In Lesson #1 we examined our ultimate purpose and happiness which is union with God and following His holy ways..
In Lesson #2 we looked at the ultimate decision we make in this life, which is what place we will put God in our lives. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.
The goal of this spiritual formation program is to learn about this love and union with God and to put what we learn into practice so we can bear fruit in our lives.
The rest of this program is based on the assumption that we have decided to do our best to love God above all things and to put God first in our life. We already spoke about how deciding to give up any voluntary sins is one of the first steps in that decision, and we can overcome sin with the help of God's grace, which we obtain through asking in prayer.
Therefore, prayer is important. In this and the next couple of lessons, we will take a closer look at prayer and spending "quality time" with God, whom we have decided to love above all things. The goal of our prayer life is growing in union with God.
What is prayer and how do we grow in prayer?
In this lesson we will examine prayer in general. As with anything else in life you'll get out of these lessons what you put into them. If you skip through quickly without doing the reading assignments, you'll miss a lot of valuable information. It is better to take your time and not rush through. The optional reading assignments are there if they interest you, and if not then skip them. You can always come back later and read some of the optional reading if you'd like to.
While learning about prayer is important, learning is meaningless if we don't actually put into practice what we've learned. The more we pray, the better we will become at prayer. But remember that ultimately everything is a grace and a gift from God. We do what we can and leave it in God's hands.
This lesson has a fair amount of recommended reading; however, I want to emphasize that the most important priority for this lesson is praying daily. There are many different ways to pray. We will be going into detail about different ways to pray as we go along. The idea is to, "Pray as you can and not as you can't." (Quote attributed to English Benedictine John Chapman.)
Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:
"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will."
God's word in Sacred Scripture instructs us to pray.
Below are some quotations from the New Testament on prayer.
(Unless otherwise indicated, the quotes below are taken from the Douay-Rheims Bible which is an online Catholic Bible in the public domain and can be quoted freely.) If you'd like to see more quotes from Scripture on prayer you can click here and use the search function by putting in the word "prayer" or "pray". The New American Bible (NAB) is another Catholic Bible, which is online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website (www.usccb.org/) click here. One of the most recommended versions of the Bible is the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition. There is a search function for this Bible on EWTN website:click here.
Jesus taught us to pray vocal prayers as in the "Our Father":
"This is how you are to pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.' " Matthew 6:9-13
The Bible says that we are to pray for what we need and want, and that God will give us whatever we ask for as long as it is in accordance with His will for us and others (and in His timing):
Matthew 21:22: "And in all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive." [That is, as long as what we pray for is in accordance with God's will.]
James 5:15: "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him."
Matthew 9:38: "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest."
Matthew 26:41: "Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak."
Mark 11:24: "Therefore I say unto you, all things, whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive; and they shall come unto you."
Sacred Scripture also tell us to persevere in prayer:
Luke 18:1-5: "And he spoke also a parable to them, that we ought always to pray, and not to faint, Saying: There was a judge in a certain city, who feared not God, nor regarded man. And there was a certain widow in that city, and she came to him, saying: Avenge me of my adversary. And he would not for a long time. But afterwards he said within himself: Although I fear not God, nor regard man, Yet because this widow is troublesome to me, I will avenge her, lest continually coming she weary me."
Jesus is our teacher, and if prayer was important for Jesus, Mary and the Apostles, it is even more important for us. The New Testament has many quotes that tell us about Jesus in prayer. Sometimes Jesus even prayed all night:
Luke 6:12: "And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God."
Acts Of Apostles 1:14: "All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren."
Acts Of Apostles 12:5: "Peter therefore was kept in prison. But prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him."
Matthew 14:23: "And having dismissed the multitude, he went into a mountain alone to pray. And when it was evening, he was there alone."
Matthew 26:36: "Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray."
Luke 9:28: "And it came to pass about eight days after these words, that he took Peter, and James, and John, and went up into a mountain to pray."
The Bible says we are to pray often and with thanksgiving:
Philippians 4:6: "Be nothing solicitous [be anxious for nothing]; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God."
Acts 6:4: "But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
Colossians 4:2: "Be instant [persevere] in prayer; watching in it with thanksgiving:"
James 5:16: "Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much."
Luke 18:1: "And he spoke also a parable to them, that we ought always to pray, and not to faint,"
1 Thessalonians 5:17: "Pray without ceasing." [This verse will be examined more in future lessons as to how this is possible.]
