I struggled lately with my prayer life. My desire had been interrupted by urgent calls, a friend in crisis, a family member needing assistance, a request for meetings, texts, emails, activities to organise, household chores and errands.
In my worry, I mentioned my dilemma to the Lord and He reassured me through a book given by my sister, “Deepening Prayer” by Sister Mary David Totah.
She said that prayer should be seen as a dimension of a whole life lived perseveringly for God. What matters is not so much about constantly increasing the amount of prayer but that we incorporate the practice of prayer in the rhythm of our daily living. Often, she says, we think that to pray means to say prayers.
How true! I often bring a lot of prayer books, wanting to grab every opportunity to say them. In the car, instead of engaging in a conversation with my husband, or focus on what my dad is sharing, I tend to hide behind them.
The Lord corrected me by impressing upon my heart that prayer is not so much an activity as a state. There are people who pray even when they sleep- they pray not with what they say or think but rather by the virtue of what they are.
Someone once asked: “I am confused – are we to pray with few words or pray without ceasing?” This seems a contradiction. A pastor shared his insight by explaining that there should be no conflict if we interpret it this way:
“Have a continual spirit of dependency on God; pray repeatedly and often in every situation of need and thankfulness; don’t ever come to the point where you give up and cease praying and say “It’s not working. I’m quitting.” The warning against many words is protecting us from thinking that we can twist God’s arm by repetitions as though saying five times would be more compelling than one heartfelt, authentic request that leaves the matter to Him and moves forward in faith. God is not hard of hearing, and He is not reluctant to bless His children.”
But what about us Catholics who love devotional prayers like the Rosary, Divine Mercy and novenas. I won’t be able to give these up, as I have experienced their tremendous power when said in faith and humility.
Tim Staples, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism admits that as young Protestant this was one of his favourites to ask Catholics. “Why do you pray a repetitious prayer like the Rosary when Jesus says not to pray vain repetitions in Matthew 6:7?
He shares: “I find it ironic that as a former Protestant who prayed much, and many words, before I was Catholic, that it was far easier to drift into “vain repetition” when all I prayed was spontaneous prayers. My prayers often devolved into petition after petition, and yes, I tended to pray the same way, and the same words, over and over, over the years. I have found praying liturgical prayer, and devotional prayers to have tremendous spiritual benefit. First, these prayers are either from Scripture or from the greatest minds and souls who have ever walked the earth who have gone before us. They are theologically correct as well as spiritually rich. They free me from having to think about what I am going to say next and they allow me to really enter into my prayer, and into God. These prayers challenge me at times because of their spiritual depth while they keep me from reducing God to a cosmic bubble gum machine. “Give me, give me, give…” In the end, I have found, the prayers, devotions, and meditations of the Catholic tradition actually save me from the “vain repetition” that Jesus warns about in the Gospel. This does not mean that there is not a danger of mindlessly repeating the Rosary or other such devotions. There is. We must always stay on guard against that very real possibility. But if we do fall prey to “vain repetition” in prayer, it will not be because we are “saying the same words” over and over in prayer as our Lord did in Mark 14:39. It will be because we are not praying from the heart and truly entering into the great devotions Holy Mother Church provides for our spiritual nourishment.”
There really should not be a conflict in whatever style we pray. My dad is a down-to-earth man, who received no formal spiritual education, who can’t pray Lectio Divina style or the Rosary. His room is filled with images of God, and that’s how he prays, holding on to his crucifix when he is in pain or struggling. He keeps a night lamp for Jesus as he believes it is always good for His light to shine. I am deeply convinced his prayers are filled with fervour.
Saint Basil said that the result of a good prayer is that the soul becomes clean, quiet, peaceable, free from guilt, fears, and defects. Great prayer makes the body a temple of the Holy Spirit and the result is in the fruit– peace, joy, love, generosity, forgiveness. One can never leave the presence of God without being transformed and renewed in His being. The object of prayer is not an abstraction but a Divine Person. It is opening to the invisible power of God.
When I prayed lately to find a person that we needed to contact but we lost her number for a crucial church situation and she suddenly came to church a few days after, presenting herself, I know that it was my good God answering my urgent plea. When a friend prayed that her house not be burned down, being so close to the next door, fully engulfed in flames and the fire not touching her home, the Hand of God was upon her.
Lord, teach me to pray and pray well.