The Mission of Prayer
I believe it was Father Robert, a founder of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God, who said ‘the mission of the Church is weak because her prayer is weak’. By prayer I don’t think he was referring to a list of intentions for intercession (worthwhile though that may be) he was talking about the relative weakness of the Church’s (and individual’s) open-hearted, open-minded relationship to God. Prayer is a relationship in which we make ourselves open to the work of the Holy Spirit. Fr Robert observed that this often constrained and compromised; and in turn the outreach of the Church is constrained, compromised and therefore weak.
The Holy Spirit, which is cause of all prayer, was ‘sent’ by Jesus. The Latin for ‘I send’ is missio: the Holy Spirit is a ‘missionary force’. St Thérèse of Liseux is a very good example of ‘missionary prayer’. Out of her deep union with the Lord came a powerful vocation to pray for priests involved in African missions. Her superior recognised this as a valid outworking of her vocation to prayer and what followed was the most remarkable relationship with priests in the mission field enriched and informed by correspondence. Strong prayer leads to strong mission. The ministry of another contemplative, St Elizabeth of the Holy Trinity, followed a very similar path.
The mission of the Church as recorded by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles is one guided by prayer, most notably the vision granted to Peter in prayer, which led to the message of the apostles dispensing with the requirement s for gentiles to keep the Jewish dietary law (Acts 10.13). Likewise Paul was guided by prayer in his mission when a vision of a man Macedonia changed his direction of travel Acts 16.9).
Prayer is essentially an open minded and openhearted disposition to the possibilities of God. When we hold the places and people we know in prayer the Holy Spirit enables us to discern new possibilities. Prayer changes things. A good place to start would be to hold in prayer out own church community and it’s local setting, ask the Lord to see what is possible. Remember with God ‘all things are possible’ (Matthew 19.26). Prayer is often described as a ‘reaching in’; prayer, whose source is the Spirit, is always ‘reaching out’.
Prayer is the acid test of faith. Prayer is allowing God to be at work in and for us. Perhaps, most of all prayer is an expression and experience of Love. It is God’s love that is the cause of mission and the cause of our prayer. St Thérèse reminds us constantly of this; as she is the patron saint of missionaries, may her prayer strengthen ours for the mission of the church. Her prayer was to ‘plant the Cross of Jesus Christ in every land and announce the Gospel even to the end of time’. Let us all pray that the Lord will pour on us his love and grace to be strong in our prayer for the mission of his Church.