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"On Prayer" by Karl Rahner

February 24, 2009

“Prayer is a lifting up of the heart, a directing of the mind, to God.” The previous quote is Karl Rahner’s definition of prayer. His book, On Prayer, offers many thoughts on the prayer life of a Christian. I found that reading his book was praying in and of itself. This book is not so much tips on how to pray, but a book on why Christians pray and how a deep, meaningful relationship develops through the course of a prayer life.

To Rahner, the more one feels a lack of understanding of the ways of God, the more one feels compelled to pray to God: “The less able the soul finds itself to understand God, the more urgently its love reaches out towards Him. Overwhelmed by our utter nothingness in the face of God, we pray the more fervently: ‘My God, I love Thee’ – words which are the highest expression of love that any man can offer.” “My God, I love Thee” is one of the simplest prayers we as Christians can pray to God, our love.

Everyday life tends to rush forward and we lose sight of prayer. Prayer can get lost in the shuffle, but Rahner urges us forward, urges us to keep an active prayer life. Rahner urges us to read Holy Scripture everyday. We all need time for silence, to listen to the words God speaks to us only in the stillness of our hearts. Even a simple prayer like “My God, I love Thee,” is better than no prayer at all.

Rahner does not merely direct his writings to the believing person, the Christian with an active prayer life, but his writings also answer questions of the nay-sayers, the people who ask how a God could exist in such an evil world. To Rahner, there are equally convinced majorities on either side of the “Does God listen?” debate, so the debate is not worth the time it is given in everyday life. Instead of praying to have suffering deflected, Rahner suggests that we pray to God for the strength to bear the crosses we bear. For Rahner, God does not need to prove that He exists in order to win our love; “It is we who are called upon to show that we do not need the bait of constant reward to keep us faithful in our love.” This last statement is quite a challenge for all of us, but a challenge we can all strive towards.
I found this book to be an eloquent, insightful and personal look at the life of prayer. I found myself questioning my commitment to prayer and stepping up my commitment to a more alive prayer life. This is the kind of book one does not read in a day. Rahner’s phrases are like pieces of candy you have to taste over and over again to reach the true flavor. His book is best read over and over again during a lifetime.

In the end, the main characteristic of a healthy prayer life is sincerity, for, “what matters is that the spirit of God lives in our prayer. Such prayer is heard by God. No word of such prayer will be forgotten. For God will give an answer of love to prayers which come to him in words of warm sincerity.

Liz Weigel

(Liz Weigel is a graduate from St. Norbert College and works in Campus Ministry at Mother McAuley Highschool. She is a Bernardin Scholar at CTU Chicago.)

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