Get More Out of Prayer. If there is something that I think we have missed in the Church it is telling people how to pray. We stress the importance of prayer, but in many ways I am not sure that we have really worked on helping people to know what it means to pray. We have not taught well the ways we can pray.
Part of the problem may very well be that we do not share the rich tradition of the Church’s life of prayer and prayer styles. When I hear high school kids who become enamored with Buddhism, I ask myself how well and how much they have been introduced to the mystical tradition of Catholicism.
How many people have the type of relationship with Jesus that they would describe as personal. This is not to suggest a “me and God only” form of Christianity, but rather to develop the type of personal relationship with Jesus that changes lives and makes one more active in the Church, the Body of Christ.
All authentic prayer is a form of raising the mind and heart to God. But there are also many ways this can be done, and given the ways in which we are different, each of us may favor one type of prayer more than another. That said, a variety of prayer is needed to claim a rich and robust prayer life.
Get More Out of Prayer
The search for God
Let’s begin be reviewing what it is the Catechism of the Church has to say about prayer. The first thing to acknowledge, in a variety of ways, is that each of us is searching for something deep beyond ourselves. While not everyone may realize this, it is still the case that God calls everyone of us to a powerful relationship.
Simply put, God is always the one who initiates this call. We can choose to respond of not. The definition of Saint John Damascene can be helpful here. As quoted in the Catechism, what he says is “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (St. John Damascene, Defide orth. 3, 24: PG 94, 1089C)“
This search for God is for all peoples. All are encouraged to enter into this endeavor to find God, to search for God. The catechism writes “All religions bear witness to men’s essential search for God.” So as God reaches out to us again and again, we are invited over and over to respond to God. Prayer is always our response to God who calls first.
The Most Excellent Prayer
Prayer is our response to God. But there are many styles of prayer, and indeed prayer falls into two categories. First, there is the public prayer of the Church, which for most of us is the celebration of the Eucharist, the Mass. This is not simply one style or type of prayer among many. No, it is the prayer, par excellence.
This is true because the Mass encompasses the many ways the Body of Christ is present. The Second Vatican Council Document on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) has this to say about how Christ is present.
“To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.
He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross”, but especially under the Eucharistic species.
By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20)Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7.
So Mass is the most excellent way for us to pray. Most especially because Jesus is most present in the Eucharist. The Church teaches that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity. More importantly, Jesus himself tells us this. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.“
But Jesus assures us even further about this truth. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
The importance of this teaching cannot be overstated. Every time we attend Mass Jesus appears to us in the Eucharist, not simply in symbolic for, but in a real way. Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity. And so every time we go to Mass we encounter the Risen Christ. And every time we choose not to go to Mass, we miss the tremendous opportunity.
So as you pray what it is you will do for Lent, consider making attending daily Mass, at least one day a week. Masstimes.com is an easy way to access times for daily Mass. You can even enter a ZIP Code if attending Mass closer to where you work could be easier.
Adoration is an Extension of Mass
The Church also has another way to experience Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament, and that is with the celebration of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus in the host is placed in what is called a Monstrance, visible for those in the Church, where this usually occurs (though it could also occur in a chapel) who pray quietly in its presence. It can also be the case that adoration is accompanied by spiritual music.
Exodus 90 provides a simple outline for making a holy hour. While the Exodus 90 is a spiritual program geared to men, the outline for adoration, for making an hour of prayer called a holy hour, would work for women too. The outline also includes the different types of prayer that can help us to round out our prayer.
There are a number of steps and each highlights a type of prayer that can be made in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The steps are opening prayer, spiritual reading, silent prayer, thanksgiving, intercessions and a closing prayer. These steps are explained in a pdf file that can be downloaded from their website.
Confession is Connected to the Benefits of Mass
Let’s admit it. We are all broken. That is one reason why prayer is so important. And one way to get more out of prayer is to admit and bring your brokenness from sin to the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession. This is the place to experience the powerful love and mercy and forgiveness from God. If it has been a long time, or you do not remember how to go, no worries. We will outline the steps below.
