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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Prayer as a Theological Act

Some look at prayer as merely the indulgence of devout feelings or a pious exercise of the imagination or else a plunge into an empty abyss of meaninglessness. Still others approach prayer as something to be mastered by technique, program or method. Probably, there are religious traditions that advocate such approaches to prayer. But the Catholic tradition, and traditional Christianity as a whole, discerns prayer as essentially theological: a sacred conversation with the Hidden God revealed by the Word made flesh. An exchange of hearts between the Living God and dying humanity, true prayer involves the ordering of one's whole being to the saving truth communicated through sacred doctrine. This is perhaps why we argue about our teachings so fiercely and why theology which is merely intellectual prattle falls so far short of its task: the truth is a matter, not only of the mind, but also of the heart. This saving truth is at once ecclesial, scriptural, sacramental, objective and personal. To pray as a Christian, our hearts must be vulnerable to this truth. This is what faith is - faith assents to the truth so that we might suffer it in our hearts. At the same time, faith connects our suffering, our misery, our inadequacies, our voids to the truth - and the truth fills all of this with eternal meaning. One never prays as an isolated individual suffering outside of space and time - but with the communion we share in Christ one's prayer can order the full extent and duration of every suffering to eternity. Christian prayer is a theological act because it unites one's whole being, from one's highest thoughts to one's deepest needs, to the paschal mystery, the saving work Christ accomplished on the Cross. Christian prayer is cruciform - it stretches from one horizon of human activity to the other, protecting us from every evil and allowing us to manifest God's glory in every situation. This is because in this doctrinally informed prayer we learn to die to ourselves so that we might live by the life of Christ in us. In this transformed existence we resist conforming to what is merely politically correct, socially acceptable or culturally safe - whoever beholds the loving eyes of the Crucified reflected in sacred doctrine can never be indifferent to the plight of the helpless. Love's bold courage drives us to offer even our bodies as a living sacrifice and this becomes our true spiritual worship. Prayer rooted in true doctrine is embodied and engaged. As a theological reality, Christian prayer pushes to new horizons of human freedom because it infuses our frailty and brokenness with divine power.

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