How Am I Supposed to Pray?

I wrote awhile back a post titled, Why I Love My Catholic Faith and I mentioned the Catechism as one of the reasons. I was recently scrolling the online Catechism looking for a particular topic when I landed on Chapter Three: The Life of Prayer. Once again, I marveled at the beauty and insight of the Church. This was just another reminder for me of why I love my faith and also a tiny revelation from the Holy Spirit all at the same time. I love that my Church has a “handbook” of sorts. The amazing thing to me when I saw this, was that this handbook includes the life of prayer – not just “rules” of the faith but insight on the personal relationship we should have with God. This is a tiny revelation for me personally because I have mentioned before and I’ll keep saying it to keep me accountable, but my number one goal this year is to prayer every single day. I’ve made this a top priority, but I certainly struggle with prayer and struggle with the idea of having a relationship with Jesus because, well, he’s not visibly in front of me chatting and having coffee.

Essentially my religion delineates for me the kinds of prayer, why it is important and what to be aware of when praying, because as Article 2 is titled, The Battle of Prayer, exists. Spiritual warfare is real and the idea that the devil isn’t real or doesn’t try and derail you is the devil’s greatest lie and greatest feat in history.

If you’re like me and struggle with exactly what is prayer, then you might have the same questions as me. What is prayer exactly? Why do it? Does “it” do anything? How do I pray? Is there a right and wrong way to pray? These questions and most of my concerns about prayer tend to be inward focused, concerns that I have about me and prayer and serving me because, I tend to make myself the little god of my own world. Wouldn’t you know, the Catechism addresses all of this and here’s two sentences that just kind of slapped me in the face:

“2726 In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer…Those who seek God by prayer are quickly discouraged because they do not know that prayer comes also from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves alone.”

2728 Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that…we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded prideour resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. the conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance”

Man, I have so much to learn. These teachings give me hope though because if prayer was simple, I should have “mastered” it by now but there is a reason the Church has dedicated an entire chapter to prayer and refer to it as the “Mystery of Prayer.” It is just that, a mystery and a gift from God. I honestly had not viewed it with this perspective before and really, it changes everything. I have to learn to let go, again and again and let God do what I cannot. Let Him lead the prayer.

I also think the intro to this chapter is crucial and perfect:

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…prayer is a remembrance of God often awakened by the memory of the heart “We must remember God more often than we draw breath.”1 But we cannot pray “at all times” if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. These are the special times of Christian prayer, both in intensity and duration.”

Our entire lives ought to be a prayer; however, we have to set aside specific times to pray and know God more personally so we can remember Him throughout the day as well. It makes sense to me that just like I can have a great relationship with my husband with small conversation from time to time, but we also need specific time together and specific communication on important topics in order for our relationship to grow. If not, we’ll only get so deep in our relationship.

We know we should pray and develop a relationship, now how do we do it? The Catechism points out three forms of prayer: Vocal, Meditative and Contemplative. Seeing these forms of prayer written out and explained brings this Type A personality peace. It gives me a roadmap and it makes me feel that I’m kind of going about it all in the right way although I still have a long way to go.

Vocal Prayer. This is the form of prayer most of us think about, speaking to God either mentally or verbally. It is the “essential element of the Christian life.” We can take our cues from Jesus and the prayers we see Him perform in scripture: the Our Father, his prayer at Gethsemane, praying with the disciples. The Church points out that its not the quantity of words we use that matters but also the “fervor of our soul matters.” (CC 2700) Since we are body and soul, our whole being should reflect that we are praying and our body should also worship God as he deserves.

Meditation2705 “Meditation 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. The required attentiveness is difficult to sustain.” Meditation is aided by books, spiritual writings, scripture, icons, etc and allows us to dig deeper into what our hearts are doing. Meditation allows us space and silence to discern what the Holy Spirit is telling us. It essentially allows us to answer the great, continual question of life:  “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

Two simple forms of meditation that I have learned to love are lectio divina and the rosary. Lectio divina is essentially reading a small scripture passage multiple times and pausing after each reading to find what Jesus is saying to me specifically in the passage. I heard someone say once that scripture is living, it is not static. It is God speaking to each individual person in their particular situation; therefore, meditating on his word helps us clarify that continual question. Here’s what I love most about this section of the Catechism though, the Catechism states that Christians “owe it to themselves” to meditate and listen to what God is saying to them! You owe it to yourself to meditate and hear God’s answer to your life questions.

Contemplative. I will be honest, contemplative prayer is not something that I can say I’ve ever reached, nor do I fully understand it. I believe it takes a new level of relationship and faith with God that I hope to attain some day. The Catechism says at the end of the chapter on meditation that “…Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him.” (CC 2708)

2713 “Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty. Contemplative prayer is a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts.9 Contemplative prayer is a communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, “to his likeness.” 

Wow. I don’t know what to say other than that. There are many saints that talk about contemplation and the relationship with God they have, I cannot say I’ve reached that kind of relationship but it’s certainly something to work toward.

Now that the forms of prayer are established, the Church talks about the Battle of Prayer and the difficulties that it inevitably poses. First, there’s no way around it, prayer requires effort. It is clear that if we want a relationship with God, we must work at that relationship and not just pray when we want, but make time for prayer. This is so hard in today’s busy world; it is so easy to push prayer off. I think all the excuses and temptations I have fallen into are addressed in this section: distraction, dryness and lack of faith. The Catechism begs us to ask ourselves this question: Who will you let win out, your temptation or will you continue to give your effort to your prayer and your God even when these battles creep in?

2732 “The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”20 “

I want to close this out with one last thought at the end of the chapter in the Catechism that I urge you to read for yourself here. “Prayer and the Christian life are inseperable…” Prayer embodies everything that makes up the Christian life: love. If we want to call ourselves Christian, we must set time for specific prayer with God. Let’s get to work!