The effectiveness of prayer

By | October 20, 2010

Jesus gives us his commentary regarding the effectiveness of prayer. It comes down to whether the one praying has an attitude of humility or self-righteousness. That frame of mind makes all the difference in the world for the first is based on truth and the second on a lie. And, as the Scriptures relate, it is the truth that sets us free.


Bishop Robert Morneau

St. Paul was a man of prayer. He makes it very clear in his letter to Timothy that he was able to keep the faith and finish the race for one reason: God stood by him and gave him the strength he needed. Paul was deeply aware of his own limitations and sin. It was the Lord who rescued him time and time again. No exaltation here but rather a humble, grateful disciple.

In the book of Sirach we are given more information about prayer. God hears the cry of the oppressed and is not deaf to the orphan’s plea. Indeed, the prayer of the poor and lowly pierces the heavens and God responds in due time. There seems to be a divine preferential option for the poor and needy, though Sirach comments that it is not unduly partial. Our faith assures us that our Creator God not only gives us life but sustains us on the journey. The Lord is at our side as our strength and blessed assurance.

When we go into church to pray as the two men went into the temple, it is important whether or not we “bow” our head. “Bow” here means that we come to prayer, be it individual or corporate worship, with a sense of deep reverence or awe. Prayer is both addressing God in a variety of ways (thanksgiving, petition, sorrow, adoration) and being addressed by God. Thus, silence also plays an important role — “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

The Pharisee in claiming that he was not like other people, who are grasping, crooked and adulterous, is not aware of how inane and false his words were. His is like everyone else, struggling with the forces of evil that surround all of us. The fact that he fasts and pays tithes is but one aspect of one’s spirituality. Much more is at play: reverence, silence, humility.

Questions for reflection

1. What is your understanding of prayer?

2. Is prayer for you more listening or speaking?

3. Why is humility the cornerstone of prayer?


Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.

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