“Prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.”
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 2560
Prayer is a living relationship with God who created us to thirst for Him, with a natural desire to seek Him, to know Him and love Him. Prayer is man’s response to God’s initiative. It is a turning of the heart toward God, the response of the thirsty soul reaching out to God for a drink. In prayer, like the woman at the well, our thirst encounters the thirst of God, and discovering that we already possess the One we yearn for, we are satisfied.
When I was a child, I didn’t so much pray as I tried to bargain with God. I said things like, “God, if you get me out of this, I’ll go to Church on Sunday.” In other words, “God if you do me a favor, I’ll do you a favor.” This is a childish way of thinking about prayer, more superstitious than Christian. The truth is our prayer adds nothing to God’s greatness, yet our desire to pray is itself God’s gift to us.
In the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46) Jesus revealed a more mature understanding of prayer. The first mark of which is brutal honesty. In his prayer, Jesus didn’t hide his feelings, or make excuses. He was not ashamed. He was simply brutally honest, to the point of sweating blood. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.” In His prayer, Jesus didn’t try and bargain with the Father. Instead He prayed, “not my will but yours be done.” Thus, the second mark of mature Christian prayer is trust in God. Jesus’ example in the garden shows us that mature Christian prayer expresses both filial boldness (Mark 11:24) as well as absolute trust in God’s power and goodness (Mark 9:23).
Most forms of Christian prayer fall into 4 categories according to the acronym A.C.T.S.: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Adoration is the prayer of being in the presence of God. In adoration, we acknowledge God for who He is by humbling ourselves before Him in wonder and awe. Contrition is prayer that expresses our sorrow for sin and our desire to change. Thanksgiving communicates our gratitude for all the good things God has done for us. Supplication admits our dependence on the Creator by trusting Him with our creaturely needs and asking for His help. These basic four types of prayer make up a well-balanced prayer life.
The greatest prayer we have available to us as mature Catholics is the Eucharist. In the Mass, we experience the prayer of all prayers, Jesus’s own prayer to the Father. The Mass is a complete prayer: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Our Father and to ask for their daily bread. In Holy Communion, in answer to our prayers, we receive our daily bread with the invitation from Jesus to take it and to become what we eat.