"In the Name of the Father..."
During my junior year of high school, I was persuaded to attend a retreat with a bunch of people I had never met in a place that I had never heard of. This retreat, Kairos, ended up changing my life, and initiated the faith journey that I have been walking ever since. God has a funny way of using situations like these to pour out so many spiritual blessings!
A few weeks after the weekend ended and I had come down fully from the “Jesus-high”, I was left feeling stuck. I hadn’t grown up surrounded by the wonders and mysteries of God and His Church. Because of this, I didn’t know all the beautiful intricacies that come with being a Catholic, that we can grow in relationships with Saints, or even the Mass times at my local Church! And, there was nothing that I was more baffled by than prayer.
I knew that I should pray, I just didn’t know how. My parents never taught me, and most of my friends at the time weren’t really the religious type. Even my youth group, much to my frustration, never addressed this topic. Why did something that was so fundamental to the Christian life seem so elusive?
With time, perseverance, and the patient working of the Holy Spirit, I eventually came to the point where I am now able to spend time with God meditating on the scriptures and enjoying His presence in the Eucharist. With the help of the writings of Saints and the wise words of parish priests, God cultivated the garden that is the interior life. And now, I hope to share this advice on prayer with you.
#1 Prayer is Essential
In the 21st century, we all seem to be in a perpetual state of busyness. This busyness, though understandable, brings us farther away from God. It is important then, as Christians, that we take time to truly sit and be with God, for our own spiritual health and the health of the mystical body of Christ.
Firstly, it is important that we come to prayer in order to receive the blessings that God wants to pour out on us each individually. He wants to equip us for our day by clothing us in spiritual armor, reminding us of our identity in Him, granting us peace, and filling us with joy. He wants to heal wounds and build bridges that we have burned down out of pain and anger. He has so much He wants to give to each one of us, and we have to come to Him in prayer in order to accept His Grace.
Secondly, prayer benefits others. In fact, I would argue that prayer is the most selfless thing a person can do. God does what benefits all of His children, and so to be in tune with His will is to cooperate in this ministry. And let’s not forget that we are all connected in Christ. To grow in a relationship with God, is to grow in a relationship with each other. How much more willing are we to serve when we love the object of the service!
We must first come into prayer with the understanding that it is the most important part of our day. But, what do we do next?
#2 When, Where, How, and Why?
First, establish a time that you can pray to God. Make this non-negotiable, the most important block of time in your day. Secondly, decide where to pray. Find a place that is quiet and private so that you can focus on God for that short period of time. Thirdly, decide how you will pray. Will you meditate on scripture, offer praise to the Creator, dive into the rosary? Pick a form that you feel called to, and commit yourself to that form of prayer for a few weeks. At the end of that period, spend some time reflecting: was this form of prayer fruitful in your life?
Finally, and most importantly, determine why you will pray. What is your motivation? Is it because you truly desire to grow in a relationship with God? Are you looking for answers? If it’s the latter, I encourage you not to become discouraged if God doesn’t seem to be responding right away. He answers in His own time and in His own way, and it’s quite possible that He is preparing you to accept His answer or encouraging you to be persistent in prayer. Just keep coming to the feet of Jesus, not necessarily to receive an answer, but to receive Him.
#3 Let Prayer be Meaningful
Sometimes we recite, rather than pray, our prayers. Think of how many “Our Fathers” we have mindlessly uttered. Nobody is more guilty of this than me! But God calls us to communication not recitation. Frequently we retreat to merely saying our prayers because we slip into this mindset that it is our “Christian duty”. In other words, prayer is just a task to be completed. And yet, this is not what God desires for us. He doesn’t want us to mechanically carry out His commands, but to do so in love and faithfulness. Simply be mindful of the words you utter, and seek to make them your own.
Prayer is the means through which we receive grace, the means through which God speaks, the means through which we receive spiritual nourishment. Let us each recommit ourselves to God in prayer.
If you are looking to dive into prayer more deeply, I would encourage you to check out the writings of my confirmation Saint, St. Francis de Sales, or to check out Fr. Mike Schmitz’s youtube channel, where I got some of my ideas for this post.