following is an excerpt from the third talk in Archbishop Chaput's "Back to the
Basics" Jubilee Lecture Series. It was presented Nov. 3, 1999, at the John Paul
II Center for the New Evangelization.
Evangelist tells us that "God is love." God himself tells us in Scripture that
he wants not our burnt offerings and holocausts, but our love. The form of our
personal prayers is much less important than the heart behind it. Those of you
who are married know that the usual expressions of love within a marriage Ė
flowers, gifts, the words "I love you" Ė are important and beautiful. But what
moves the heart like an earthquake is when a spouse does something unexpected --
out of love -- which is unique, unselfish, spontaneous and sincere.
So it is with God. He wants our love. He wants our attention. The sincere gift
of our self is important. How we do it -- the wrapping on the gift Ė is
secondary. Iíd even take it a step further. When we focus too much on the
technique of prayer, we can subtly reduce God to an instrument of our wants, and
we shift the focus to our own efforts. The only "technique" Jesus told us to use
is the Our Father. Beyond that, any form of prayer, from the most ancient and
venerated, to the most spontaneous and personal, will do the trick. The point is
to try. The point is to persist -- whenever and wherever you can turn your heart
Why must we
Hereís another point about prayer. We pray for four basic reasons . . . but the
first three get the lionís share of our attention. We ask God for things we want
and need. We praise him for his greatness. And we thank him for his gifts. But
the most important kind of prayer we often overlook. Above all, we pray to
listen for Godís will. Remember the words of Mary to the servants at Cana: "Do
whatever he tells you." We canít hear what God wants to tell us if we donít
create a habit of listening -- and the inner silence and stillness it requires.
Prayer is not a monologue. God knows us better than we know ourselves. If we
listen, sooner or later weíll feel his presence.
And hereís my final point about prayer. Some of you will remember the old Latin
saying, laborare est orare Ė "to work is to pray." Work is a form of
prayer. We can "pray without ceasing" because everything we do and experience
can be lifted up as a prayer to our Father. Our work, our joys, our achievements
and disappointments . . . and most especially our sufferings. Back in 1984, John
Paul II wrote a very moving apostolic letter called, On the Christian Meaning of
Human Suffering. In it he writes that each person, in his or her personal
suffering, becomes "a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ" (19).
He writes that "
. . . every human suffering, by reason of [a personís] loving union with Christ,
completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the
Church completes the redemptive work of Christ" (24). And this is why the Church
reveres the "creative character" of suffering -- because "in suffering there is
concealed a particular power which draws the person interiorly close to Christ"
(26). Even the worst suffering, when given over to God, has power and meaning as
prayer. Scripture is filled with examples, which is why the Holy Father
describes the Bible as "a great book about suffering" (6).