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Where two or three gather

I have a personal relationship with Christ. That is, He and I talk off and on all day long, inside my head. It's our relationship - real, alive and very much awake and aware of my world, the sphere in which I orbit, the daily round of my private life. I bring Him my needs and my concerns and my praises. And I try mightily to hear what He is telling me. In His word, Jesus shows me again and again how to pray in silent solitude. Then, He shows me how much He wants community for me.

Christ had a solitary habit of prayer. He knew that in quiet moments before the Father, all alone, He'd demonstrate for us how to avoid falling into the traps of spiritual pride, how to avoid the attention of others as we beseeched the Lord. When we pray alone, we limit distractions and we aren't tempted by comparisons or pretenses or ostentatious hypocrisy. Solitary prayer can be focused and powerful. It's also readily available. Everyone - even a mom home with half a dozen little ones - can curl up in a corner somewhere for at least a hastily offered, "Lord, make haste to help me." Private prayer is the continuous, every day conversation of friendship.

But God made us for community, too. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, but He doesn't want it to be entirely private. The prayer Jesus modeled for us in perfection begins with the phrase "Our Father," not "my father." He intended us to pray that prayer often and He intended us to pray in community.

During Holy Week and Easter Week, in addition to the many liturgies traditionally prayed by the church community, I found myself in church to pray - together with many - two other times. The first was a rosary offered to beg for healing for one of our own. The second was a rosary offered for the repose of his soul. Both times, I was struck by the power of the prayers of those gathered there. Each decade was led by a different man in the pews. Each time a strong voice rang out in the otherwise silent church - the anguish of the one who was beseeching clearly wrapping itself around his vocal chords - I was struck by the inexpressible comfort that comes with knowing that someone has come alongside to bear the burden of praying.

It is critical to "go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" (Mt 6:6). It is also critical not to stay in there with the door shut. Prayer nurtures in us a spirit of trust in God. Public prayer helps us to develop trust in one another. Prayer together with other Christians requires planning and initiative unnecessary for private prayer. For those of us who are shy and introverted and very private, the biggest struggle is just getting there - whether "there" is a church filled with people or the company of a friend we've asked to pray alongside us in a time of need. We have to exert the effort; it's so worth it.

Jesus "took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray" (Lk 9:28). He taught them happily when they asked, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lk 11:1). He gave them the communal Our Father. Later, after Jesus dies, they know how to find Him in prayer, together: "They lifted their voices together to God" (Ac 4:24) "and when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness (Ac 4:31).

We need each other. We need to gather in His name and beg grace on behalf of one another. We need to be comfortable not only saying "Will you pray for me?" but also "Will you pray with me?" Together, we can push open the floodgates of grace.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016