How Is Prayer
Taught in the New Testament?
The Gospels tell us how Jesus prayed and how he taught us to pray. In Luke, for example, Jesus is portrayed as going off to a quiet place to pray, often spending the whole night in prayer and in wordless com munion with his Father. The Catechism says: “He includes all men in his prayer, for he has taken on humanity in his incarnation, and he offers [usi to the Father when he offers himself” (CCC §2602). Before deciding moments in his life and his mission, Jesus is found in prayer: at his baptism, his call of the Twelve, his transfiguration, his passion. Luke 11:1 gives a moving picture of Jesus at prayer: Jesus “was praying in a certain place and when he had finished, one of his dis ciples said to him, lord, teach us to pray....” Notice that the dis ciples are impressed with seeing Jesus so deeply absorbed, and they want to experience what is so apparent in Jesus’ prayer.
Yet, not all of Jesus’ prayers were joyful. There were also the prayers of his passion. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Christ, “in the days of his mortal life, offered his sacrifice with tears and cries. He prayed to him who could save him from death....” Jesus took very seriously the disciples’ request to be taught about prayer. He entrusted to them and to his Church the most essen tial Christian prayer: the seven petitions of the Our Father—a sum mary of the whole gospel, the centerpiece of the Scriptures, and the most perfect of all prayers. Saint Augustine says so aptly in his Epistulae: Run through all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer. Central to Jesus’ teaching about prayer was an emphasis on con version of heart. As the Catechism says, “If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain” (CCC §25 62). Reconciliation with one’s brothers and sisters, love of enemies and prayer for persecu tors, prayer in secret, and prayer of forgiveness are all essential pre liminaries to effective prayer.
Jesus also asked that those who pray keep attentive and faithful watch, that they pray urgently and without ceasing, that their hearts be humble as was that of the tax collector, and that they “ask in his name” Un 14:13). The New Testament also tells us of the prayer of Mary, the Mother of Jesus: her unconditional surrender of faith to the role God calls her to perform in the drama of salvation. There is also her bold prayer in the Magnificat for a new world in which false values would be overturned and the mighty overthrown. God’s poor would inherit the kingdom of God and peace and justice would reign on the earth (CCC §2598—2622).