Introduction to Christian Prayer
“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.” (St. Therese of Lisieux)
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind to God, or the requesting of good things from God.” (St. John Damascene)
First distinction: Liturgical Prayer and Personal Prayer. (we will focus on private or personal prayer)
Second distinction, within personal prayer: Vocal Prayer, Meditation, and Contemplation
Vocal Prayer: “Lord, teach us to pray! – And our Lord replied: When you pray, say: ‘Pater noster, qui es in coelis … Our Father who are in heaven …’ What importance we must attach to vocal prayer!” (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way 84)
Meditation: “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. We are usually helped by books.” (Catechism 2705)
Contemplation: “Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
The Three Ages of the Interior Life: The Beginners, the Proficients, the Perfect.
The interior life is not separate from the practice of the virtues. There is no true growth in prayer without growth in the virtues.
Everyone is called to Christian perfection and contemplation. The saints are those who pass through to the highest mystical union of the life of prayer.
Most common errors in prayer
“In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer. Some people view prayer as a simple psychological activity, others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void. Still others reduce prayer to ritual words and postures. Many Christians unconsciously regard prayer as an occupation that is incompatible with all the other things they have to do: they ‘don’t have the time.’ 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.” (Catechism 2726)
Christian prayer is not: self-help, eastern meditation (e.g. zen or centering prayer), merely external rituals, a job or mere obligation.
A poem from St. Teresa of Avila (Doctor of Prayer)
If, Lord, Thy love for me is strong
As this which binds me unto Thee,
what holds me from Thee, Lord, so long,
What holds Thee, Lord, so long from me?
O soul, what then desirest thou?
-Lord, I would see, who thus choose Thee.
What fears can yet assail thee now?
-All that I fear is to lose Thee.
Love's whole possession I entreat,
Lord, make my soul Thine own abode,
And I will build a nest so sweet
It may not be too poor for God.
O soul in God hidden from sin,
What more desires for thee remain.
Save but to love, and love again,
And all in flame, with love within,
Love on, and turn to love again?
Si el amor que me tenéis,
Dios mío, es como el que os tengo,
Decidme: ¿en qué me detengo?
O Vos, ¿en qué os detenéis?
-Alma, ¿qué quieres de mí?
-Dios mío, no más que verte.
-Y ¿qué temes más de ti?
-Lo que más temo es perderte.
Un amor que ocupe os pido,
Dios mío, mi alma os tenga,
para hacer un dulce nido
adonde más la convenga.
Un alma en Dios escondida
¿qué tiene que desear,
sino amar y más amar,
y en amor toda escondida
tornarte de nuevo a amar?
How to engage oneself in mental prayer
Mental prayer, per se:
This includes things like: The Rosary, Lectio Divina with Scripture or writings from the saints, praying with icons, etc.
Outline for a period of mental prayer (at least 15 or 20 minutes)
1) The beginning, or preparation: We begin always by placing ourselves in God’s presence, humbling ourselves, asking the Holy Spirit for light, setting before our mind the mystery we will consider. Give this time wholly over to God.
2) The body, or considerations: The consideration of the mystery. This is the majority of the time of prayer. We think especially on the love of God revealed in this mystery.
3) The conclusion: We give adore and give thanks to God, making acts of love for him. We ask for the graces we need in our daily life and, especially, the grace of final perseverance. We resolve to grow in particular virtues and particular areas of our life.
The most important part is the conclusion (though it is shorter than the considerations).
Practicing the presence of God:
“Be sure then, my child, that while externally occupied with business and social duties, you frequently retire within the solitude of your own heart. That solitude need not be in any way hindered by the crowds which surround you – they surround your body, not your soul, and your heart remains alone in the Sole Presence of God.” (St. Francis de Sales)
Abandonment to Divine Providence:
To accept whatever may come as coming from the hand of God, either from his direct will or from his permissive will. All things happen for the God, for those who love God.
Christian perfection consists in resigning oneself wholly to the plan of God.
Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales
How to converse continually and familiarly with God, by St. Alphonsus Liguori
Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Jeanne-Pierre de Cussade
The Secret of Mary, by St. Louis de Montfort
The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva