“Prayer is the lifting up of the mind and heart to God” (St. John Damascene). Prayer is listening to God, talking to God and loving God. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St Therese of Lisieux is quoted: “For me prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love embracing both trial and joy” (2558).
St Alphonsus vigorously asserted the importance of prayer in these cutting words: “He who prays well will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned.” In other words, prayer is a matter of life and death, salvation or damnation. St. Augustine edifies us with these simple but profound words: “He who prays well, lives well; he who lives well, dies well; and he who dies well, all is well!”
Therefore, let us encourage each other to take prayer seriously and take advantage of these ten tips for how to establish a strong, dynamic and blossoming prayer life, keenly aware that our salvation, and the salvation of many other souls, depends on it!
1. Beg for the Grace
St. Augustine says that we are all beggars before God. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says that we really do not know how to pray. Good news: the Holy Spirit can intercede for us so that we can say, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8).
Turn to the Holy Spirit and beg Him for the gift of prayer and that we will really desire to pray. Let us ask Jesus, “Lord teach us how to pray!” This was the request of the Apostles and Jesus taught them (and us) the Our Father.
Mary, too! Mary wants to teach us how to pray. In her Apparitions she is always exhorting us to pray, especially the Most Holy Rosary.
2. Clean the Window
Often we cannot pray well because our lives, our minds and our consciences are not right with God. In other words, we have damaged or even broken totally our friendship with Jesus. Why not make a good confession, clean the window, clear the conscience, restore friendship with the Lord and then be able to talk to the Lord more intimately in prayer!
Prayer can be very demanding and we simply have to give God space so He can act in our lives. We all have habits—eating, cleaning, work and many more! The best of habits that we can form is the habit of prayer.
If possible, like Abel, give the Lord your first fruits. That is to say, find time to pray as early as possible. We read in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus got up way before dawn and He was absorbed in prayer. Early morning prayer, an early Holy Hour, an “Hour of Power”, will give you light, encouragement and strength for the whole course of the day. Try it and you will never regret it!
Indeed we can pray anytime and anyplace and use any words that we want (or no words!). However it is highly recommended that we find a time and a place to pray. Obviously the best place to pray would be in the Silent Presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament, because Jesus is truly present there. However, due to family circumstances, this may not be possible. We must then find some quiet place where we will not be disturbed to pray. Maybe in the quiet of our room. Jesus says to go to your room and pray. Perhaps, you can construct your own little home-sanctuary and pray there—with statues, paintings of Jesus and Mary, candles and incense. It is good to create an atmosphere that will foster prayer. Find the time and place!
5. Materials to Help You Pray
The great St. Teresa of Avila, “Doctor of Prayer”, said that she would never go to her prayer time without some book to help her to enter into prayer. We should do the same! Of course the best of prayer-sources is the Bible, the Word of God itself; and the Gospels are the very center and heart of the Bible, the Word of God. Enter in with an attitude of openness and generosity with the words of Samuel, who heard the word of God in the Temple: “Speak O Lord for your servant is listening..”
Bring a good prayer book! We should never underestimate the use of vocal prayers. The great St. Anthony Claret commented that he received many graces by praying vocal prayers. What are vocal prayers? They are prayers that we recite with our words, think in our minds and relish in our hearts. Some of the traditional vocal prayers are the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, Prayer to our Guardian Angel, Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity, Act of Contrition, and the Creed. However, a good prayer book will have prayers to the saints, novenas to saints and to prepare for important feasts, prayers to prepare for Mass and to give thanksgiving after Mass and many more. Finally, bring the little booklet written by St. Alphonsus on “Visits to the Blessed Sacrament”. In Spanish, the “15 minutos” (15 minutes) of time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In other words, come prepared to make your prayer with the Lord. In your prayer when God simply moves you to talk to Him spontaneously as two friends or lovers would talk, you can drop the book and simply talk to Him.
Make proper use of images to talk to God, Mary, the angels and the saints. The Catholic Church highly encourages the use of sacramentals, among which are paintings or statues of Jesus, Mary, the angels and the saints. We obviously do not adore them but honor who they represent! The family is the “Domestic church”. Every family should have its own little sanctuary, prayer corner, prayer space, where everybody knows is the specific place designated to meet the Lord!
7. Read on Prayer
Once again St. Teresa of Avila would not allow women to enter her convent who could not read. This was not discrimination, but rather wisdom. The reason for this was that the saint from personal experience was keenly aware of the fact that one could learn so much on the spiritual life—specifically on prayer—by simply spending time in solid reading. What should one read? Today we live in a golden epoch of literature. Never has there been so much confusion; however, never has there been so much information and good spiritual reading available. A few suggestions on reading on prayer: The Catechism of the Catholic Church Part IV, St Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Alphonsus Liguouri’s Prayer: The Key to Salvation, and all of the works of St Teresa of Avila which are dedicated to prayer (The Life, The Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection). You cannot go wrong with the saints and church teachings!
8. Spiritual Direction
St. Faustina Kowalska insisted on finding some adequate spiritual direction so as to advance in one’s spiritual life, to grow in prayer and to grow in holiness of life. As we ascend in the spiritual life, the devil becomes more subtle in his temptations. To be able to overcome the many roadblocks, obstacles and difficulties in our prayer life some regular and periodic spiritual direction is highly recommended! St. Teresa of Avila would have never persevered in her reform of the Carmelite Order if it were not for having competent spiritual direction amidst the constant trials, tribulations and satanic interference that she experienced!
9. Ignatian Retreats
As in anything in life, it simply takes time, effort, good will and perseverance to succeed. Prayer is not a natural operation but rather a working or collaborating with God in grace. Time, good will and constant effort are indispensable for success in prayer. Many are called to ascend the pinnacles and heights of mystical prayer in their spiritual lives, but they simply give up when they encounter obstacles. St. Teresa says that we must have a determined determination to never give up prayer. The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises have been proven to be most efficacious! An entire month with the Lord, or two weeks, or the classical 8-day retreat, if not possible a 4-day shot, or maybe just start with a 2-day weekend Ignatian retreat. Ignatian spirituality lends itself to adaptation. The retreats can be molded, tailored, adapted according to the person, place, spiritual level and culture of the individual. In the past 500 years Ignatian retreats and spirituality have proven to be most efficacious in forming saints like Ignatius, Francis Xavier, Peter Canisius, Robert Bellarmine, Isaac Joques and Jean Brebeuf, Peter Claver, Alberto Hurtado, Roque González, John Berchmans and Aloysius Gonzaga—just to mention a few.
10. Mary and the Rosary
What a beautiful prayer, so pleasing to the heart of the Mother of God and so highly recommended by the saints, the Church and the Popes. In the Rosary are combined various forms of prayer: vocal prayer, mental prayer or meditation, contemplation and affective prayer—the prayer of the heart. Pope Paul VI called the Rosary “the compendium of the whole Gospel”—that is to say, it is a beautiful summary of the Gospel, the Life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! The emblem and motto for the Oblates of the Virgin Mary is “Maria cogita, Maria invoca!”—meaning, “think of Mary and call/invoke Mary!” You can never go wrong because Mary always points us to Jesus as we are recalled in the last words that she spoke in the Gospel at the Wedding Feast of Cana: “Do whatever he tells you!” Not until we get to heaven will we really comprehend fully the presence that Mary had in helping us to avoid sin, turn to Jesus, experience interior sweetness in our souls; and all of this due to her quiet, gentle, but constant and powerful intercession! Mary. Mother and Teacher, help us to value the importance of deep friendship with Jesus in prayer so that He will be our Treasure for all eternity!