+ Ways of Prayer +
A Prayer Booklet produced by Fr. Russ Zint
St. Malachy Catholic Church
What is prayer?
According to St. John Damascene, prayer is the "raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." The Catechism (2258 ff.) reminds us that prayer to God is to be made in humility and with the recognition that God is the giver of all gifts, including His revelation of self.
There is no other way to prayer than through Jesus Christ. We have access to the Father only through His holy name. "The name Jesus contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation (2665)." The power to invoke this name comes from God through the Holy Spirit.
Prayer is always guided and directed by the Church. When praying alone, we join in praying with the universal Church in this world and in the next. In that way, we fulfill the apostle Paul's directive to 'pray without ceasing (I Th 5:17).'
There are 3 "P's" of prayer: PRAISE, PETITION and PERSISTENCE. We praise and thank God for all he has given us, and we ask Him to grant us all that we need, in His way and in His time according to His will. We should pray consistently, reaching out to God each day.
Pray as you can, not as you can't
Prayer is something that takes on a different form for each of us each day. Because our lives are organic and ever-changing, we learn ways to adapt to new circumstances and to be flexible with our time. Prayer is no different. We must be flexible to the workings of the Spirit within us and have available a veritable wardrobe of prayer garments from which we can choose depending on our feelings and needs. This booklet is intended to give you some basic tenants of prayer and hopefully, some ideas about how you can pray.
Some basics of prayer:
- Plan. Setting aside time each day for prayer is critical. Decide when you will pray. Maybe it will be in the shower or on the way to work. You may soon find that you will want to set aside a certain place and time exclusively for prayer.
- Place. The place where we pray is of importance. Walking outdoors or setting aside a special place in your home will be of help to you. Many Catholics find great strength in praying in a Church, especially before the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
- Time. Consider how much time you will spend in prayer, whether it be 5, 10, 15 or 30 minutes.
- Action. Think of how you will want to spend your prayer time. This booklet will give you some ideas about how to do this. Remember to choose a garment from your prayer wardrobe that fits your needs that day.
- Invite. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in your prayers. Remember the words of St. Paul: "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Rom 8:26)"
- Posture. If you choose to set aside a special time and place for prayer, be attentive to your posture. Sit in a natural and relaxed position, without becoming TOO relaxed (this may be conducive to sleep!). Kneeling is a posture that speaks a distinct message of humility and can help to focus prayer.
- Speaking and Listening. Many people believe that prayer simply involves speaking to God. Certainly, this is an important element. However, prayer is a relational activity. Consider what a friendship would be like with someone if they did all the talking and never listened to you! Although it is not always easy to hear the voice of God at work, God does want to speak to us. One priest once gave this counsel: "When you begin to pray, pray for two minutes. In the first minute, thank God for all you have and ask him for all you need. Spend the other minute listening in silence."
- Acknowledge distractions. Distractions always arise in prayer. Some keep a notepad near them in prayer: if a task or a thought pops in your brain, simply write it down. If a distraction consistently emerges, this may be an indication that God wants you pray about it.
- Keep trying. Trying to pray IS praying! Never give up trying.
Types of Prayer.
"Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.' (Luke 11:1)" Jesus' response to his followers was to teach them the "Our Father," a prayer which lies at the center of the Church.
It is no mistake that parents who teach their children to pray teach them to memorize certain prayers. These prayers live in our souls and spirits and surface at times when we are unable to deliberately pray.
It has always been the tradition of the Church to gather for prayer and thanksgiving, especially in the communal celebration of Eucharist. Here, in the great prayer of thanksgiving, we offer ourselves to God in the company of our brothers and sisters.
The Church also prays publicly in the Liturgy of the Hours, or the divine office. It is "intended to become the prayer of the whole people of God (CCC 1175)" Clergy, religious and the faithful all exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized when engaging in this solemn liturgy. The recitation or singing of the psalms and the proclamation of the Word are at the center of this prayer. The divine office is celebrated at morning, evening, and night. I highly recommend a monthly subscription to the periodical "MAGNIFICAT" (www.magnificat.net or (301) 853-6600. A yearly subscription costs about $40 but is well worth it). This handy booklet has the prayers of each day laid out for each day. For those who are more experienced and are comfortable with the Liturgy of the hours, the volume "Christian Prayer" contains a more complete version of the office and can be purchased or ordered at Catholic bookstores.
Meditation - The heart of personal prayer.
Learning to meditate certainly is a challenge and above all a quest (CCC 2705). Thankfully, the Catholic tradition provides us with a variety of resources to help us meditate. Centering and Contemplation are two words associated with meditation which deserve some explanation:
Centering simply means to focus our attention, and to pray, we must focus on God.
