Prayer and the Season of Lent
By Most Rev. Leonardo Y. Medroso
THE Season of Lent summons us Christians to pause and pray. It is a time of grace to look deep into ourselves, examine the motivations that drive our life, our status with the community and the environment, and above all, our relationship with the Transcendent without whom human life becomes a tumble of mess and meaningless bits of unrelated events. As it is said, an unexamined life is an existence not worth living.
Deep prayer is based on reality. It is not an imagined relationship with God, neither is it a mere conversation with the Father in Heaven clothed in pietistic burst of emotions and interesting words. Genuine prayer is reality. It aims to bring us down deep into the realization of the Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel who, having been unmasked of her immoral love life and accepted it as a matter of fact, immediately asked Jesus about the nature of a true worship that is acceptable to God. In tender words Jesus answered her: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… the hour will come—in fact it is here already—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:21, 23-24).
Prayer confronts us to the truth about ourselves. It brings us to the hard realization that life which runs independently from the plans of God because it leans more to the promises of this world is always an empty one, a life devoid of meaning, wrought with so much lies, disappointments and frustrations. As Jesus once declared: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but losses his own soul?” This realization is critical to prayer. For it is only in this knowledge of our emptiness and inanity of life that we are led to search for another reality, the reality of God’s love who is ever willing to embrace us with his mercy. Psalms 69 gives these hopeful words to the despairing sinner who deep inside him realized that God is a Savior: “In your loving kindness, answer me, Yahweh, in your great tenderness turn to me, do not hide your face from your servant, quick, I am in trouble, answer me. Come to my side, redeem me, from so many enemies ransom me” (16-18). For me, the sharp description of a man in prayer is the blind man of Jericho found in the Gospel of Mark, who, having heard of Jesus passing by, unmindful of the scorn and insults of the people around him, threw aside his cloak, ran towards Him, unashamedly prostrated before Him, and begged: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner” (cf. 10: 46-52).
Prayer therefore is a discipline. It is a rigorous study of our life and serious acceptance of the demons that drive our day-to-day activities and behavior. As a discipline, prayer first of all takes on the form of listening to the Word of God offered in abundance through the liturgical readings. God speaks to our hearts and entreats us not to disregard His voice, for the words that He utters are guideposts in our itinerary of faith. “If only you would listen to him today, ‘Do not harden your hearts’” (Ps 95:8). It is a sad commentary to the history of our salvation that we are found ever stubborn to the Will of God, stiffed neck people. We think that we know better than God; that our plans are better than His. And so, like our first parents in the garden of Eden we go our separate way, listen more to the tantalizing whispers of the snake in abject disregard to the persistent invitation of God, ever declaring ourselves autonomous, godlike. No, it is not true that God is jealous of our nature and our innate power. On the contrary, He wants us to participate in His life. We are after all His children. But we mistrust Him, we defy His plans. We insist on our own designs of achieving this power (cf. Gn 3: 1-19).
Along this line, Pope Benedict XVI in his Lenten Message advised us: “ During the entire Lenten period, the Church offers us God’s Word with particular abundance. By meditating and internalizing the Word in order to live it every day, we learn a precious and irreplaceable form of prayer; by attentively listening to God, who continues to speak to our hearts, we nourish the itinerary of faith initiated on the day of our Baptism…. The Lenten period is a favorable time to recognize our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.”