"Perfect prayer is all love, and perfect love is all prayer."
The value of a prayer is measured by the love that is in it. Perfect prayer is all love, and perfect love is all prayer. For most of us our prayer is made up of so many elements, which are less than love, that not enough room is left for prayer's highest act. Though self-interest will come into our prayer, as it comes into everything else that we do, it must not be allowed to take first place. The only way to prevent self-interest from unduly influencing our prayer is to focus attention on love.
Once love becomes the primary expression, even though the prayer lasts only a minute, the center of interest is no longer self but God. The love may be imperfect, but since the object of that love is perfection itself the movement is away from self: the source of love is eliciting love. To pray without love is not to pray at all: it is merely to go through the motions. But even to go through the motions, provided there is no deliberate hypocrisy, supposes some sort of good intention and therefore some sort of love.
We may forget about the need to love when we pray, but the prayer is not on that account wholly wasted. It is still material for love and can be improved upon. Love is a generating, not a wasting, asset. Love can be invited to take over, and if our prayer consists of nothing else than asking God to increase our charity we are making good use of the grace of prayer.
When St. Augustine said, "Love God and do what you will," he might equally have said, "Love God and ask as you like". Given love, the petitions that we make will be according to God. It is true that someone who prays for a legacy is more likely to be thinking of his own requirements than of the glory of God, but it is also true that if he really loves God he will gladly sacrifice his petition if he thinks God's glory will be better served thereby.
The objects prayed for are not of great significance: what really matters is the inward impulse. Since we are human we are greedy; since we are greedy we are forever clamoring for material satisfaction. But so long as we honestly desire God's glory more than our own pleasure we are bound to be on the right line. Provided we are sincere when we insert the clause 'if it be your will' we can surely ask of God whatever we want.
This is where the Our Father is such a great help. If the prayer taught us by Christ allows us to ask for the satisfaction of human needs we cannot be wrong in representing human needs. The more forcibly we represent them the better. We may be wrong in believing the needs to be truly needs, but we cannot be wrong in expressing them. If God in his wisdom judges these so-called needs to be unjustified-if in other words we have deceived ourselves as to the importance of our petition -we may rest assured that he knows what to do about them.
From Ideas for Prayer © 1966, Templegate Publishers. Fr. van Zeller, a monk of Downside Abbey, England, is the author of many books.