Contemplation flows out of centering. St. Teresa of Jesus calls contemplation, "nothing else than a close sharing between friends...being alone with him who we know loves us." There are a number of ways to enter into contemplation through centering:
- Body senses. By being attentive to our bodies and postures, we become more aware of ourselves. Deep breathing is essential here. This helps to focus our energy.
- Rosary. Praying the rosary is a way to replace the distracting thought of our minds with mantra, or repeated phrases and prayers. This opens our minds to contemplation.
- Jesus prayer. The Jesus prayer works on the same principal as the rosary; a prayer is repeated over and over again in order to 'create' mental space for contemplation. Simply, you repeat over and over "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This opens our minds to deeper reflection.
- Taize. Hidden away in the hills of Burgundy, France, is an ecumenical community of brothers whose prayer is at the heart of their lives. Founded in 1940, this community is made up of Protestants and Catholics from some 20 countries. They host thousands of young people on pilgrimage each year who are invited into the prayer and spirit of the community. With a growing number of young people from all over the world coming to Taize, a form of song that could incorporate people of many languages was developed. With the help of musician Jacques Berthier, a friend of the community, short musical phrases with easily memorized melodies and Latin texts became the norm of the community. Taize prayer lends itself very easily to meditative prayer. Their CD's can be ordered at the Village Dove or directly from GIA publications at 1-800-GIA-1358. Using the repeat button on your CD player, the song becomes a mantra in which you can enter prayer. This is especially good for people who are highly aural.
- Icons. The practice of gazing upon icons comes to us from the spirituality of the Eastern rite churches. Henri Nouwen describes his experience of meditating with icons: "there are many times when I cannot pray, when I am too tired to read the gospels, too restless to have spiritual thoughts, too depressed to find words for God, or too exhausted to do anything. But I can still look at these images so intimately connected with the experience of love." Icons offer "access, through the gate of the visible, to the mystery of the invisible." Visually, icons speak their own language; a language with particular appeal to very visually-oriented people. Henri Nouwen book Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons is a simple and excellent guide to prayer with icons. Icons can be found at many Catholic bookstores. Contemporary and traditional images can also be ordered from BridgeBuilding Icons at 1-800-325-6263 or www.wowpages.com/bbi.
- **Praying with Scripture: Lectio Divina**
"Seek in reading and you will find in meditation. Knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation"-St. John of the Cross
Lectio Divina is a slow, meditative reading in search of a prayerful, personal contact with God. It traditionally involves four movements:
1. LECTIO: Reading
- Choose and mark your scriptural passage. Many people use the Sunday readings for lectio.
- Get into a comfortable position, sitting in a chair or on the floor.
- Take a few moments to relax, as much as possible, still your body, mind and heart.
- Invoke the Holy Spirit; ask to be attentive and open as God speaks through His holy Word.
- Read aloud, slowly and quietly, the Scripture passage. See, hear, feel the words.
2. MEDITATIO: Reflecting
- Read and re-read the passage slowly; linger over words, phrases and thoughts that strike you. Don't rush; take your time.
- Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Do not analyze the passage scientifically. How does the passage speak to you and your life? What is God saying to you?
3. ORATIO: Praying
- Turn your mind and heart to God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Using the fruit of your meditatio, speak to God appropriately-in petition, gratitude, sorrow or praise. Commit yourself to act and respond to God's word.
4. CONTEMPLATIO: Receiving
- Rest in God's love.
- Feel the power of the living word spoken to you.
- Expect nothing, simply be.
Reviewing your prayer time.
After your period of formal prayer is over, take a moment to consider what transpired. Evaluate the movements of consolation, desolation, fear, anxiety and boredom. Think also about the distractions that arose. Questions like these may help:
- What went on during the period of prayer?
- What struck me?
- How did I feel about what went on?
- What was my mood, or changes in mood?
- What did the Lord show me?
- Is there some point I should return to in my next prayer period?
It is typically helpful to jot down some ideas about your prayer session in a journal. This will enable you to prepare more readily for your next period of prayer. You may want to speak to a spiritual director about your prayer journey, and the journal will help you to do this.
Some in the Church, especially priests and religious, have a spiritual director. The purpose and role of a spiritual director is to be a 'spiritual companion.' He or she listens carefully and supportively to your spiritual journey and helps you to discern what is going on; i.e., what is from God and what is not. A spiritual director is NOT a counselor or psychologist. However, it is appropriate for one in direction to speak about the events and people which influence his or her spirituality. A good spiritual director will challenge you to grow as a person of faith while affirming your efforts to grow closer to God.+