Greeting, Introduction, Confession of Sins
The priest usually starts by offering a greeting or some phrase from Scripture. This is to set the context for the encounter with Jesus that occurs in the sacrament. Then, the penitent (you — you’re the one going to confession) will say, “Bless Me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been (however long) since I have been to confession. Here are my sins. Then, you will confess those sins you have committed since your last confession.
Other Prayer Styles
Of course if you are not able to attend Church, for reasons of illness and age, for example, there are ways you can pray at home. Below are a few things that might be helpful in trying to make prayer a bigger place in your life.
Some people find it helpful to make a space in their home a place for prayer. It can be a separate room, or even a part of the room. Sometimes having a place set aside makes it easier to enter into the space of prayer. If you wish, it can include statues, icons or other religious goods.
The Bible is the Word of God. And so using the bible as a means of prayer can be very helpful. In our next preparation day focusing on the bible, three days from now, there will be more focus about how to pray with the bible. But if you do not have a bible in your home, this would be a good time to find one. Because there is a difference in the number of books considered part of the Old Testament, it might be more helpful to be sure you get a Catholic bible.
Mary, the Blessed Mother was revered from the earliest days of the Church. The rosary, a prayer that grew out of people attempting to imitate the monks who prayed 150 psalms, is a tried and true way of addressing prayer to the Blessed Virgin. On this website there are instructions and ways to pray the common rosary, the rosary in the Dominican style, and the rosary in the Lasallian style.
Other Devotional Prayers
Sometimes it can be helpful to start with devotional prayers. Again, this website features lots of devotional prayers that are well know and used by many. They can be helpful ways to get started if you do not know where to begin.
Bible Verses to Ponder
Reflection Questions to Ponder
When you think of the phrase “raising your mind and heart to God,” what comes to mind?
What is most beautiful to you about the Mass?
Do you sometimes feel the you could have written the psalms, given the way they can capture all human emotion?
What types of spiritual reading do you think would you think might be interesting to you?
If Jesus were to tell you how to improve your prayer life, what would he suggest?
Heavenly Father, we praise and glorify your name. We praise you because you have given us so many blessings, even if we do not always see these blessings. We thank you for the gifts and talents you have given to us, gifts that we can use to help others. We praise you Lord for the people you have sent into our lives to teach us how it is we can be more generous, those who have taught us to be more faithful and true to you.
We know that just like the apostles and disciples we do not know how to pray. Teach us, Lord. Teach us. Help us to enter more and more into a relationship with you. Help us to raise our minds and hearts to you so that we can experience and feel your love. Help us, Lord.
Help us to grow in prayer. And even thought we may not always know how to pray, we beg ou to help us to grow in prayer. We know you so want to help us to pray, and we ask you for that help. We ask you to help us to grow in your love. We ask you to heal whatever brokenness there is in our lives, or in the lives of those we love.
And so we make this prayer in the name of your son, Jesus, for He is Your Son, You sent Him to save us, you showed us your overwhelming love for each of us by having Him die on the cross for us. In His name we pray. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Other Helps to Grow in the Spiritual Life
Participate in the Friar Book Club, where you can read along with the Confessions of Saint Augustine, and soon the Meditations for Time of Retreat and the Companion to the Summa by Walter Farrell, OP.
Search our website for devotional prayers. You can ask for people and the friar to pray for you, and you can pray for others. There are three ways you can pray the rosary. You can pray the traditional rosary (the one you may have learned as a child). But you can also pray the rosary in a tradition that comes from the Dominicans or you can pray the rosary in a tradition that comes from the Lasallians. All of the links to the rosary come with audio recordings so that you can pray the rosary in the car, on your way to work, or anytime you are otherwise occupied.
There will be other resources which you can find as well. The high school students I teach and work with will offer a reflection each day. Of course all those who ask me to pray should know that I do each day, twice a day.
And sometimes it is helpful to know what is going on in the Church, and so from time to time I post news stories from the Church too. I pray that all of you will find a deep and fulfilling personal relationship with Jesus. Nothing is more important or able to change your life than that. And I pray that this relationship with Jesus changes your life in every way. It can.
When you see the world as God sees the world, it does not mean there are not hard times or that there is not still suffering and sin, but it does mean that none of these things do you need to experience on your own. Be sure to come back tomorrow.