Prayer is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the Christian life. It is our primary means of communication with God. Through prayer, we express our love, our thanks, our desires, our needs, our troubles, and ourselves to God; and, if we will take the time, God communicates Himself to us in return.
It has been said that good, open communication is the fundamental requisite for healthy relationships—and this is no less true of our relationship with the Most Holy Trinity. Without this constant communication, we will find ourselves drifting away from God, growing cold in our desire to serve Him, becoming more lax in our spiritual walk, and susceptible to sin. Just as a husband and a wife who never communicate or take the time to renew their relationship will end in divorce, a lack of prayer in the life of a Catholic will potentially end in Mortal Sin and the ruination of one’s soul.
Prayer is not something that comes entirely naturally to us, and yet, as Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, the desire to pray is as natural as breathing. However, the world around us, and our pressing concerns, as well as the constant temptations of the Devil, often convince us of the seeming secondary importance that prayer has in our lives.
Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer. (CCC #2725)
Because of this, it is essential to learn habits and techniques of prayer, to make it easier and more natural to us.
The most important tip, maintained by the greatest of Doctors in the Church, is the maintaining of discipline in prayer. Making a habit of taking specific times a day set aside for nothing other than prayer causes praying to have a fixed place in our schedules. Prayer becomes a regular event, a daily routine. Far from becoming mediocre in its routine-ness, prayer becomes a time where we can be free from pressing needs for awhile in order to seek God and be refreshed in spirit and body, and better able to confront the difficulties of the world.
Similarly, a notion of “sacred space” is important as well—a location specifically devoted to prayer, where you can retire (or retreat) to. It should be a place that helps you to focus on Christ, with perhaps a Bible, other devotional literature, a Crucifix and other icons. The act of removing yourself from the distractions of the world, and placing yourself in the posture of prayer helps to keep our focus on the things of God. Along with this is in part why Church attendance is so important (as well as Christian community, and, most importantly, reception of the Sacrament).
What form your prayer takes is up to you. When Jesus was asked by His disciples how to pray, He replied by teaching them the Our Father as a model of prayer. More than simply a form-prayer to be repeated, it breaks down the Gospel Message of trust in the Father who loves us. There is much discussion, based on Jesus’ teachings about prayer, as to whether the repetition of prayer formulas such as the Our Father is good or even valid in prayer. The question, however, is not about style, but about heart. Some people may never find the ability to pray “spontaneously”, and many times we simply do not know how to pray for what we need—the situations in life may be simply too overwhelming. It is in these times that the prayers of the Saints and great figures of the Church, which have been recorded for us and passed down in the Church’s Tradition, are of such help to us. Our problems are not new to the world, and in the history of the Church, many great Saints have felt as we do and experienced what we have. In these times, their prayers, their words, may be able to express for us what our own thoughts and feelings cannot. In this we again see God’s blessing over us. In His desire to hear from us, He even provides us with the words to speak. In that sense, the Prayers of the Church are the Hallmark Cards of the Spiritual Life.
The desire to pray is itself a prayer, and God hears it and responds to it. It is our intentions that God responds to, even more than the words we speak. So let us rest in His Spirit, and approach God as Our loving Father, who desires to meet with us and Commune with us.
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