Here at the seminary, there are two vending machines right when I walk into the building. If it’s been a long day of pastoral assignments or classes, there is nothing better than reaching in my pocket for a couple quarters to get a soda and a candy bar. For whatever reason, there’s a certain satisfaction in putting in the right change, pressing the right buttons and receiving the sweet treats. Come to think of it, that also sounds a lot like my all-too-often experience of shopping on Amazon.
Unfortunately, this system of transaction — as satisfying as it may be — is not conducive to our spiritual lives. Far too often, in my experience, it’s very easy to slip into this kind of mentality when relating to God. For instance, have you ever had these kinds of thoughts?
“If I say these certain prayers, in this certain way, then God will give me what I ask for.” And if it doesn’t work out the first time, then perhaps you think: “Maybe I didn’t say the prayers right, or maybe God didn’t want to listen to me.”
As common as this problem may be, it could not be a further deviation from the reality of prayer. At its most fundamental level, prayer is the relationship between persons. No, I’m not talking about some random person and some generic god. I’m talking about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we enter into prayer, we are entering into the eternal love that already exists between the Trinity — a love to which we are always invited. In fact, all prayer begins with God’s initiative. He makes the invitation to this eternal communion, and we make the response.
With this in mind, entering into prayer can no longer be a transaction-based relationship, but rather must be more akin to entering into the most beautiful family imaginable. Are the answers always clear-cut in a family relationship? I don’t think so. However, in the ideal family, what is the one unchanging foundation? Unconditional love. And that’s merely on a human level: We cannot even begin to imagine the depths of that love existing in the Blessed Trinity, save for the tiny glimpse we can see by looking at the eternal Son of the Father hanging on the cross for each one of us, personally.
For me, and I would venture to say for most 21st century Americans, the problem with prayer is it’s seeming lack of efficiency. I don’t typically judge the goodness of a family based on efficiency. The same should be true of the Blessed Trinity. We should consider prayer not in relation to efficiency or demonstrable results, but rather in regard to the love and intimacy of the relationships between the human person and the divine persons.
God does not merely want to give us candy bars or sodas, like a vending machine, He wants to give us Himself. This is, of course, most profoundly made manifest in the gift of the Eucharist in which Christ gives Himself to us in His body and blood, through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can be reconciled to the Father. In a certain sense, through the Eucharist, we are invited into the greatest family dinner of all, the Blessed Trinity.
If I ever get over my own selfishness and worldly tastes, perhaps I will begin to enjoy that eternal feast more than this melted Snickers and outdated Sierra Mist.
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