Prayer can be both praise and a petition, but above all, it’s a call to action that comes straight from God.
That was the message to more than fifty people attending a morning seminar, entitled “The Call to Prayer,” organised by the Sheffield North Deanery Liturgy and Spirituality Group, held at St Francis of Assisi, Sandygate Road, Sheffield and addressed by Bishop Ralph and former Liturgy and Spirituality Group chair, Gerry Burke.
Gerry Burke took the disciples’ request to Jesus – “Master, teach us how to pray” – as his theme.
The Bible recorded thirty three instances when Jesus prayed and a further twenty nine when he told others to pray, but we had no way of knowing how Jesus prayed when he took himself off on his own, so it was all the more important to listen to what Jesus told the disciples.
“Prayer is both praise and petition, but it is really a proposal for action – and action by us,” said Gerry. “Prayer is about change – changing us, changing our relationships, changing our attitudes, shaping our lives. When we pray, we cannot run away from who we are and what we are. We have to acknowledge there are parts of our behaviour that need sorting out by looking at ourselves with honesty and humility, learning what we must do to sort out our actions and attitudes.
“For Christians, presence is at the heart of prayer. Prayer is the opportunity to acknowledge God’s continuing presence. When Jesus took himself off to the desert, it must have been to heighten his experience of the presence of God. When he prayed in public, it was to heighten the presence of God to the people around him.”
Prayer isn’t for special times or places; it is for whenever the mood takes us, but it needs feeling, courage, honesty and openness to change. Prayer doesn’t even require words.
“Sometimes the most effective times in a relationship are those without words,” said Gerry. “You can tell someone you love them with your eyes. You can bring comfort with a touch. Sometimes words get in the way. Sitting in unthinking silence can be just as good.”
Examining how bishops, priests and deacons could lead and inspire God’s faithful people in prayer, Bishop Ralph stressed that God was the source of all prayer.
“Prayer is always God’s initiative,” he said. “It is in prayer that God makes himself known to us and makes us known to ourselves.”
Bishop Ralph, who will shortly celebrate 40 years of priestly ordination, focused on prayer in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. “I am filled with enormous gratitude for the privilege I have had over these years to lead the people of God in prayer … chiefly centred around the Eucharist,” said Bishop Ralph.
During a discussion on the bidding prayers said during Mass, both Bishop Ralph and Gerry Burke stressed the opportunity the Prayer of the Faithful had for placing everyone’s prayers in the “here and now.”
“Our prayer of petition isn’t about telling God about what is going on, but about God sensitising us to the things we need to pray for,” said Bishop Ralph. He also emphasised the role devotions could play in feeding and nourishing someone’s prayer and helping them to gain a greater understanding of the Eucharist.
“It may be that some of the devotions we grew up with no longer fire us or younger generations, but that doesn’t mean they are not important. We have to look for other devotions that really fire young people,” said Bishop Ralph.
Photographs courtesy of Bob Rae