Opening the Word: Faith and prayer

Pope Francis, in Lumen Fidei, his encyclical on faith, noted there are “four elements which comprise the storehouse of memory which the Church hands down: the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the path of the Ten Commandments and prayer.”

The catechesis of the Church has, traditionally, been based upon those four elements. Today’s readings have much to say about the first and the latter, and so bring to our attention the relationship between faith and prayer. No discussion of the two can ignore the ancient phrase, lex orandi, lex credendi, which means “the law of prayer is the law of faith.” It is immediately evident how the second and third elements — liturgy and the commandments — fit perfectly here, for the public prayer of the Church and the actions of the faithful are the exterior actions that give outward expression to the inner reality of personal faith and private prayer.

This relationship between the interior and exterior realities of faith and the life of the Church are hinted at in the striking story of Moses, extending his hands in supplication for the sake of Israel’s warriors. As the younger Joshua leads the soldiers into battle, the man who had directly encountered God in the burning bush and on Mount Sinai, prays on their behalf, his tiring arms supported by his brother Aaron and their companion, Hur. “That is how the Christian community is constructed,” wrote Hans Urs von Balthasar about this story, “some fight on the outside while others pray on the inside — in the monastery or a ‘private chamber’ at home — for those who are fighting.”

The reading from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy is a popular one among certain Protestants who read it as proof that Scripture alone is sufficient for guidance in right living and thinking. However, the passage begins by emphasizing the need for guidance and authority not found in Scripture: “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it ...” Yes, Scripture is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit “so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

There are many good works, but there is one work in particular that every Christian should perform every day: “Christian petition is centered on the desire and search for the Kingdom to come, in keeping with the teaching of Christ. … By prayer every baptized person works for the coming of the Kingdom” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2632). In the liturgy, the Holy Spirit teaches, guides and molds us so we more deeply draw upon the supernatural life of Christ.

When the Spirit encounters in us the response of faith which he has aroused in us,” the Catechism teaches, “he brings about genuine cooperation. Through it, the liturgy becomes the common work of the Holy Spirit and the Church” (No. 1091).

Without prayer, faith withers and dies; without faith, prayer is empty and already dead. Which is why Jesus taught the necessity of praying always without becoming weary and then asked the daunting question, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The two go hand-in-hand. The parable of the widow and the unjust judge demonstrates that prayer requires commitment and action.

Prayer requires discipline and doggedness, for the battle will rage until the end of time. 

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.