In Chapter 18, verse 19, Matthew quotes Jesus as having said that if two of us can agree on what to pray for, God will assure that we receive it. If this is to be understood literally and without qualification, we have a problem.
We all know that people often come together and pray for a specific favour that is not granted.
And then there is the individual who spends a sleepless night storming heaven in search of answers and solutions? Are this person's prayers in vain because he or she is alone? Of course not!
Clearly Jesus' assurance of a positive response to our prayers carries with it certain qualifications arising from the nature of Christian prayer. It is difficult for most of us to meet those qualifications because we are comfortably ensconced in a society that places great value on individualism.
It may not sit well with us but "individualism" and all it stands for with its positive images of ruggedness and self-reliance, is, in reality at odds with Christianity and therefore not conducive to the spirit of Christian prayer.
The problem is one of identity and involves not so much our unity with the historical Jesus nor, for that matter, with The Blessed Trinity, but rather that unity that binds us to each other.
We are The Body of Christ. We are the praying Church. That is who we are and whether alone or in company our prayer is part of a chorus of praise, thanksgiving and petition.
We cannot truly pray alone anymore than the eye can see apart from the body.
That is why Jesus stresses the prayer of the several. Not in order to diminish the prayer of the individual but to underline the social nature of prayer, a social nature that finds expression whether we pray alone or in the company of others.
Alone or, for example, together in a congregation such as this one we remain united to each other in and through Christ.
Have you ever wondered why it is that contemplative monks and nuns are not out among us doing "hands on" ministry?
It is often suggested that they are escaping from society.
Not so! In Jesus' sight they are surely among the healthiest elements of that mystical body of which He is the head and we are the members. Their worship, their petition, their thanksgiving becomes ours and in doing so strengthen our faith and unity beyond measure.
Think of Jesus in Gethsemane the night before He died. He prayed to be rescued. He wasn't. But, for our sake, He accepted the strength to endure. Though He prayed alone, each of us can be said to have been on His mind and in His heart.
It is really quite simple. We should always pray within the context of "The Lord's Prayer." OUR Father who art in heaven ...Not MY Father.
Allow me to share one or two examples: You buy a lottery ticket and pray that it is a winner. You are asking God to cause your numbers to come up and not those held by your neighbour.
Individualism at its worst! You are wasting your time.
God leaves such things to chance, which is an essential element of Creation. It would be better to pray that should you win, rather than being consumed with greed, you have the generosity to ensure that the common good is well served.
How about praying for the miraculous cure of a loved one? This is almost a reflex for most of us and yet should we not include in our prayer all of those who are seriously ill that they will allow the Lord to draw closer and that they will become conscious of His presence and find comfort in His promise? That such prayers have positive results, regardless of the outcome of the illness, I have no doubt because we are praying in harmony with Mary and all the saints in heaven and on earth.
It is as if I had my little list and standing off to one side I was saying: "God, I will tell you what I want when you are able to break away from the community for a moment." And God will say to me: "NO WAY! You come over here and join us. This is where you belong and you will find that the hours you spend with me here will lack nothing in privacy and intimacy. Remember that I am God and do not mistakenly attribute to me anything in the way of restraints or limitations."
And so it goes, we pray for guidance, we pray for understanding, we pray for courage and Faith and if we do so primarily that this will make us better witnesses to Christ, and if this personal prayer is breathed in communion with all of our brothers and sisters who are struggling toward the same end, it will be answered and the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
No one wants to say yes more than Jesus!