When someone else prays aloud, what goes through your mind? For active Christians praying aloud is normal. Being a Christian irreducibly puts one in relationship with other Christians, and within that community each one prays for others and for the community as a whole. We could all pray in silence; but typically Christians fall silent due to disagreement or an inability of leaders to form a coherent prayer with any degree of confidence. Ordinarily, Christ would have us live and pray together.
St. Benedict writes in his rule: “It is far more important that we present our pleas to God with the utmost humility and purity of devotion …. Our prayers must be heartfelt and to the point.” Benedict’s reflections on prayer, specifically praying together, turn right to Christ’s own directions, which are built on the life of the people Israel. Just as the Lord our God is one, so too are we joined together as one body: the Lord Jesus commanded his disciples at his Last Supper that they should be one just as he and the Father are one.
To return to the question: what goes through your mind when you listen to another praying? Are you listening to the words as if they are your own? Are you touched by sentiments? Are you parsing for aesthetic value? Are you second-guessing the one praying? Are you judging his words? Do you start to think of this as a formality (lip service, to use the language of Thomas Cranmer)? Or does your mind wander? Or perhaps you start to think that the one praying is actually talking to you? To be fair, one often wonders about the audience of a prayer in which Scripture is quoted. Does God need citations? Likewise, there are not a few folks who tacitly understand the liturgical prayers of the people as announcements of concern. In other words, we are announcing concerns and things we ought to pray about, as opposed to praying. So, what is it really like to listen to another pray for us and with us?
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus spends significant time telling his disciples that he is about to depart from them. The Farewell Discourses occupy chapters 14 through 17, a particularly large portion of the whole gospel text. But at a point, Jesus stops speaking to the disciples and he starts to pray for them. This moment, particularly in the perspective of John’s Gospel, is why Jesus has come into the world: he gathers his own and then he prays for them to the Father. He and the Father are one. He and his own are one. They are at peace with God and they are at peace with one another. Jesus the great high priest stands before God the Father on our behalf, drawing us into the reality of the living God. And in this priestly mediation, man comes to know his God. Jesus is no longer speaking to us, but for us. Likewise, when we pray through him to the Father, we draw others to the throne of God himself.
Look It Up
Read John 17:11.
Think About It
What are we really doing when we pray together?