By Orlando Hernandez
This Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) continues the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This same Gospel is read at the beginning of the Lenten Season, when we resolve to give alms, fast, and pray. Of course, our love of God should lead us to do this all year round. However, our Lord warns us not to be “ show-offs” when we do good for others or when we fast from so many things that we have too much of. He warns us, “ do not blow a trumpet before you” nor “neglect your appearance” so people might admire your kindness and piety.
The part about prayer, though, is the section that has captivated my attention:
“ When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. ( Mt 6: 5-6 )
Jesus says that we will be rewarded. I believe that God’s repayment for our attempts at prayer happens then and there, at the moment of true connection. The increase in faith that our efforts and His grace give us, the consolation and joy that His luminous Presence gives us, the love we feel, from Him and for Him, are great rewards indeed. And during those dry, frustrating days, when prayer does not seem to “ work “ and we don’t get any of those consolations, the faith He endows us with gives us the hope that He, in His love and goodness will eventually “ repay “ us, perhaps for all eternity. Either way, something powerful always happens because we return and try again and again.
Our Lord seems to say, that, rather than a public display of piety, prayer is a very private activity. In the end, it has to be an intimate one-on-one encounter with the loving God, in that “ inner room“, within our inmost selves, where I know the Lord lives. The less “babbling”, the better. The essence, it seems to me, is the knowledge of a being together, a silent mutual awareness of loving intentions, a union, all initiated by Him.
And yet, I have to say something in defense of those “ who love to stand and pray “ loudly and boisterously in churches and prayer groups, even in street corners! Nine years ago my Lord beckoned me back into the faith through His Body, His people: peasants on their knees, advancing painfully towards the Blessed Mother’s Shrine at Fatima, Portugal; hundreds of people singing and moving toward the altar to receive Communion during Mass in Miami, Florida; women loudly praying the Rosary in perfect synchrony in a church in Puerto Rico; people full of devotion, with eyes closed and arms raised, praising God at he top of their voices in a Charismatic Meeting in Queens, N.Y. They were all shining examples to me ( and to many others I am sure ), bringing the Presence of the Living God into my life. Of course, I believe that during those moments each one of them, at some point or another, were totally lost in the power and love of their God, in that place where He sees us all in secret. Private and communal prayer in the end must merge, because our Lord loves us, each and every one of us, together and individually, and calls us to communion with Him and community with each other.
In the end the mystery of prayer is beyond me. My spiritual director, Fr. Richard Schiner, used to say that the only right way to pray is to just pray, trying again and again. And so I push on and on, alone and with others. All I can say is that I feel so much cherished by this God who lovingly created each one of us. He calls me to love, and to work for His people, each one a shining light where He lives and loves.
Thank You Lord!