For the Catholic Who Can’t Pray
A Very, Very Beginning Introduction to Prayer
Show up for Jesus as He is always there for you. It will take time to develop a life of prayer, and it needs to be a life of prayer, not just something you do when you got time. You don’t get to stop or take breaks from being a husband or wife, sister or brother. Start thinking about prayer not as something you do, but as a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.
Prayer is a huge topic. I’ve been praying the Liturgy of the Hours (a set of passages from Scripture and other prayers compiled by the Church) which is the official prayer of the Church, for 15 + years. There’s office of readings, morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer, and night prayer. So 5 times a day (plus Mass and a Rosary) I’m picking up the Liturgy of the Hours to pray. As a Franciscan Friar and priest, I’m obligated to do this. And I love it, prayer is my life in many deep and important ways.
But what about prayer for people who aren’t priests and religious? Do they know about the five different types of prayer? What’s the difference between meditation and contemplation and how do I do either of them? There’s all sorts of novenas and Rosary meditations and prayer groups and pamphlet and books and podcasts and all sorts of other stuff saying how to pray, which one should I do? But before that happens, I think you need to be able to explain what prayer is. And it’s different for everyone. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains prayer in several different ways, but I think each person needs to have their own definition.
I’m writing about prayer because a friend suggested I write about the universal call to holiness. In our conversation I realized that prayer is the foundation to holiness and way more people ask about how to pray than they ask about how to be holy. And yes prayer and holiness are two separate, but very very related topics.
This is not necessarily a “How to pray” or “Steps to Prayer” or whatever. I think there’s a lot of different ways to get there. But this is my attempt to introduce a series of articles I will write about prayer and hopefully present a down to earth and practical application of concepts that we hear about but might not have ever seen. Also this article is not intended as way to convince someone to pray or to convert someone to Catholicism. I am writing this article for the people who go to Mass on Sundays and holy days, and desire a life of prayer but don’t know what to do or haven’t had a felt sense of prayer.”
So what is prayer for me? My favorite description comes from St. Therese of Lisieux, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Really beautiful! But I think it only makes sense to me now that I’ve been in religious life for 15 years, pray 5 times a day, etc.
Another definition, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2697: “Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget him who is our life and our all.”
What’s the “beginners” version of prayer? Sitting before God, and telling God what you are thinking and feeling. Very simple! And not easy! The best “spiritual words” I’ve ever been told is that, “God loves you.” And it’s true! And can be cheesy sometimes! But God does love you, whether you believe it or not. That’s why Jesus Christ came into the world, as a sign of God’s love. And that’s why there’s heaven, you so might spend eternity with God. If you don’t think or feel or believe that God loves you, that’s okay. But you need to be open to that.
Once you are open to God loving you, prayer can begin. And even the journey of getting to that point is prayer.
On Twitter I asked people what questions they have about prayer and this is a few of the questions that came up:
“How our spiritual/prayer life contributes to the life of the Church, diocese, parish, etc. in which we find ourselves. I.e., does a healthy prayer life help others in ways that aren’t necessarily “I’m praying for you”-immediate?”
“How one can tell the difference, in prayer, between an inspiration that comes from God and one that comes from one’s own mind?”
“I struggle with intercessory prayer. We can’t change God’s mind, right? So what are we doing when we ask Him for help?”
“How to discover the Catholic vision of life and prayer that still has meaning and value during the great diminishment at the end of life. When can no longer “contribute” to society, how does the Catholic life of sanctification still provide meaning and purpose?”
“I’d like to hear more about how mental prayer and devotional/more liturgical prayer work together or where and how to use each! I find myself leaning on one or the other sometimes instead of a balance.”
“When there’s so many awesome devotions, litanies, prayers, and saints that you start liking, how do you narrow it down to doing what’s right for you in your spirituality?”
“Ok. What do you do when you are *extremely* distracted in prayer?”
“Something about prayer as Trinitarian?”
I choose these questions because I’ve heard them before and I think are most relevant. There are other good questions that I would like to address on areas like cosmology (how we understand the world and creation), anthropology (how we understand the human person), and soteriology (how are we saved). Again all giant topics I hope to simply introduce as people ask questions about these topics.
Also there’s a difference in how men and women relate to other people, and prayer at its foundation is about relationship. Since I’m a man, I will approach prayer differently than a woman and that’s okay! This is a disclaimer more than anything. I love reading the works of female spiritual writers and the saints. They can be more in touch with their heart and feelings than men can, and this is a blessing for the Church. Again, just a disclaimer.
Prayer at its essence needs to be relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. In order to be in relationship with someone you need to spend time with them. That might mean time in a church or chapel, that might mean some quiet mental prayer while doing a menial task, that might mean quietly saying, “Jesus help me” before facing a difficult situation.
For closing but introductory words, don’t overthink prayer. So I repeat from above: Show up for Jesus as He is always there for you. It will take time to develop a life of prayer, and it needs to be a life of prayer, not just something you do when you got time. You don’t get to stop or take breaks from being a husband or wife, sister or brother. Start thinking about prayer not as something you do, but as a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.