In today’s Gospel, Jesus went up the mountain to pray. After spending that quiet time with the Father, he returned to transmit the grace he had received. Two things he desired for his frightened disciples tossed about by the raging storm: courage and faith. These are gifts received when the heart is turned toward God: the ability to face difficulties, dangers and even death; and, the ability to believe and trust in God even when all seems lost. How desperately we need a life of prayer.
Elijah, like Jesus, was a mountain person. We see him in a cave on Mt. Horeb. The profit was in dialogue with God — a time of prayer. The topic has to do with the presence of God: where is God to be found? Possibly in a strong, heavy wind or earthquakes or some majestic fire. It was in none of these that God was revealed to Elijah that day. Rather, God came to him in a tiny whispering sound.
At other times God comes in other ways as we pray. For Moses, God did come in fire, i.e., a burning bush that was not consumed. To Mary, the mother of Jesus, God came through visitation of an angel as Gabriel invited her to be the mother of our Savior. To these apostles on that wind-swept sea, Jesus came with his gifts of courage and faith. Each of us, as the poet Jane Tyson Clement urges, “must have our welcome waiting.” The conditions for this reception are that we watch, wonder and wait.
And good old St. Paul! Here was a man of deep prayer whether in the desert, on the sea or visiting one city after another. It was in prayer that Paul fostered and nourished his relationship with Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Romans we witness his tremendous sorrow and constant anguish that his own people, the Israelites, blessed in so many ways, were not able to accept Jesus as the Messiah. So profound was the grief that Paul was even willing to be separated from Christ if that meant his people would embrace the Lord.
Prayer comes down to listening and responding to God’s message of love and mercy revealed in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes: “Prayer, as we can now see, is communication, in which God’s word has the initiative, and we, at first, are simply listeners.”
Questions for reflection
1. What are your three favorite prayers? Why?
2. Who taught you how to pray? Whom have you taught?
3. Is “loving attention,” the heart of prayer, difficult?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.