Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. Last week, I preached on the first pillar of Lent which is fasting. This week, a few thoughts on the second pillar which is prayer. In the Gospel story of the Transfiguration, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, he was transfigured – his face changed and his whole appearance became radiant with heavenly light. For a few precious minutes, it was confirmed to Peter, James and John that there was something special about this man whom they had left everything to follow, something of God that shone through him, especially as he prayed. For us, there is a huge difference between praying and saying prayers. We all could pray more but it is much more important to pray better than to pray more. Here I suggest a few ways we can pray better and so be transfigured and changed by the light and the love of God.
Our first task in prayer is to listen to the spirit of God. Hear the words of the Father in the Gospel today: ‘This is my Son, the chosen one, listen to him’. Before God asks us to do anything, he asks us to listen: not just with our ears but ‘with the ears of the heart’ in the words of St Benedict. Sometimes we are in such a rush to speak to the Lord that we do not take the time to listen first. One of the most basic human needs we have is to understand and to be understood. Nowhere is this more true than in our relationship with God. May we begin every time of quiet prayer with the words of Samuel: ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’ (1 Sam. 3:10).
The second task of prayer is to thank. We thank God for his love, for our lives, for our families, for our food, for all the things we have been blessed with. To be Christian is to be grateful and to give thanks. That is what the Eucharist means –to give thanks. Giving thanks expands the heart and makes us see the good around us before the bad. Think how often Jesus blesses and thanks the Father in the Gospels. With him, we do the same.
The third part of prayer is often thought to be the only part of prayer, namely to ask. We all are tempted to have a false image of God who is like a big pleaser if we ask him nicely. We want him to help us, console us, make things work out as we want, to bless our plans that we have already made. To put it another way, we want God to get into our world before we get into his. Yes, Jesus did tell us to ‘ask and we shall receive’ and so prayer of intercession is important. But as we mature, we learn to pray for things outside ourselves: for world peace, for those who are hungry and homeless, for those who need help most.
The final part of prayer is praise. To praise God is to go further than thanking him. It is to fall on our knees to joyfully adore him as the highest source of love and goodness there is. It is to worship him as our loving Father who knows us and loves us through and through. In the words of Scripture: ‘worthy are you our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being’ (Rev. 4:11).
At the heart of Lent is prayer and at the heart of prayer is listening, thanking, asking and praise. As we pray in this way, we too are changed and transfigured like Jesus on the mountain. Pray and be light to the world this week.