Recently I had the privilege of attending a Marian Conference featuring several dynamic speakers. Tim Staples, of Catholic Answers fame, shared a line that really resonated for me. He said,
“God is not a cosmic bubble gum machine!”
This avant garde reference caught me off guard even as the intended meaning struck a chord. You see, I have been struggling with the way I pray for much of my adult life. Although I realize that we depend on God for everything – including our very being – a part of me shies away from becoming a ‘beggar’. I tend to feel guilty being so blessed and yet always going back to ask for more. While I realize that, as a part of the Communion of Saints, we are held responsible for praying for others, I also feel miniscule in the whole scheme of things. Although I know that we are His children, I yearn for a higher level of prayer to supplement the ‘ask and ye shall receive’ version. After all, as soon as our faith matures that is exactly what we should ponder. Gone are the days of praying for a new bicycle on Christmas or that coveted ‘+’ after the ‘A’ on our book report.
Yes, God is not a cosmic bubble gum machine filled with goodies if we just turn the knob correctly!
As adults, we have crossed over into a prayer life that should feature a deeper understanding of our purpose in life and God’s role in it.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. ~1 Corinthians 13:11
The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs that there are five distinct forms of prayer.
BLESSING AND ADORATION
In prayers of blessing and adoration we bring ourselves to God as His creatures. We adore Him in all of His glory and call to mind our grateful response to His many gifts to us. Our humility in the face of His glory “ascends in the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father (as) we bless Him for having blessed us”.
PRAYER OF PETITION
Petitioning prayer is the most common because through this form we ask – even cry out – in supplication. We express our awareness that it is through God that we are who we are and have all that we have. Even as His sinful creatures, we acknowledge that we must turn back to Him even though our human frailty often leads us astray. There is nothing for which we cannot ask; there is nothing He cannot grant. The first step of petition is to fall before Him as the sinners that we are and to ask for mercy and forgiveness. With this mind of humility we formulate a pure form of prayer. We, His people, work in tandem for the coming of His Kingdom! St. James and St. Paul exhort us to glorify Christ by asking the Father in His name. Our goal should be to pray without ceasing. With the correct mindset we can make any task of the day or convert any suffering into a petitioning prayer. As His creatures, our prayers for forgiveness should lead us ever closer to full communion with Him in Eternal Life.
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Intercessory prayer petitions on behalf of someone else. Just as we ask Jesus to intercede for us with the Father, we pray to intercede for others in the hopes of gaining favor for them. We have the Communion of Saints – souls here on earth and those who have died – praying in tandem for mutual good. There is no limit to intercessory prayer for, as the CCC states,
The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: “for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions,” for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.119
The combined prayer of the faithful has much power and it is good to recognize that one of our duties here on earth is to assist others in attaining salvation.
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
An oft neglected form of prayer, thanksgiving belies a mature faith. While we are never shy about asking, begging, beseeching for our needs and those of others, we often fail to stay ‘tuned in’ to God when we (or others) have received that for which we have asked. In a world where the niceties of society are a forgotten art, it is no stretch to realize that our poor manners also reflect on our relationship with God – the source of all that is good!
Thanksgiving goes much deeper, however, because as we pray in thanksgiving without ceasing we find that we give thanks for even our trials and sufferings. Every human event is cause to address God and our relationship with Him. As He tempers us through the fire of our sufferings He is making us into a new creation, more worthy of His friendship.
PRAYER OF PRAISE
In prayers of praise we give glory to God for His own sake. It isn’t just about what He does; it is about who He is! From the Gospels to the Psalms, our hearts and souls sing out to Him and His wondrous being. The fact that Jesus, God made man, is a part of His gift to us is a marvel of which we should never grow tired. We have no agenda when we pray in praise of the almighty. This level would appear to be one of the most difficult to attain because it requires total unselfishness.
As Christian Catholics it behooves us to continue to grow in faith, love, and knowledge of God. We may begin our lives with simple yearnings and simple prayers, but if our faith is to flourish we must push the limits of our capabilities and understanding. God is not simply a master to whom we go for our petty desires. A mature faith demands that we build an ever evolving relationship with Him throughout our earthly lives. Although God invites us to come unto Him with the simplicity of the mind of a child, we should also realize that prayer is a very real matter of life and death!
Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer. CCC 2725