What is 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 Thérèse of Lisieux)
…a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558)
…prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2560)
…prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit…Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2565)
These quotations describe an encounter or relationship with the Lord. This is what we seek in prayer. In other words, it is not about ‘saying our prayers’ but encountering God. This is the kind of prayer that takes us from knowing on an intellectual level that God loves us to experiencing his love firsthand. In other words, we receive love and then we love in return. This is the “surge of the heart” that St Thérèse describes. We have probably all felt a surge of the heart at some time. It is that leap of the heart when you sneak a look at your child asleep or that moment of adoration when your spouse overwhelms you with their support or generosity. This kind of prayer makes it possible to encounter God on a daily basis. It builds our intimacy with God and our understanding of his love for us, and that enables us to share his love with others.
How do I pray?
So how can we achieve this kind of personal prayer life? The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a magnificent section on prayer that is well worth reading. A few of the principles of prayer presented in the Catechism follow:
- Prayer starts with conversion. This is because we cannot truly pray if we do not know our need for God and if we are not prepared to open ourselves to the Lord. “If the heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.” (Catechism 2562)
- We do not know how to pray. “Only when we humbly acknowledge that we do not know how to pray as we ought are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer.” (2559) Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you how to pray each time you begin.
- God first seeks us. Our prayer is a response to this. (2560)
- Prayer takes effort. We will have to overcome our own objections to get started, i.e. I am too busy, prayer is an unproductive use of time, I felt nothing, etc. (2725 – 2728). Yet any relationship that we want to develop takes effort.
- You will have to overcome difficulties in prayer. Some of the main difficulties are tiredness, distraction, dryness, slackening off, and a lack of faith (i.e. God doesn’t hear me). In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church goes so far to say that “prayer is a battle” – but a battle worth fighting!
How do I start to develop a deeper prayer life?
It is useful to begin by peppering your day with brief prayers, e.g. offering your day to God and asking for his help in the morning, grace before meals, an evening review of the day (thanking God for the blessings and asking him to help us overcome our failings), etc. Secondly, beceome aware of the presence of God with us at all times and send a glance of love and gratitude towards Him as you think of it. This begins threading prayer into your everyday life and makes it easier to spend some more time with God. This basic framework of prayer in your life will help you to start spending an extended time with the Lord.
When you do begin to spend some special time with the Lord, start small: ten or fifteen minutes would be good. Do not overwhelm yourself by trying for too much. To find this brief time you may need to change some of your routines – however you will feel the benefits of doing this once you have begun! The most important thing is to get started. God is with us and waiting for us at all times. To tap into his presence through prayer is life-changing.