Prayer is nothing else than union with God.

From A Catechism on Prayer, by St. John Mary Vianney

Before today, if someone had asked me “what is prayer” or “why is prayer important,” I would have had a difficult time answering the question. More than likely it would have taken a discussion of 5-10 minutes for me to explain what prayer is. And I suspect that many other people would have a difficult time explaining prayer because it is so mysterious. And yet in just a few words St. John Mary Vianney has given a perfect definition for what prayer is – union with God.

There are many different prayers the Church uses and many different types of prayer, but union with God is at the heart of them all. As an example let us consider the prayer that is most often used by people: petitionary prayer. People ask God for all sorts of things – everything from winning lottery numbers, to a favorite sports team winning the game, to curing a loved one of cancer. And then, when we don’t get what we want we so often say, “Why didn’t God give me what I asked for?!” Perhaps we do not receive what we desire because it was a foolish request, like winning the lottery. But ultimately there is a problem with petitionary prayer because people forget that God does not give us what we want; instead, He gives us what we need.

But this problem would never arise if people kept in mind that prayer is union with God. If in our prayer life we are seeking that union, then when we pray it will naturally be in tune with God’s will for us. There may still be times when we ask for something that is not beneficial for us and therefore God will not give it to us. But if we are always seeking union with God in our prayer, then we will more readily accept not receiving what we desired with the understanding that it was not what we needed. Our Lord teaches this to us with the following words:

For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

St. Matthew 7:8-11, RSV-CE

Too often, without knowing it, we ask for stones instead of bread! If only we would remember that the ultimate reason for prayer is union with God, then we would come to see that that which we receive, even if it is not what we asked for, is exactly what we needed all along.