Praying is never just babbling.
Prayer isn’t a question of telling God things, but of telling ourselves, opening ourselves, offering up ourselves. Recall the question that the risen Jesus asked Simon, son of John: “Do you love me?” (Jn 21:15). Like Simon, we automatically reply, “Yes, of course, you’re my friend.” But Jesus insists, “Do you love me?” The third time He asks, Simon Peter is less sure of himself. Perhaps he is remembering his triple denial. In any case, he says: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21:17).
This is, at least at first sight, the final word of prayer. A thousand thoughts, a thousand emotions, a thousand movements of the Spirit can inhabit our prayer. But, deep down, this means only one thing, always the same, yet ever new: “Lord, I think of you, I need you, I don’t want to live without you.”
“I love you”
The celebrant’s prayer before communion says this powerfully: “Keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.” This “I love you” is also the unsaid, the “understood” behind all authentic prayer. “I am here because I love you. Because it is you that I choose. I could not do otherwise.” Everything else, however useful, necessary, urgent even, can never replace these precious moments of encounter with the Beloved. On the other hand, if prayer grows thin, if it becomes a chore, it’s that love has grown cold.
“My soul thirsts for you!” “It is your face that I seek!” “How I love the house of the Lord!” We need only reread the psalms to hear that song of the human heart in love with God. The great spiritual masters never tire of listening to the ardent dialogue between the betrothed soul and her King. For the King, indeed, desires our desire. This is the powerful attraction that raises mystics up to the point of wresting them from the world’s gravity. At the very moment of his death on the cross, Jesus cried out, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). Yes, infinite Love thirsts for our poor love. He anxiously awaits it (“Do you love me?”) and receives it with gratitude. What more is there to say?
“You love me”
One day, a man of the cloth shared this profound observation with me: beyond “I love you,” the last word of prayer is “You love me!” That, and only that, says it all. They are the very last words because they are also the very first: “You love me”—here I am; “You love me”—I thank you; “You love me”—have mercy on me; “You love me”—I can ask you anything. “You love me,” and that’s all that really matters.
Fr. Alain Bandelier