The Bible says we are to pray for others as Jesus (and the Saints) prayed for us including even our enemies and those persecute us:
Ephesians 6:18: "With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones" (NAB)
Matthew 5:44: "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you," (NAB)
2 Corinthians 13:7: "Now we pray God, that you may do no evil, not that we may appear approved, but that you may do that which is good, and that we may be as reprobates."
2 Corinthians 13:9: "For we rejoice that we are weak, and you are strong. This also we pray for, your perfection."
Ephesians 3:13: "Wherefore I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which is your glory."
Philippians 1:9: "And this I pray, that your charity may more and more abound in knowledge, and in all understanding:"
Colossians 1:9: "Therefore we also, from the day that we heard it, cease not to pray for you, and to beg that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom, and spiritual understanding:"
1 Thessalonians 4:1: "For the rest therefore, brethren, we pray and beseech you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us, how you ought to walk, and to please God, so also you would walk, that you may abound the more."
1 Thessalonians 5:25: "Brethren, pray for us."
Jesus instructed us to pray with humility:
Matthew 6:5-6: "And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee."
Luke 18:10-14: "Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather that the other: because every one that exalts himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbles himself, shall be exalted."
Jesus' prayer to the Father for His disciples and us who believe:
"1 These things Jesus spoke, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said: 'Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee.
2 As thou has given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou has given him.
3 Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.
4 I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gave me to do.
5 And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.
6 I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou has given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gave them; and they have kept thy word.
7 Now they have known, that all things which thou has given me, are from thee:
8 Because the words which thou gave me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou has given me: because they are thine:
10 And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
11 And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are.
12 While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gave me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled.
13 And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy filled in themselves.
14 I have given them thy word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world; as I also am not of the world.
15 I pray not that thou should take them out of the world, but that thou should keep them from evil.
16 They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth.
18 As thou has sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
19 And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;
21 That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou has sent me.
22 And the glory which thou has given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one:
23 I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou has sent me, and has loved them, as thou has also loved me.
24 Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou has given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou has given me, because thou has loved me before the creation of the world.
25 Just Father, the world hat not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou has sent me.
26 And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou has loved me, may be in them, and I in them.' "
The Saints, our models for prayer
"The saints are our models of prayer. We also ask them to intercede before the Holy Trinity for us and for the whole world. Their intercession is their most exalted service to Gods plan. In the communion of saints, throughout the history of the Church, there have developed different types of spiritualities that teach us how to live and to practice the way of prayer." Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church #564.
We will be learning more about the Saints teachings on prayer in the upcoming lessons.
"For me prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple look towards Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy."
Saint Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower)
Some thoughts from St. Alphonsus Liguori on why to pray:
The following quotation is from The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ,
by St. Alphonsus Liguori, Chapter 4:
"The fifth and most necessary means for the spiritual life, and for obtaining the love of Jesus Christ, is prayer. In the first place, I say that by this means God convinces us of the great love He bears us. What greater proof of affection can a person give to a friend than to say to him, " My friend, ask anything you like of me, and I will give it you?" Now, this is precisely what our Lord says to us: Ask, and it shall be given you... seek, and you shall find. [Matt. vii. 7.] Wherefore prayer is called all-powerful with God to obtain every blessing: "Prayer, though it is one, can effect all things," as Theodoret says; [Ap. Rodr. p. I, tr. 5, c. 14; Wisd. vii. 27.] whoever prays, obtains from God whatever he chooses. The words of David are beautiful: Blessed be God Who hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me. [Ps. lxv. 20.] Commenting on this passage, St. Augustine says, "As long as thou seest thyself not failing in prayer, be assured that the Divine mercy will not fail thee either." And St. John Chrysostom: "We always obtain, even while we are still praying." To read more click here.
This Lord of ours is the one through whom all blessings come to us. He will teach us these things. In beholding His life we find that He is the best example. What more do we desire than to have such a good friend at our side, who will not abandon us in our labors and tribulations, as friends in the world do? Blessed are they who truly love Him and always keep Him at their side! "
St. Teresa of Avila
What is prayer?
