In the Gospel today, Jesus teaches us how to pray: When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Our prayers are not heard because of many words. Instead, we pray directly to God in simple words, praising him, asking him for what we need. Even if we just sit silently before the presence of the Lord, that is prayer. Prayer is moving towards or closer to God. Just as in a human relationship, we do not know someone fully when we talk to them, we do not get to know God by constantly talking to him. We need to spend time with him in silence, listening to his Word for us.
The First Reading tells us God’s word goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Prayer is a movement towards God. It is beyond asking anything from God, except to ask him to reveal himself to us through his Word. There is no other way to know God except to listen to his Word which he sends to do to us what he wills.
This season of Lent is an opportunity to know more about God, to develop a deeper relationship with him. The Psalm tells us: this poor soul cried and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. Our cry to the Lord is for him to reveal himself to us, so we can get to know him. When he does, we listen and respond to his Word.
St Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle and became the Bishop of Smyrna in the second century. He was arrested for being a Christian and when given a chance to renounce his faith he said If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar, you do not know who I am. Let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian. He knew his Lord and not even death would force him to renounce his Lord. Polycarp had this courage because he knew his Lord. This was probably developed from hours of prayer, of silence, listening to the Lord’s Word.
As he was being burnt on the stake, he prayed. Let his prayer be our prayer for today:
Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and powers, of the whole creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight, I bless you, for having made me worthy of this day and hour, I bless you, because I may have a part, along with the martyrs, in the chalice of your Christ, to resurrection in eternal life, resurrection both of soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. For this and for all benefits I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be to you with him and the Holy Spirit glory, now and for all the ages to come. Amen.