On Prayer: A Letter to My Godchild

The Lessons

An elegant and timeless book that forms a personal introduction to prayer, this book is intended to help the reader understand that prayer means talking and being with God.

In her insightful and readable style, the author is able to explain to teens and adults alike the essence of prayer and writes “that if we know and love God through prayer we find that we must go out of ourselves to extend God's love in service.”

In this interview with Liguori Publications, Phyllis Zagano explains how this book introduces the reader to the very basics of prayer and its many forms. There are short chapters on adoration, contrition, petition, thanksgiving, methods of praying, praying with Scripture, contemplation, Lectio Divina, and Prayer of the Hours.

LP: Why did you decide to write a book about prayer?

PZ: My Godchild had just turned twenty-one, and we sat together at midnight at the kitchen table during the very large and very lovely birthday party, and we spoke about prayer. I said I would buy a book, and send it back, but when I went to look for one I did not like what I found, even in the best Catholic bookstore in Manhattan. So I sat down to write my own.

LP: How did you go about writing the book?

PZ: At first I thought I would just collect photographs, or drawings, and scripture passages. When I spoke with my students at the University about that idea, they impressed upon me the need for actual instructions. So, I began at the beginning. First I wrote about “praying” — what it means to pray. Then I wrote about God — to whom we pray. Each day, topic-by-topic, I would give the previous night’s five pages or so to my student assistant to look at. She would give me criticisms and comments, and so it went.

Communicate with Our God

LP: What makes your book a particularly “Catholic” book about prayer?

PZ: Well, to tell you the truth, I got out my Baltimore Catechism to check a few things. The books I had seen in New York were either terribly complex or not exactly what I would remember from the Catholic tradition. I thought there were important things to know about — the notions of adoration, contrition, petition and thanksgiving, for example — that I had not seen clearly presented anywhere else.

LP: You used the Baltimore Catechism?

PZ: I did. At first I needed to check the list of the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, sloth, lust, greed and gluttony. (I do not focus on the sins, however, I focus on the virtues that oppose these human tendencies.) Then I needed another list, I believe it was the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. These concepts and categories are part of our Catholic heritage, and we should know about them and think about them.

LP: Why is this book special to you?

PZ: The book is a work of love, explaining our deepest love to someone I love. Young people today do not seem to have the opportunity to talk about the question of God. Some argue, as they have in every age, that “technology” or “science” proves there is no God at all. But deep down I think there is a longing to communicate with the uncreated reality we all know intuitively, with the God who made us and who loves us.

Prayer in the Catholic Tradition

LP: For whom did you write On Prayer?



PZ: Well, directly On Prayer is a letter to my Godchild about prayer and the spiritual life. I think beyond, however, it is a book for everyone who is or ever was 17 to 21 and wondered about God.

LP: Is the book only for young people?

PZ: No. I have found that people of many different ages find the book helpful and useful. A middle-aged woman religious once thanked me for writing that sometimes we forget how to pray, and need to start all over again. I think the book “works” with people of all ages because I am not directly speaking to any reader, but to my Godchild. Everyone else is listening in on the conversation.

LP: How is this book different from other books about prayer?

PZ: Well, it is not an instruction manual. It does not have workshop questions and activities at the end of every chapter. It does not focus on the latest fad or fashion. The book is simply about prayer in the Catholic tradition.

LP: How can our readers get a copy of the book?

PZ: Many Catholic bookstores have the book, and of course there are always the online booksellers. Liguori Publications online store carries it. On Prayer has also been published in Indonesian and Italian, and Liguori should have it out in Spanish soon.

Dr. Phyllis Zagano is an author, Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Hofstra University, and founding member of the Steering Committee of the Roman Catholic Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion. She received her Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and holds four other earned degrees, in literature, communications, and theology. She can be contacted via e-mail at pzagano@rcn.com.

(This article courtesy of Liguori Publications.)

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