Patriarchs Of Prayer

Throughout the Old Testament, there are many accounts of God’s encounter with His people. From the Genesis story of creation, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed, we hear God call out to Adam: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3.9) We too hear this same call when we have fallen and the voice of conscience calls us back to the truth.

Abraham is the great example of faith and obedience for followers of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” (Hebrews 11.8) We too are often called to take a risk, to follow God’s will beyond our comfort zone, and to serve Him with the same faith that Abraham exemplified. It is by believing in God’s promise and responding with obedience to God’s will that we co-operate with God in building His kingdom here on earth.

Moses encountered the living God in the burning bush and Moses responded to His call: “God called out to him from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’” (Exodus 3.4) Moses questioned but accepted the mission God had called him to, taking God’s promise to heart: “I will be with you.” (Exodus 3.12) Moses participated fully in God’s plan of salvation for His people. In our experience of prayer, we too are called to live out the Christian life, and we are accompanied by the living Savior as we participate in the salvation of God’s people.

David, a young shepherd and musician, was called by God to become King of Israel while he was still a boy. The songs he composed of praise, thanksgiving, joy, supplication, and lamentation expressed his response to God through his experiences and those of his people. The tradition of these songs has been handed down to us as the book of Psalms. The Psalms are always part of the Liturgy of the Word at Mass and they form the core of the prayer of the Church – the Liturgy of the Hours. From David’s heart, we pray the words which describe the beauty of an intimate prayer life: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23.1-3) May we recall the heart of the young shepherd boy, David, as we sing the psalms which so deeply touched God’s heart.

The prophet Elijah conquered the followers of the idol Baal on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Through his intense prayer, Elijah invoked the power of God, calling down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice on the altar he had built before the people. In response to this great sign, the people turned from their ways of idolatry and turned back to God as they exclaimed: “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” (1 Kings 18.39) We are called to imitate the prophet Elijah, to be “most zealous for the Lord” (1 Kings 19.10) in our prayer, trusting always that God will hear us and that has the power to do whatever He wills.

St Thérèse of Lisieux is an example of praying with the zeal of Elijah, as she wrote to her mother prioress: “Since the zeal of a Carmelite ought to embrace the whole world, I hope, with God’s help, to be of use to even more than two missionaries. I pray for all, not forgetting our Priests at home, whose ministry is quite as difficult as that of the missionary preaching to the heathen.” (Story of a Soul, A.11)

The patriarchs of the Old Testament have left us a rich inheritance of teaching and example to help us learn the ways of prayer. This poem expresses the legacy they have left for us.

Patriarchs

From the first soul He created,
Our God has touched and formed each one;
Of these, He has elevated
Some souls as saints who’ve raced and won.

Like father Abraham, He takes
Each soul by faith on the journey;
And like Moses, He too partakes
In the mission we’re called to be.

Like David’s music, He inspires
Our hearts with heaven’s melody;
And in His zeal, He sends love’s fires
To enflame like Elijah’s plea.

By faith, adhering to His will,
We answer His call: “Here I am.”
In Him, our hearts do have their fill;
With zeal we pray, trusting in Him.

The patriarchs of prayer have shown
The way to live for God alone.

Holy Spirit, please inspire
Our hearts to pray as men of old;
May their examples be as fire
Enkindling God’s love foretold. Amen.

References:

St Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of A Soul

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2568 – 2589, 2684, 2738

(c) Paul Buis, 2006