“And when you are praying, do not use vain repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7).
First of all, praying is not only a good thing but essential to our relationship with God. The only way to pray badly is not to pray. Not to pray would be like never saying “I love you” to your spouse.
Repetition is also a good thing. You cannot tell your spouse “I love you” often enough. It would be odd not to repeat those three words. It would be strange to try to express that sentiment in a different way each time. Imagine saying “I love you more than green loves broccoli” and then the next day finding a new way to say it so as to avoid repetition.
The Book of Psalms uses repetition in Psalm 136 which says “God’s love endures forever” 26 times in 26 verses. You can never pray enough in that manner. In the 9-14 Jesus tells a parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. Book of Revelation, we read about the angels constantly praying “Holy, holy, holy.”
If Jesus meant that we should not pray repetitiously, he would not have qualified it with the adjective “vain.” The kind of prayers he forbids are those that are “vain” or empty of meaning. Jesus contrasts that with the prayers of hypocrites.
In Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14, Jesus tells the parable of Pharisee and the tax collector. This reveals what he meant by “vain” prayer. “The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself.”
When we pray, we pray to God, not to ourselves. It is vanity that makes the prayer unworthy. Of course labeling something as “vain” is a judgment. We cannot know what is truly in a persons heart nor can we measure the quality of their relationship with God.
Prayer is relationship. It is the personal communication of who we are with God. While we often try to be polite and formal in how we address our prayers, it is important to remember we are speaking with “Our Father.” Formality is not required, but frequent conversation is if our relationship is to grow.
Father Pat Toner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.