He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25
Michael Ramsey was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, reigning from 1961-1974. In 1979 he wrote a fantastic little book called The Christian Priest Today in which he has a number of short chapters about various aspects of the priesthood. Many of these chapters were addresses or homilies said to a group of seminarians. Chapter 3 is called Man of Prayer, and is a marvelous reflection on the prayer life of the priest. Although it is written especially for, to, and about priests, the insights about prayer are valuable for any Christian seeking growth in closeness with God. Each of these fifteen posts (which I will endeavor to maintain as a weekly series on Thursdays) is a reflection on one paragraph from the late Archbishop’s chapter, Man of God, from his book The Christian Priest Today.
“Will you be diligent in prayers?” I shall put that question to you in the cathedral tomorrow, and you will answer “I will endeavour myself so to do, the Lord being my helper.” It is the Lord Jesus who will teach you to pray. You remember how the disciples once asked him “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples”, and he is as ready to teach us as he was ready to teach the twelve in Galilee.
The question and answer Archbishop Ramsey is describing here is from the liturgy for the Ordination of a Priest: one of the several vows made by the ordinand is to be diligent in prayer. The standard answer includes the stock phrase “the Lord being my helper,” and Ramsey dwells on that reality here – we need Jesus to teach us how to pray.
Now, we might hear this in the service or read this just now and think to ourselves shouldn’t someone becoming a priest ought to know how to pray already? A fair question, and one that I had to consider when I was about to become a priest myself just about a year ago. The obvious reality is that we’re always learning how to pray. Communicating with God is a mysterious thing, and it’s all too easy for us to take it for granted.
So the basic truth today is the same as it was in chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Jesus is ready to teach his people how to pray. The disciples, too, must have already known something about prayer. Most of them had been faithful Jews their whole lives, after all! Nevertheless, between the facts that they were now with a Master of prayer and that their life situation was rapidly changing as they were being transformed from fishermen and tax collectors into apostles, they realized that their prayer lives would need to transform as well. That is just as true today for Christians who step into ordained ministry; the manner in which I am called to pray as a priest is different than what was expected and required of me a year ago. Teasing out just what has changed for the Priest, and what Jesus teaches about prayer, is where the bulk of this series will explore.