The Gospel according to St. Luke is rightly called the “Gospel of Prayer.” The other Gospels certainly include several instructions of Jesus on the need and nature of prayer. Yet, it is St. Luke who actually records the words of prayers in his writings like the “Benedictus,” the “Magnificat,” the “Nunc Dimtiis” and the “Our Father.”
But even more important than thoughts about prayer or the words of prayers is St. Luke’s frequent presentation of Jesus himself at prayer.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, St. Luke notes that during the conferral of baptism by St. John the Baptist, Jesus was to be found at prayer: “… and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying. ...” Before nominating the Twelve Apostles, Jesus spent protracted time in prayer: “In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.” On the occasion of St. Peter’s notable confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah, Jesus had just come out of a time of deep prayer: “Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Jesus also knew that prayer would be the best preparation for the mystical experience of the Transfiguration: “About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.” The disciples imbibed the prayerful spirit of Jesus and earnestly implored him to share it with them: “He was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.’” Jesus also made time to pray for individual needs. He prayed for Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail.” And he prayed for himself: “After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” Jesus’ final prayer was a protestation of obedience: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last.”
St. Luke knows that it is important to reveal Jesus as a man of prayer if he is to convince his readership that prayer is integral to the life of every Christian. During his public life Jesus is presented meeting the classical goals of prayer. At the resuscitation of Lazarus, Jesus offers a prayer of gratitude: “Father, I thank you for hearing me” . ... While discussing the imprisonment of John with the crowds, Christ voices a prayer of adoration, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth”. ... The Savior expresses a prayer of petition on his own behalf in the Garden of Olives, “Father, if this cup pass me by” . ... And, not for himself but for others, Jesus pronounces words of repentance in his memorable Lord’s Prayer, “… forgive us our trespasses”. ...
Yet noble as these enduring aims of prayer might be, authentic prayer will lead the devoted believer to a superior experience of communication with the divine. St. Teresa of Avila had this higher aspect of prayer in mind when she described prayer as a conversation with someone we know who loves us. The Carmelite mystic put her finger on the essence of prayer as a dialogue between God and man.
St. John Vianney is associated with a legend (it might be about himself) that has a parish priest approach an older gentleman who was seen daily sitting in church for hours on end. The pastor gently inquired how the elderly man occupied himself and was given the gracious answer, “Oh, I just look at Him and He just looks at me.” These words reveal just about the best explanation for prayer that there is. Prayer is the enjoyment of the presence of God.
What was the first action that Adam and Eve took after their original sin? They hid themselves because they were uncomfortable in God’s Presence. Why do people make an exit for the door when they see a priest arriving at a wake? People expect to be ill at ease in the divine presence that the priest’s prayer will evoke. Why are some people less than anxious to go to Mass on Sunday? Some Catholics are bored stiff in church. Their discomfort is not due to bad sermons or lousy songs. They are ill at ease because they have forgotten how to pray, how to dialogue, how to converse with God, how to enjoy his company. Jesus did not pray so frequently out of a mere sense of duty. Jesus enjoyed spending time with his Father. This was the key to his successful and extensive prayer life.