The following is a short article to encourage all of us to desire to grow in our prayer life, seek the means to grow, but especially to persevere in this most important of activates—our salvation, the salvation of our families and loved ones, and the salvation of the whole world depends on men and women who have decided to dedicate their lives to prayer, which is the key to heaven.
1. Desire to pray. We must pray for a firm desire to pray more and to pray better. Augustine says that we follow our hearts desire. The same saints say: ‘We must choose the object of our desire and then to live with all our heart.” Of course the object of our desire should be God.
2. Conviction as to the importance of prayer. “As air is to the lungs, so should prayer be to our soul.” As gasoline is to the tank of a car, so should prayer be our spiritual energy.” As wings are to the eagle to soar into the heights, so is prayer for the soul that wants to soar on high into the mystical heights. As food and drink is to the hungry and thirsty body, so should prayer be to the thirsty soul. The Psalmist expresses it in these beautiful words: “As the deer yearns for the running streams so my soul yearns for you O God.”
3. Texts for Prayer. St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of prayer, as beginners we should never go to our prayer time without the help of a good book. This will help to forms good ideas and eventually ignite the heart with noble and heavenly aspirations. In other words, we have to be trained and educated in prayer.
4. What texts to pray with? Of course, the first and best of all texts should be the Bible, the Word of God. In this God speaks to us directly. Highly to be encouraged would be the Gospels, the very heart of the Bible and the Psalms, the best prayer book ever composed by the Holy Spirit, using as human instrument King David.
5. Prayer Method. Methods are helpful to learn any new art. This applies to prayer. A classical method is that of Lectio Divina. These are the steps: Lectio—read attentively, Meditacio—think/ponder the Word of God, Contemplacio—use your imagination to enter the scene and be part of it, Oracio— pray and talk to the Lord, Accio—make sure that you put into action the fruits of your prayer. This method could prove invaluable to help us on the highway of prayer.
6. Readings on Prayer. There are many texts written on prayer and we should educate ourselves by reading some of the best. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, part IV, could prove to be an excellent tool as teacher of prayer. Read it and follow its advice!
7. Retreats. The prime time and prime place to grow in prayer are retreats. Ignatian retreats, with a competent director, have proven most efficacious over the centuries. If you have time, a thirty day retreat, or an 8-day retreat, or at least a weekend retreat. The best way to learn how to pray is simply to pray. Retreats have as their primary purpose to go deeper in prayer. Set aside some time every year. Jesus Himself invited the Apostles to come apart and rest—to be with Him, which is of course prayer. This is a good “spiritual tune-up.”
8. Persevere in the Struggle. Prayer is not always easy! The Catechism of the Catholic Church compares prayer to a wrestling match. Actually the Catechism takes as example Jacob wrestling with the angel all-night as model for prayer. St. Teresa of Avila puts it succinctly: “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” The devil will do all he can to trick us into believing that we are wasting our time in prayer and that there are many more noble and worthy pursuits that should override prayer.
9. Get a little help from your friends. I find it to be of great help, while engaged in prayer, to beg for a little help from my friends. These friends are God’s faithful friends now and for all eternity: the angels and the saints. They passed the test and are confirmed in grace. They contemplate God face to face. They prove as most powerful intercessors before the throne of God and are patiently waiting for us to invoke them. Their prayers for us can help to enlighten our minds and ignite our wills to connect with God. Then read the lives of the saints. The saints are all different in the sense that they come from a specific time, place, culture; they are sinners and have their own character and temperament. However, there is one point that all of the saints have in common: PRAYER! Undoubtedly and universally, in all times and places, the saints were men of women who tenaciously clung to prayer, recognizing it as the breath and life of their souls and the key to success in their apostolic lives.
10. The Holy Spirit: The Interior Master. St. Paul reminds us that we really do not know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with ineffable groans so that we can say “Abba” Father. St. Teresa of Avila, was struggling with her prayer life. A Jesuit priest gave her the advice to pray to the Holy Spirit. From that time on her prayer life improved drastically. The first Novena in the Church was in preparation for Pentecost and culminated in the descent of the Holy Spirit, transforming the Apostles into great warriors of prayer, warriors of Christ, and great saints. Praise and thanks be to the Holy Spirit—the Interior Master or Teacher. Why not also turn to the newly canonized Saint John XXIII who was presented as a man truly docile to the Holy Spirit and beg for his intercession, too.
In conclusion, let us turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who pondered the word of God in her Immaculate Heart as model for prayer and beg her for the grace to have a growing desire for prayer, love for prayer, growth in our daily prayer life, and perseverance in prayer. St. Augustine encourages us with these closing words: “He who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; he who dies well, all is well.”