In the age-old debate between the so-called “spontaneous” prayer versus the “rigid” and (dare I say) “repetitive” style of formal prayer, I have at times had mixed feelings. Mostly there is the traditionalist in me that says, “hold fast the traditions you have received” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) and I remember the fact that the Psalms were said as prayers everyday by many pious Christians and Jews and that Jesus himself gave us a formal prayer to say daily (we call it, the Lord’s Prayer!). And then there’s the non-conformist in me that says, “Be different, spice it up a bit!”
Lately, however, I’ve noticed that the best spontaneous prayers are rarely spontaneous in the way we think they are.
Like last night I was so sick that one would think the best I could muster would be a quick Lord’s Prayer, followed by an old-school Hail Mary, with a Glory Be and Prayer to St. Michael for good measure. Instead I blurted out a spontaneous prayer! But I really didn’t make it up. It seems, more or less, that it came to me. Perhaps you could say that spontaneous prayers are really spontaneous – just not from us.
Truly spontaneous prayers come not from us but from the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Catholics today take the Holy Spirit for granted. Unlike some Christians who go to church and only hear about Jesus or about the sovereignty of the Father, Catholic culture and liturgy is Trinitarian-centric. The problem is we don’t take enough time to dwell on the beauty inherent in our Faith. What makes things worse is that it takes the Holy Spirit to help us see the beauty! If we let Him in, however, the affect of the Holy Spirit on lives is always dramatic.
The change is almost like what fire does to the things it encounters.
Jesus said: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50). The baptism of which he speaks is his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven body and soul. But why does Jesus so earnestly desire to accomplish all this? So that we may have the power of the Holy Spirit.
I’ll let him explain it for himself: “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the [Holy Spirit] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you… I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming” (John 16:7, 12-13).
Some people emphasize the work of Jesus to the extreme that they forget about the Holy Spirit. If you are familiar with the Apostles Creed, you’ll realize that it, like everything Catholic, is very Trinitarian. It begins with the Father, expresses the beliefs about the Son, then speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit. These works include: the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Without the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, guiding us, and even driving us towards God’s will, we are sure to be lost.
Look at St. Peter.
This hotheaded guy got almost everything wrong. He sank in the water and even denied Jesus when pressed. About the only thing he had going for him was his unwavering faith in the words of Christ. When asked by Christ if he would reject the Eucharist, Peter’s words were: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). It wouldn’t be until Pentecost that Peter and the Apostles received the Holy Spirit and began the active ministry of the Church.
Like St. Peter, we need a Pentecost.
I read a story once about a family in the 1800s immigrating to the United States. They were poor. To survive they brought a bunch of crackers and such to eat during the trip. Upon nearing port the father noticed his son eating a delightful sandwich and thought the boy stole it. When asked, his son answered by saying, “The food came with the ticket!” Of course we can get by on spiritual “crackers or soup” but the there’s a real meal called the Holy Spirit that will fill us with such abundance that it will overflow to all those around us! And God wants us to have the Holy Spirit! As Jesus said: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13).
The key to this verse came a couple verses before: "And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). This key is a key of hope. It certainly is a first step. The question is, will you venture to begin the journey?
Will you ask for the Holy Spirit?