Prayer invites us on a journey from self to God
God speaks to us all the time; it is up to us to discern and respond
By Bp. Robert Morneau
In 1994, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published.
In 800 pages, the Catechism gives us an overview of four dimensions of our faith:
the creed (what we believe),
the sacraments (how we celebrate),
the Christian life (how we are to live), and
Christian prayer (how we are to communicate with God). This fourth section is our focus.
The Catechism quotes the most recent Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux: "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" (#2558).
At bottom, prayer is just two things: Listening and responding.
God speaks to us all the time. Sometimes it is through Scripture. At other times, God speaks to us in the sacraments, as well as through the community and in our daily experiences. Our task is to pay attention, to pick up "the signals of transcendence" or messages from God, and then to respond in the proper way.
When we become aware of gifts - the gift of faith, family, friends, freedom - our prayer is one of thanksgiving.
When we detect God's glory in a sunset, the face of newborn baby, in the Blessed
Sacrament our prayer becomes one of praise.
Sin is a part of all our lives. We injure one another and ourselves when we fail to
be loving. At these times, our prayer is one of forgiveness.
And always we have so many needs - the need for justice and peace, the need for
good health and a job, the need for food and security - for these we turn to God in the prayer of petition.
Prayer, like our expressions of love, has many forms. Prayer can be personal or communal. In the quiet of the night we turn to God in the darkness; as we gather for Sunday Mass, we enter into public, liturgical prayer with our sisters and brothers. Prayer is sometimes oral (spoken), sometimes silent; prayer can be discursive and meditative, prayer can be contemplative and quiet.
Our personality and mood affect the form of prayer we use most; the things happening to us may determine what type of prayer we need to use at that time of our life.
Here are some principles of prayer that might help:
1. Prayer is essentially loving attention. In fact, St. John of the Cross, also a Doctor of the Church, says contemplation is basically "loving attention."
2. Prayer is connected in an intimate way with charity. The person who loves deeply and is concerned for others, is in the best state of mind and heart to pray. And the reverse is true: When our hearts are hard and not open to the need of others, the odds are really low that we can enter into real prayer.
3. Prayer happens only when we bring our true self to the living and true God. An immature or distorted image of God is a major obstacle to genuine contact with the Lord. And if we have a false image of who we are, we have no one to bring to Lord.
4. Prayer demands that we be willing to be silent and obedient. We cannot hear God's word or will unless we quiet down. We will not grow in prayer if we do not surrender to what God asks of us.
5. We all benefit from having a model and mentor in our prayer life. There is no one better model than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary said "yes" to the Lord when the angel Gabriel came to her. Though afraid and not knowing, Mary trusted that what the Lord said to her would be fulfilled. We might daily ask Mary for the graces of faith and trust. We might daily ask Mary to help us so that our prayer life might be like her: honest, simple, faith-filled, and joyful.
(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and the pastor of Resurrection Parish, Allouez. He is a nationally renowned speaker, author and poet.)