Jesus set the example of how we should prayer. His prayer and His person were so united that they were barely indistinguishable. Pope Benedict XVI said “Prayer was the central act of the Person of Jesus and indeed His person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one He calls ‘Father’. We see who Jesus is if we see Him at prayer.”
Jesus the Son of God didn’t need to take flesh in order to pray. He has been communicating with the Father all eternity. He only assumed a human form in order to show us how to live a human life.
Jesus always was found praying. He prayed without end. But His prayer wan’t a constant improvisation. It wasn’t always free form. In fact His prayer took on very specific forms.
Jesus always made sure to follow the liturgy of the Jews. He made sure to go to the synagogue every Sabbath and He made sure to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem on the major feast days. He would also sometimes go off by himself in order to pray in deserted and private places and sometimes he would pray in the company of his family and friends. He always observed the solemn ritual meals of His religion as well. He read Scriptures and He recited the psalms often. He fasted when needed and He would use the traditional morning prayer, “Hear, O Israel.”
Jesus surely led a very sustained and very disciplined prayer life. He prayed spontaneously; but He also made sure to keep the pious practices that the Jews of His time had inherited from their ancestors. Remember, He didn’t have to or need to do any of this. He did it so we could see exactly what a life of prayer should look like.
This means that our own prayer lives need to take on a certain form so we are also living prayer as Jesus did so many years ago with all its various expressions, themes and forms. Those who are considered “Spiritual Masters” suggest that we develop a “plan of life” or “program of life” one that is firm but also flexible so it schedules our times for focused prayer among the ordinary duties of our lives such as work, family and social lives.
We all have good intentions when it comes to prayer but those intentions often fade away before we actually act upon them. But if we set down a plan, it represents our personal commitment to draw closer to God each day. It gives our resolution a form of permanency or regularity.
Often people try to avoid routines of prayer because they want their relationship with God to be more spontaneous. But Jesus’s own life included both the ritual prayer and the spontaneous prayer.
Traditional prayer can help give us words and phrases that can perfectly express the conditions of our very own souls and the circumstances of our lives. But those traditional words won’t become part of us unless we make them our own by repetition. Prayers from tradition over time can become the raw material of our heartfelt pleas to God.