Prayer is conversation with God. Through prayer we open ourselves to God in humility and seek to know and love Him more. Prayer ought to affect our entire lives, not be isolated to one corner of our life. It ought to result in growth in virtue and love. Through prayer we begin to see the areas in our lives where there are barriers to growth in holiness or we fail to follow the example of Christ and then we ask God to help us do something about it.
As another priest, Fr. Robert Cooper, said, “Prayers go up and graces come down.” There are some graces that God is going to give us no matter what, there are some that we won’t receive as they aren’t meant for us, but there are many graces that we’ll only get if we ask for them in prayer. Through prayer we can receive consolation, which is the joy, peace, or calmness of mind and soul that comes from God. We can also receive insight into the mysteries of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. We can grow in humility, holiness, faith, and hope. The ultimate purpose of prayer, and the way we know if it’s working, is growth in love or charity.
There are several different types of prayer, and different spiritual authors break them down in different ways. Liturgical Prayer is communal prayer according to a set rite, i.e., Mass and Benediction. Vocal Prayer is prayer using words, which can be silent or aloud, rote (according to a formula) or using our own words. Meditation, as the Catechism says, “is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking (CCC 2705).” Meditation can be rational or imaginative and uses the Bible, theological or spiritual books, sacred images, nature, experiences in our lives, and the mysteries of God, and other things. Contemplative prayer, though very difficult to describe, is the prayer of lovingly gazing on God, completely surrendering to Him, and inviting Him into our lives. It is sometimes called the Prayer of Quiet, but true contemplation isn’t so much what we do, but letting God take over and pray within us. Prayer, like conversation, always includes both speaking and listening, but we should try to ere on the side of listening to what God has to say to us rather than telling God what we have to say to Him.
We can pray about anything, because we can bring anything to God. Some common things include prayers of petition, asking God for something, intercession, praying for someone else, thanksgiving for the blessings we’ve receive, and praising God for His glory and majesty. When you pray, try to find a place that’s suited to prayer, with quiet and privacy, a time that you can dedicate to prayer with few distractions, and then stick with that time. Of course we have to be flexible and take care of things as they come up, but if we can stick with a certain place and time for prayer, then it will soon become a part of our routine to give that time to God.
Prayer can be difficult. We may often be distracted in prayer, or suffer times of dryness when we simply don’t feel God’s presence or seem to get anything out of our prayers, or even suffer difficulties in life or setbacks in the spiritual life that make prayer seem pointless. Remember that even the saints experienced all of these things, and they tell us to persevere, to push through, and not to let any obstacle keep us from the Lord.
The Church and the Bible give us an entire treasury of prayer, and their are some things that are non-negotiable, like the Bible and the Mass, but there isn’t just one way to pray, and it can be fruitful to try different ways of prayer, different devotions, and different spiritualities, like Benedictine or Carmelite spirituality, but we must remain faithful to the Church. Learn what the Church teaches and stay away from anything that leads away from that, even if it seems in other ways to be fruitful, because God gave us the Church specifically to guide us in our relationship with Him, so that we might grow in holiness through fidelity to the truth.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.