A short definition of prayer from the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." (St. John Damascene, De fide orth. 3, 24:PG 94, 1089C). CCC #2590
Reading Assignments: The following reading assignments are a good introduction to prayer from the teachings of the Church and also from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Jot down some notes from the readings that stand out to you that you'd like to share with others in the class in the feedback form below.
#1. For an excellent general overview on prayer (and official Catholic teaching), read all of "Part Four: Christian Prayer" in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Click on the link to read online from the Vatican website at www.vatican.va.)
#2. Optional Reading or Alternate to above: For review of what you read above (or instead, if you've already studied the above and would just like to review) read #538 to the end of the section on prayer in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Click on the link above to read online at the Vatican website at www.vatican.va.)
#3. Read the entry on Prayer in The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917 version) by clicking on the link at the www.newadvent.org website. This entry also has links for more information if interested. Please note the introduction on "meditation" as we will cover two highly recommended methods of meditative prayer in our next lesson. You might want to also bookmark this encyclopedia to refer to for other topics as well.
Optional Reading: Two highly recommended modern books on prayer that are not online, but are available to purchase online are Fr. Thomas Dubay's, Prayer Primer, which "presents a simple, profound and practical book on the most important of all human activities, communion with God" and also his book, Fire Within, which is a synthesis on the teachings on prayer of the two great doctors of the Church on prayer St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila and the teaching of Sacred Scripture. You can read more about them and Fr. Dubay by clicking on the links for the books.
Optional Reading: A classic on prayer that is available to read online, St. Alphonsus Liguori (Doctor of the Church) covers many things about prayer in his book at the Copiosa apud eum Redemptio website, The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection.
Please note: In general, whenever I put a link to another website I am referring you only to a specific article at that specific link (and not necessarily to other information at the linked website because I haven't reviewed all the material at the other websites).
|"How to pray? This is a simple matter. I would say: Pray any way you like, so long as you do pray." Pope John Paul II
Putting into practice what we've learned
Some people have been praying for a long time and others are beginners. For this reason I want to cover both the basics as well as more in-depth information on prayer. At the same time I don't want to overwhelm anyone with too much information... so what I ask is that if you do feel that too much is being asked of you that you pick out something that you feel you can do that interests you and begin there. You can't learn everything all at once, but I do hope you will learn some helpful things that are new for you.
Progress in the spiritual life is usually gradual (unless God acts in a special way). We don't want to get "spiritual indigestion" by trying to do too much all at once. However, it is often said that if you are not progressing in the spiritual life that you are likely falling back. So we do need to press forward and continue on our own journey to union with God and not become too lax. As St. Teresa of Avila said, "Prayer and comfortable living are not compatible."
When to pray
Besides participating at Mass on Sundays and Holydays, the Church doesn't have laws regarding when or how lay people should pray, but it does have teachings to help to guide us as we saw in the Catechism. Some traditional times to set aside for prayer are morning, (for example, when we wake up, pray a morning offering to offer our day to God or morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours); prayer before and after meals; and evening prayer and/or night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours; and when we go to sleep at night. Experiment to find the best times to pray for you. The Bible says that Jesus sometimes got up early and went off to a deserted place to pray. Another good time to pray might be right before you go to sleep at night when the day is over and you can relax. This might be a good time to do some spiritual reading before going to sleep. Going to daily Mass, and taking time for personal prayer before or after Mass while at Church, is another possibility.
Many might say they have no time to pray. Sometimes our lives can be very busy! One question to ask ourselves, though, is how much time do we spend watching television, on the internet, cell phone, playing games, reading secular books or other recreational activities? Maybe just giving up one television show is all it would take. It is good to keep in mind that we do make time for what is important to us, so once again it comes down to a matter of priorities. As we learn more about how important it is that we do pray, hopefully we will decide to make prayer a high priority in our life.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once replied to a priest who said he was too busy to pray, "Father, if you are too busy to pray, then you are just TOO busy!"
Some already have a habit of prayer, a daily prayer routine or rule of life. If you have something that is working well for you keep it up. If not then forming new habits takes effort, but they become easier once they become a new routine or habit. Sometimes all it takes is just to force yourself to begin (and we can ask God to help us with this grace).
I wanted to offer the following suggestion for those who do not already have a regular practice of prayer in their life. It is just one possibility. Look it over and see if there are elements that you would like to include in your own daily prayer routine. We will be discussing more on this topic in future lessons, but I wanted to give you somewhere to start.