Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.
Saint Ephraem of Syria
Have you experienced something like this? When I sit in at parish staff meetings and it’s time to get started one with an opening prayer one of two things happen, the committee chair looks at the priest and says “Father, would you open us up in prayer” or Father, knowing he is about to be called upon, asks who might be willing to do the opening prayer. Everyone lowers themselves in their seats as much as possible without actually crawling under the table, hoping not to be noticed and called on.
We can do better. Prayer should flow naturally from our souls every moment of our day. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Prayer takes practice. I’ve been on retreats when I was younger where it was recommended that we start by “praying 5 minutes a day, every day.” This wasn’t very helpful.
When I would go to the chapel and try to do that, something like this would usually happen:
- Me: “Dear God” (am I writing a letter here?) “um, hi. Thank you for salvation.”
- God: “”
- Me: “So, umm…I’d really like a better job. Um. Please bless my family. Um. It’d be great if you could get me a raise…oh, please keep me in good health.”
- God: “”
- Me; “Oh yeah, and bless Susie because she is sick right now.”
- God: “”
I would wonder where God was. Why wasn’t he answering back? I could never keep up praying 5 minutes a day because I did not have a prayer process. I did not know how to pray well, and I did not know how to listen for God’s voice.
Do you find prayer difficult?
- Prayer does not need to be difficult. It is a lifting of the heart and mind to God. It is the intensity of prayer, not its duration that is important. Why are we praying? What are we praying for? When I lead RCIA for the very first class, I intently thank God for the weather, or something simple. We end the class by reverently praying the name of Jesus. Simple, easy to repeat, and beautiful.
- Prayer is an opportunity to invite another person into a relationship with Jesus. Relationships are formed by communication. We form our relationship with God and with others through praying together.
- Is God answering? Jesus modeled prayer for us. Ronald Knox, in his work In Soft Garments in talking about the Incarnation of Jesus said “But, you see, there is a different sense in which we might ask whether our Lord, as Man, was all-powerful. Had he control, if he would, over the forces of nature, so that he could bend them to his will? Jesus of Nazareth, performed miracles in virtue of his own dignity; and his human nature was an instrument in performing them. And here, I think, you may observe two indications of our Lord’s condescension, his courtesy. In the first place, although his Godhead has always the right to command, he prefers to show us his Humanity at prayer. Just before that tremendous moment when he stood outside the tomb and cried, “Lazarus, come forth!” he said what? “Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me.” That ought to teach us, oughtn’t it, to throw ourselves into the background rather more than we do? And there’s a second point about our Lord’s use of his superhuman powers whether as acting in his own name, or as the instrument of God’s mercies, he will only use those powers on special occasions, and for special purposes. He will not, at his temptation, turn the stones into bread; he will wait till he can get food in the ordinary way. He will ask the Samaritan woman to draw water for him. He will cross the Sea of Galilee, ordinarily, on ship-board, though we know that he could walk on the water if he liked. The reason of that, I suppose, is that he wanted to be indebted to his creatures. As a child, he would be suckled at his Mother’s breast, dying, he would accept a draught of wine from his executioner. From that, too, we have something to learn; we have to learn to accept kindness and help from one another, not to refuse it, as we so often do, out of pride. The disciple is not above his Master; if he was not ashamed to be indebted to his fellow-men, how should we?”
We need to allow God to form us and to allow him to love us. We need to learn how to listen to him respond (and He does, sometimes in unexpected ways). To do that we need to spend time with him and start growing in virtue. We need to allow God to mold us as a potter molds clay, to change and transform us according to His will.
We can start with vocal prayer. Find a way to pray each day in a routine that you know you can master. Praying a rosary (a meditative prayer) every day starting right now might be too much. I’ve known a lot of people who have tried and have quit. Sitting in silence in front of the Eucahrist in a church for an hour each week might end up driving you more crazy than making you holy. Think about when you go on a first date and you are sitting at dinner – what’s the one thing you don’t want? An hour of silence. Yikes. But a married couple? Eventually they will sit next to each other watching the fire in the fire place, in perfect silence, for hours. They had to work up to that point. Keep them apart for long? Then they start to feel the absence of their spouse.
God describes our relationship with him in the same, marital terms. Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. We can grow in our relationship with God, and over time, our relationship will deepen.
Here are a few ideas to try:
- Get a copy of the Magificat (yes, there is an app for that) and try reading the devotional every day. It follows the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official prayer of the Church.
- Buy a prayer book like the Manual of Prayers or missal and try finding one or two prayers from a saint that touches your soul. Or use a prayer like the Memorare or Angelus. Print them off and put them some place that you will see every morning, like taping them to a bathroom mirror, or putting them by your bed.
- Find a good examination of conscience and go through it once a day.
- If you want to start praying the rosary, commit yourself to one decade of the rosary a day. Then work up to the entire rosary.
- Pick one day during the week to attend Mass, in addition to Sundays and other days of obligation.
The point is, find a good place to start, commit yourself to those prayers, and keep it up. Talk to a spiritual director and go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as often as you need to. Let them help you grow in your relationship with God. Don’t be afraid to lean on your Christian community.
When you do pray spontaneously, by yourself or with another person, use a process like the following, which is easy to remember and repeat.
Just remember A.C.T.S.! Do not be afraid to pray with others. When someone says something that clearly needs prayer, instead of just saying “I’ll pray for you” say “May I pray with you about that right now? You don’t have to say anything, I’ll do the praying.”
- Adoration – As a matter of justice we should worship and recognize God for who He is – Our loving creator and savior. Adoration is a good way to start any prayer. I always open prayer with others by saying “Almighty God and Father, we praise your holy name.” Pray prayers of adoration and praise to God.
- Contrition – We can pray for forgiveness for our sins against God and against others. When you pray with others ask God to forgive OUR trespasses. Pray the Our Father with them.
- Thanksgiving – We can thank God for the good things he has given us and done for us in our life.
- Supplication – We can ask God to provide for our needs.
So, your prayer might be something like this: “Almighty God and Father, we adore your holy name and thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus. Please bless my friend, Joe, and show him how much you love him. We are sorry, Lord, for the ways in which we have turned away from you and those things we have done to harm our relationship with you and with others. Please forgive us our sins. We thank you for the good things in Joe’s life, we thank you for his family, for his wife, for his two beautiful children. We ask you to bless his wife in this difficult time of illness and to guide the doctors who will be healing her. We trust in your mercy and love. Amen.”
How did you learn how to pray? Share your thoughts in our comments.