What is prayer?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church opens up its section on prayer with an eloquent quotation from St. Therese of Lisieux, which serves as a primary definition of prayer.
For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy. (CCC 2558)
After this quotation, the Catechism goes on to give a more lengthy explanation that simply expands on the definition provided by St. Therese.
“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? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.” (CCC 2559)
Prayer is the simple recognition that God is God and we are not. This is why the primary virtue of prayer is humility, acknowledging that we are all “beggars” before God.
However, prayer is much more than placing before God our petitions. It is also primarily focused on our relationship with God.
As the Catechism reiterates, “This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer” (CCC 2558).
We often forget that prayer is about a relationship and our love of God. Typically we go straight to the petitions, but first of all, prayer must be centered on the love we have for God and how we want to grow in that love.
This is only the beginning of prayer, as it is a deep and multifaceted concept, one that takes a lifetime to understand. Just as we can never plumb the depths of who God is, so too we can never fully exhaust the treasure that is prayer.
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