When St. Paul counsels us to “pray constantly,” or the Catholic Catechism calls prayer a “vital necessity,” even a good Christian might be forgiven for asking, “Why?”
Why is it necessary at all, if we believe that God knows our thoughts, loves us thoroughly and gives us all that we need?
That is, the sun will still rise, beauty will still overspread the land, suffering will still occur.
So why pray?
The poet Mary Oliver says, How to keep warm/is always a problem,/isn’t it?/Of course, there’s love./And there’s prayer.
And keeping warm – keeping our intentional relationship with God warm and alive, that is – may be the real point.
“If you don’t talk with your parents, they will still care for you and love you, but you’ll have no relationship with them,” Sister Catherine Cleary says.
“We don’t have to pray, but the invitation is there. It’s an invitation into relationship, into presence.”
Which is, Sr. Catherine notes, the natural state of love.
“Relationship is based on love,” she says. “If I love my parents and my friends, I talk with them. I take time to be with them and listen to them.”
The power of prayer has daily implications, in relationships, in work, even in the mundane moments of our lives.
“Whether we pray for ourselves or for others, prayer benefits us,” Sister Sheila McGrath says.
“It connects us to those for whom we pray, and connects us to God. It makes us better people.”
But when we pray that our sick friend be cured or that we find a better job, do we affect the outcome?
Sister Marlene Miller says that’s something we simply cannot know, at least not in this life.
“It’s a mystery, and we thrive on mystery,” she says.
“Not everything can be explained. Does prayer work? It does for me. I couldn’t face the daily trials and tribulations of life without a relationship with God.”
Sister Cecile Baer says prayer keeps her going.
“Prayer gives me the energy, strength and will power – through my relationship with God – to get through every day,” she says.
“The rare days that I don’t get my prayers in are awful days. I need to pray.”
Which is another common conclusion. Prayer is for us.
“God doesn’t need anything from me but I need something from God,” Sister Susan Hutchens says.
“The point isn’t God knowing I’m here or God knowing my thoughts. God already knows. Prayer helps me get in touch with my own thoughts.
“A point of prayer is to calm and focus oneself. To converse with God helps us express the deepest yearning of our selves. It comes out in silence, in Scripture, in just being with God.”
And if you wonder how to just be with God, Sister Jackie Walsh suggests you look to the model of friendship.
“God should be like a friend, I think,” she says.
“You go to your friends in times of trouble, you talk things through. You thank them for all they do for you. I want to stay in touch with my dearest friends.
“Prayer is simply this. I find my life a whole lot more peaceful when I spend time in prayer.”
So, how should we pray?
As St. Paul says, We do not know how to pray … but the Spirit intercedes within. (Romans 8:23) When we call God – when we intend to call God – we pray.
Whether we pray the word prayers we grew up with, sit in companionable silence, or simply say Help! or Thank You!, we are in prayer if we intend to be.
Our hearts, as powered by the Spirit within, know what to do.