“Do you love me?”
Don’t worry, I’m not suffering a moment of insecurity – I’m quoting the title of a quiet best-seller which is trending in Catholic bookshops across the UK.
Earlier this year, our bishops produced an excellent little book which leads the reader on a guided meditation. It’s best followed in bite-sized chunks, and allows you to explore many aspects of Christian prayer.
Each of today’s readings teaches us something about prayer, too.
Hebrews reminds us who we are praying to, and through, in Jesus – he is our Great High Priest, and as human as we are. Prayer is a conversation, and speaking with Jesus is rather like being one of the pilots in the same squadron as Prince William. Behind closed doors, you can treat a Royal Heir to the Throne as one of your mates, and share a laugh and a joke with him. On the parade ground, it is right and proper to bow and show the utmost respect in the presence of His Royal Highness. If you are part of the squadron, William is at one and the same time your friend and your prince. It is just the same with the relationship we are invited to have with Our Lord.
One kind of prayer is simply telling Jesus about what’s going on in our lives. He doesn’t need us to say it for the sake of Information – as Lord of Creation, he knows already what we are doing and thinking. But as our friend he loves to hear us confiding it to him in our own words. St Faustina, who had the rare gift of hearing the Lord speak clearly to her, once heard him say: “My daughter…why do you not tell me about everything that concerns you, even the smallest details? Tell Me about everything, and know that this will give Me great joy.” She answered, “But You know about everything, Lord.” And Jesus replied: “Yes I do know; but you should not excuse yourself with the fact that I know, but with childlike simplicity talk to Me about everything, for my ears and heart are inclined towards you, and your words are dear to Me.” So have no doubt that speaking to Jesus of the ups and downs of your daily life is a perfectly worthy form of prayer!
Blind Bartimaeus, in the Gospel, is looking for Jesus. He knows the Lord is near, but needs some help finding him. So he cries out: “Lord! I need you! Have mercy on me!” Jesus hears him and responds, but doesn’t come directly to him. Rather, Jesus calls Bartimaeus to come to him. Now Bartimaeus faces a harder challenges – unable to see, he must abandon his protective cloak in a crowd, and set out towards the voice of Jesus. This takes courage! So when Jesus declares “Your faith has saved you!” he means that Bartimaeus is being rewarded for taking a risk – leaving behind his security, and stepping towards Jesus. Blessed Newman showed the same courage in his poem Lead Kindly Light, not asking to see the final destination, but only the next step.
Jeremiah points us to yet another kind of prayer. “Shout with joy for Jacob!” he declares. When we gather for Sunday Mass, we are invited to take part in a joyful celebration of and with the God who loves us. Pope Francis has warned us not to look like sourpusses when leaving church – the Spanish word he used translates literally as being “vinegar-faced”! Right here, right now, we might have come to Mass burdened by many problems, but we are invited to look not at our burdens, but towards the Lord who has the power to rescue us from all distress. We do not cry out with joy at Mass because everything in our life is a bed of roses, but because we trust in Jesus. Just as Bartimaeus trusted that if he abandoned his cloak, he would receive his sight, so we must trust that praising God when we don’t feel like it, will lead us to new blessings.
In ancient Israel, Jewish worship services involved cymbals and rams’ horns – imagine celebrating Mass with vuvuzelas! Jesus’ 12 apostles sang psalms at the Last Supper. For centuries, monks and nuns sang chants in their chapels. But we lost the habit of joyful singing when we became an underground church in the British Isles – when we were celebrating secret Masses in English mansions or on Irish rocks, there was no question of making a loud noise. Now it’s time to rediscover our voice. We sing at Mass because we choose to make a joyful noise to the Lord. It’s not a question of how we feel, but of giving to God the praise that God deserves!
Prayer doesn’t happen by accident – it happens because we choose to pray. We might be motivated by our own needs – for forgiveness, for help, or for health. Or we might pray harder for a friend who is sick or dying. But hear the words of Jesus, “Do you love me?” – and in love, choose the highest form of prayer, to give praise and thanks to God, to begin a conversation with Jesus, because he is the Lord who loves you. If you need some help praying, or if you want to explore forms of prayer you might not have tasted before, give this book a try. Over the last few months it has certainly enriched my prayer life, and I know it can bless yours, too.
So: Courage! Get up! Jesus is calling you! What would you like to say to him?