by Eric Sammons
When Jesus first teaches his followers to pray, he makes one thing abundantly clear: we must do it “in secret”, so we are not like the “hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men.” (Matthew 6:5). Yet immediately after this warning, Jesus gives us the model for prayer — the Our Father — and, curiously, all the pronouns in this prayer are first person plural: “Our Father,” “give us,” “forgive us.”
If we are to pray in secret, then why is our model for prayer clearly intended to be said with others?
Simply put, our prayer is never to be for others to see, but is always to be with others. Even when we pray in secret, we are united to the whole Body of Christ: there is no “I” or “me” in the Christian faith; it is always “us” who pray, who serve, who worship, and who are forgiven. This is something that our radically individualistic society chafes at. Our American culture especially exalts the lone ranger, the one who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. Yet Christianity teaches the opposite: we are created for others — it is not good for man to be alone (cf. Genesis 2:18).
We encounter this reality of “us” in the very first pages of Sacred Scripture. God declares at the beginning of time, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26), and then the sacred author tells us, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). We are not created alone, and in fact, we are made in the image of the divine “Us” of the Holy Trinity. Satre famously declared that “Hell is other people,” but in fact that opposite is true: hell is being totally, utterly alone. Love requires more than one person, and so the aloneness of Hell is “the suffering of being no longer able to love” as Elder Zosima cries out in The Brothers Karamozov.
The opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness. For when we love, we direct our energies away from ourselves and to others – to God first and then to our neighbor. Love acknowledges that we are part of the “us” created by the divine “Us” of the Trinitarian God. Let us always remember that the quest for holiness is never a solitary affair, but one we take up with our brothers and sisters as we seek to model ourselves after the God who pours Himself out for us for all eternity.
Eric Sammons is author of the book Who Is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew as well as a co-founder of the Little Flowers Foundation, which assists families to adopt special needs children. His blog, The Divine Life, is high on my “must read” list.