Prayer is the key to salvation. St. Augustine says that he who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; and to he who dies well all is well. St. Alphonsus reiterates the same principle: “He who prays much will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned; he who prays little places in jeopardy his eternal salvation. The same saint asserted that there are neither strong people nor weak people in the world, but those who know how to pray and those who do not. In other words prayer is our strength in all times and places.
We would like to offer ten words of encouragement to help us on the highway towards heaven through the effort to grow in our prayer life!
1. Conviction or Determination. There is no successful person in this world in any enterprise who was not animated by a firm determination to achieve his goal. Super athletes, accomplished musicians, expert teachers and writers never arrived at perfection by mere wishful thinking but by a firm, tenacious determination to arrive at their goal—come hell or high water. For that reason, the Doctor of prayer, Saint Teresa of Avila, stated: “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” If we really believed in the depths of our hearts the priceless treasures that flow from prayer, we would make it our aim in life to grow constantly in prayer.
2. Holy Spirit As Teacher. St. Paul says that we do not really know how to pray as we ought but that it is the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us teaching us to say “Abba” Father. The Holy Spirit is the Interior Master or Teacher. With Mary the Apostles spent nine days and nights praying and fasting and they were imbued with the power from on high—the Holy Spirit. Before starting any formal prayer period why not invoke the Person of the Holy Spirit to help you in your weakness. During the course of your prayer period why not beg the presence of the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind and ignite your heart. He is closer to you than you are aware. If your are in the state of grace He resides in your heart.
3. Time, Place, Good Will, and Silence. As in any art we learn by practicing. This applies to prayer. To learn how to pray we must have a set time, a good place, good will on our part and silence. The saying rings true in sports as well as in prayer: “Practice makes perfect.”
4. Penance. It might be that our prayer has become insipid, boring, lifeless, anemic and stagnant for many reasons. One possible reason might be a life of sensuality, indulgence, gluttony, and simply living more according to the flesh then the spirit. As St. Paul reminds us, the flesh and the spirit are in mutual opposition. Jesus spent forty days and nights praying and fasting. The Apostles spent nine days and nights praying and fasting. One cannot arrive at any serious mystical life led by the spirit if he has not passed through the ascetical life of self-denial, mortification and penance. A bird needs two wings to fly; so does the follower of Christ. To soar high in the mystical life the two wings are prayer and penance. If you have no training in the penitential life consult a good spiritual director and start with small acts of penance to build up will-power so as to do the more heroic acts of penance! If you have never run before, start with a block and build up to the mile.
5. Spiritual Direction. Athletes need coaches; students need teachers; teachers need mentors to learn the art. Equally important, prayer-warriors must have some form of guidance and this is called spiritual direction. St. Ignatius of Loyola insisted on the spiritual life as being a journey of accompaniment. St. Teresa of Avila had several saints directing her on her long and painful journey leading to perfection—St. John of the Cross, St Peter of Alcantara, and St. Francis Borgia. There are many obstacles in the spiritual journey, especially when one pursues a deeper life of prayer; for that reason having a trained spiritual director who knows the traps of the devil, the pitfalls always present, and the dangers that are always present can help us to grow steadily in holiness through a deeper and more authentic prayer life.
6. Prayer and Action. St. Teresa of Avila points out that authentic growth in prayer is proven by growth in holiness and that means by the practice of virtue. Jesus said that we know the tree by the fruits. Likewise an authentic life of prayer blossoms forth in the practice of virtues: faith, hope, charity, purity, kindness, service, humility and a constant love for neighbor and the salvation of his immortal soul. Our Lady is model at all times but especially in the intimate connection between contemplation in action. In the Annunciation we admire Mary absorbed in prayer; then in the following mystery (in the Visitation) she follows the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to serve her cousin in a mission of love. In truth we can call Mary a true “Contemplative in action”. Like Mary we are called to be “Contemplatives in action.
7. Study-Read about Prayer. St. Teresa of Avila would not allow women into the convent of the Carmelites who could not read. Why? The simple reason was that she knew how much one could learn on many topics, but especially on prayer through solid spiritual reading. Find good literature on prayer and read! How many helpful ideas come through a good spiritual reading. One suggestion: read Part Four of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is a spiritual masterpiece on prayer.
8. Retreats. A most propitious manner to really go deeper in prayer is to set aside some time for a prolonged period of prayer; this we call a spiritual retreat. One of the most efficacious styles of retreats are Ignatian retreats. It might last a whole month, or eight days, or even a weekend retreat can prove extremely valuable. Seeing the Apostles overwhelmed with work Jesus exhorted them: “Come apart for a while and rest…” This rest that Jesus mentioned has classically been interpreted as a call to the spiritual retreat! Look at your calendar for the year and set aside some time. More extended periods of time for prayer allow for greater depth in prayer!
9. Confession and Prayer. Sometimes prayer proves exceedingly difficult due to a dirty conscience. Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure of heart, they will see God.”(Mt. 5:8) After a good confession, in which the Precious Blood of Jesus washes our souls and consciences clean, the interior eye of the soul can see and contemplate the face of God with greater clarity.
10. Our Lady and Prayer. As we have mentioned the importance of the Holy Spirit to be with us as our Interior Master, so also we should constantly beg Mary to pray for us and to pray with us every time we dedicate time and effort to prayer. She will never fail us. As Jesus turned water into wine at Cana through Mary’s intercession, so she can help to turn our insipid and flavorless prayer into the sweet wine of devotion. Mary will never fail you! Call upon her.