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How should one pray?

St. Teresa of the Child Jesus explains briefly: “Prayer is lifting up the heart in a simple gaze towards heaven, with a cry of thanksgiving and love, both in suffering and in joy”. To put it even more briefly: prayer is turning to God with faith and love.

How should one pray?

From whom can we learn to pray?

The Lord Jesus is our teacher. When the disciples asked Him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), then in His answer to their request He pronounced the words of the most important and most beautiful prayer — the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”). We should pray this prayer daily and form our lives around it. A person in whose life the seven supplications of the Lord’s Prayer are fulfilled will be blessed and happy.

In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus teaches us steadfast prayer; prayer subject to the will of God; prayer for our enemies. Prayer isn’t difficult. Even small children manage to pray. However, St Paul the Apostle tells us that without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we will not succeed in our prayers — we will not really be praying. One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is devotion — an inclination towards prayer. We must ask for this gift and open ourselves up to it.

The books of Holy Scripture teach us prayer, especially the Book of Psalms. Written in the earliest of times, they remain an enduringly vivid and current prayer for each of us.

We can learn prayer from the Blessed Virgin, from the saints, and also from other people who received the gift of prayer from God. Parents have an obligation to teach their children to pray. They are helped in this by the sacrament of matrimony.

When is our prayer good?

In evaluating our prayer, we can’t allow ourselves to be guided by our feelings. Sometimes it seems to us that our prayer isn’t effective, and other times we are more satisfied with it. Let us remember, however, that these feelings may be very misleading. It is not our changing feelings that are valuable; what is valuable is God’s evaluation: do our prayers please God? Good prayer is faithful (that means praying every day), steadfast (not entered into with discouragement) and humble (prayed with an awareness that I, a sinful and limited person, am standing before the holy and incomprehensible God). The Lord Jesus requires that we pray with faith and that we be open to the will of God, our Father.

What mistakes do we make most often in prayer?

We are misled in prayer if we fail to fulfill the principles of good prayer explained above. The Lord Jesus exhorts us not to approach prayer with a heart that lacks forgiveness for others (cf. Mark 11:25), or lacks a will to reconcile (cf. Matt. 5:24–25). A great error is seeking first ourselves in prayer, our own satisfaction, our purely worldly benefits, and not the Lord God. We should pray because of the Lord God and try our best to surrender to His will and unite ourselves to Him.

What are the kinds of prayer?

Prayer can take the form of supplication, propitiation, thanks or praise. The last two are more difficult and less often practised on earth, but they will be our only and unending prayer in heaven. We speak of prayer of the Church, that is to say, liturgical prayer, and of personal or “private” prayer, but that also has an important place in the Church. In our personal prayers, we can pray in our own words, but we can also — and we should — take advantage of the prayers written and practised by the saints and other devout people who were blessed with the gift of prayer. However, one must remember that these prayers should not come just from our lips; they must flow from our hearts. Let us not overuse grand words in prayer which lack any inner meaning.

What is meant by the Church’s liturgical prayer?

First and foremost among them is the Holy Mass, the Eucharist, but other holy sacraments are also celebrated, as well as the liturgy of the hours, which is comprised principally of psalms. The most important parts of these liturgical prayers during the course of the day are morning prayer, vespers and prayer before retiring — known as compline. The pastors of the Church — the Pope and the bishops — determine the form of these prayers. These are the official prayers of the Church, and they cannot be changed arbitrarily.

What can we pray about?

About everything that is good. Jesus says: “if you ask anything of the Father in my name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23). However, we cannot limit our prayers to those things which are earthly. Among the seven supplications in the Lord’s Prayer, only one — for our daily bread — concerns a material matter. Jesus encourages us to ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit: “Ask, and it will be given you … If you then, […] know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:9,13).

There are no prayers that are not heard, but there are prayers that do not fulfil our wishes

Why do some of our prayers remain — so we imagine — unheard?

There are no prayers that are not heard, but there are prayers that do not fulfil our wishes. God is in essence Wisdom and Goodness. He is concerned not with our earthly desires, but with the entirety of our being, which is eternal. The human soul is immortal! Being goodness itself, God does not grant us on earth anything that could be detrimental, especially to the life of grace in us, in our souls, or to our salvation. God has eternity to accomplish the good which He intends for us, and to fulfil our greatest and deepest desires.

We must also remember that God gave mankind a free will. We are free beings. That is why God will not change the consequences of human actions simply because we would sometimes wish Him to. If, for example, a student doesn’t study and only prays for a good mark in his exam, that is not prayer at all, but taking the name of God in vain, which is prohibited by the second Commandment. The Lord Jesus, in reference to the fulfilling of our supplications (cf. John 15:7), introduces two conditions. The first: “If you abide in me”; we abide in Christ when we receive His Body, Holy Communion. And the second: “if my words abide in you“; the word of God abides in us when we read and listen to the Holy Scriptures intently; when we keep to recognised teaching and implement it in our daily lives.

The Lord Jesus prayed only to God the Father. Why do we pray to Mary and the saints?

The Lord Jesus prayed to God the Father, who is both His and our Father. Coming to earth, He fulfilled the will of His Father. He did it out of love for Him and for us. Persevering with the Father in a loving relationship, He talked with Him, and His disciples and other people observing this could learn to pray. The Gospel records the requests that various people directed to Jesus — the Son of God. These requests were prayers. Jesus Christ is the only intercessor between God the Father and us people. When Jesus, our only Saviour, died on the cross, He gave us His mother as our mother. It was also Mary in Cana of Galilee who elicited Jesus’ first miracle. Being our mother, she cares for each of us maternally, appealing to God reigning in heaven.

The saints as well, especially our patrons, stand before the face of God and intercede for us. Seeing our worries through God and listening to our supplications, looking at them from God’s perspective and ceaselessly praying for us, they join in our supplications, in a way “fixing” them, so that they conform to God’s will and bring us the greatest benefit. Praying “to” the saints, we are essentially praying for their intercessions before God.

Why do we have to pray and have time for prayer?

Prayer is one of the most important — if not the most important — matter in our lives. Without prayer, no conscious living person will be saved. We don’t save ourselves by our own efforts — the grace of God is necessary for salvation. Without turning to God daily, without meeting Him in prayer, none of us will manage to live in faith, hope and love — to be and to remain a Christian.


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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