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The Jewish practice for prayer was to stand facing the holy of holies or the Temple with hands outstretched towards heaven. At the dedication of the Temple, “Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, and stretching forth his hands towards heaven …” (1 Kgs 8:22). Besides worship in the synagogues, the Jews prayed thrice a day on the streets while travelling or working. Street corners were road intersections that would attract the attention of more passersby than the streets. Jesus accused the Pharisees and the Scribes of seeking vainglory by selecting public places for prayer. He did not discourage public prayer but abhorred the exhibitionistic approach and the bad intentions behind them.

Jesus confirmed that the show-up people already got their full reward by way of admiration from the public for their piety, thereby forfeiting any merit from God. So, Jesus recommended, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:6).

Jesus is also in favour of public worship because he regularly attended the synagogue services (Mk 11:15-19; Jn 7:1-37). The focus here is private and personal prayer. Such prayer shall not be intended for public appeal. Jesus also availed of solitude in the mountains (Mt 14:23; Mk 6:46; Jn 6:15) and in gardens (Mt 26:36) for the purpose of praying in private. For Jesus, prayer was being in communion with God.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God, or the requesting of good things from God” (CCC 2559). It also emphasizes the importance of humility in our disposition to prayer. “But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. ‘Man is a beggar before God’” (CCC 2559).

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