the DeLaSalle Christian Brothers can well recall that every class was begun with the pious ejaculation, “Let us remember that we are in the holy Presence of God!” Frankly not much recollection took place in the classroom right after those words, but the effort was worthy. St. John Baptist de LaSalle, along with Edith Stein and frankly along with all the saints, recognized that all authentic prayer — petition, adoration, repentance, thanksgiving — commences with an appreciation of the nearness of God. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection has written a brief spiritual classic entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God,” insisting that awareness of the Presence of God must characterize all Christian activity and certainly prayer. Brother Lawrence wrote, “We should establish in ourselves a sense of GOD’S Presence by continually conversing with Him. It is a shameful thing to quit this conversation, to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed on His Presence.” Brother Lawrence’s spiritual advice has nourished believers for over three hundred years. And of course this religious brother stands firmly within the pious tradition expressed in Scripture itself.
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,” declares Isaiah in this Sunday’s first reading. Enveloped by the spirit of God, the prophet speaks powerfully convinced that his words are motived by the very presence of God within his soul: “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice…” The seer senses that the Lord has surrounded him, cloaked him, and immersed him in the Divine Presence. In the same vein St. Paul in the second reading celebrates the presence of God in the life of the believer: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good.” St. Paul is asking here that Christians resist a casual attitude toward God and prayer and instead ponder deeply the availability — “in all circumstances” — of the Divine Presence to all believers. The Apostle informs his followers never to “quench the Spirit,” but rather to thrill to the Divine Spirit especially palpable at time of prayer.
St. John the Baptist “was sent from God…to testify to the light.” What was this light that John heralded other than God made present to humanity through Jesus Christ? Christ made God available, made God handy, made God present. Prayer is taking practical advantage of the Presence of God made readily available to the believer through the exercises and traditions of the Christian faith.