Levels of Prayer|
THE SILENT SACRAMENT
There is a hierarchy of types of prayer where some have more value than others, yet all are heard by God if the prayerful one has a sincere heart. Our Lady guides us to pray and to love God ever more through prayer. These prayers can be understood when considering the sacraments for prayer is at the heart of every Sacrament.
"The prayer of the true Catholic is a song both rich in tradition, deep in meaning, firm in sincerity and faith, and devoid of superficial mantras and mindless chants. It is not the quantity, but the quality of prayer that renders it a sacred trip to God. In its deepest sense true prayer becomes a meditation of humble, loving, contrite, trusting acceptance of God into our minds, hearts, and souls. The visible element of prayer is but the tip of a spiritual iceberg of great meaning and purpose. In the end, is this not what a Sacrament is all about?"
Picking up where I left off Wednesday on the elements of prayer, we now come to the various types of prayer and their relative value. Many types of prayer have been identified and classified, but what is usually not done is to then rank these forms of prayer in terms of their relative value for our souls and salvation. A suggested ranking would be:
Clearly the greatest purpose of any human endeavor, the most worthwhile and deserved, would be to adore, praise, and honor God Almighty for He is and eternally shall be rightly worthy and deserving of such praise and adoration. How can any other activity or purpose supplant this most worthwhile reason for all of our thoughts, actions, words, and living?
Obviously, given all of the abundant blessings and good things that God grants us, we must eternally offer Him thanks and gratitude. We must recall that He deems to give us all we have despite our unworthiness and ingratitude, so we must strive to overcome that ingratitude by seeking to offer Him thanks whenever possible. We should remember that only one of the lepers returned to thank Christ. We must strive not to be like the 90% who neglected to thank The Lord for His blessings!
As weak and human sinners, we constantly offend God Almighty with not only our sins but their continued repetition and our feeble efforts to overcome those sins. In a world which is ever becoming too comfortable with sinfulness and has even forgotten its sinfulness, we must fix our gaze on our sins as the nails that were driven into our Lord on the Cross, causing Him so much pain. This type of prayer demands the kind of humility necessary for greater purity and holiness. Let us recall that the contrite sinner's prayer was accepted while the arrogant hypocrite's self-glorifying prayer of thanks was not because it lacked humility and contrition!
Once we offer God Almighty the praise, thanks, and humble sorrow that He eternally deserves from us, we can then offer ourselves to Him. Here we dedicate our life to God for whatever use He may make of that life. This kind of prayer demands humility, trust, love, and a proper perspective on what really matters in our lives. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and Saint Louis de Montfort, we dedicate ourselves as tools for God, Christ, and The Blessed Mother. As Christ said in the Garden, "not My will but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42).
If we pray enough and develop our relationship with God sufficiently, prayer becomes more informal, more sincere, more spontaneous, and through this sincerity, more real. Just as we speak to a good friend whenever and as often as we can, we can do so with our God as well. St. Francis relished in praying to God in both word and song, with every instrument from his mouth to musical ones. As our prayer life develops, we will learn and desire to pray to our God throughout the day and in many ways. This "living prayer" is a very powerful and developed form of prayer indeed!
All of the above types of prayer are about God and how we should approach God given what we owe Him and what our life purpose should be. However, most people think of prayer only as supplication, or asking for something. This is because they are completely self-centered, thinking only of themselves and their needs. We are all quite guilty of this kind of thinking. For most people, the definition of prayer begins and ends at this lower level of prayer. While there is nothing inherently wrong with supplication, it is when such prayer becomes the only kind of prayer we practice that we have a problem. A prayer life based only on supplication is very immature indeed, much like the child continually asking his mother for something. Now, within supplication, there are two levels of prayer as well.
Here we ask for something, but at least it is something for another therefore demonstrating the kind of love, concern, and selfless focus that Christ taught us to practice.
Here we ask for something for ourselves. While there is nothing wrong with this, the question may rightly be asked what percent of our prayers are of this type? If most or the vast majority are of this kind, one may wonder if our prayers are not merely just another example of selfish focus.
Finally, a note about two other kinds of prayer:
This kind is fervent, insistent, and consistent prayer awaiting a breakthrough of some kind. In a way, this kind of prayer demonstrates strong trust and persistence, all of which Christ favored. Depending on the situation, all of our prayers may or may not have this trait to them. Sometimes we are generally asking for something without much emergency involved. Other times we are in great need or desire for something hence a greater insistence will be found in our prayer. Such insistence is not in and of itself a quality other than demonstrating the kind of trust and persistence that Christ favored. Given the above points, I did not rank this kind of prayer since its character may rightly be expected in all prayer from time to time.
This is calling down evil on God's enemies, as David did in the Psalms. In my humble opinion, we should confine ourselves to praying for those who oppose God and publicly defending God's Word and speaking out against those who offend or oppose God's Word. I am not too sure if we are qualified or worthy to call down God's justice on anyone given the fact that we would probably not want God to treat us with the exact justice and punishment that we deserve given our sinfulness. For this reason I have not ranked this kind of prayer since I think that few if any of us are worthy to practice it.
While it is understood that the official Sacraments of the Church are the only valid Sacraments under our Faith, it is proposed that prayer can be seen as a "mini-Sacrament" that, while it may lack the formality and consecration of a true Sacrament, does have many of the aspects of these special parts of our Faith. In many ways prayer mirrors St. Augustine's "outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace" while containing some aspects of the elements of a Sacrament. While we cannot perform the Sacraments on ourselves, we can pray by ourselves whenever we wish, transforming that visible and material sign into an inward and spiritual grace in the process.
While we can pray in private, we can also pray publicly and formally as well, transforming prayer into an even closer relationship with the Sacraments.
If we enter God's family in Baptism, we return as the Prodigal Son did every time we return to Our Father in prayer, expressing our love, loyalty, trust, contrition, and faith. Prayer is thus a renewed entrance into the family that we either intentionally or unintentionally, directly or indirectly, "leave" when we forget just how much we should love, need, thank, and ask God for. If we deepen those roots in Confirmation, we can likewise deepen our spiritual roots through a firm and profound prayer life as well.
If we seek the Lord's healing power through Confession, then we heal our separation from God every time we pray with devotion and faith.
If a man and woman form a sacred union in Marriage, then we likewise foster a sacred union with God Almighty when we reach out to Him in prayer.
If Holy Orders consecrate someone into the priesthood, then we offer ourselves up to God's service and Will when we pray as we should.
Finally, if we prepare for our final journey back home or strengthen ourselves in the face of illness in Extreme Unction - The Last Rites, then we must recall that it is often said that a devoted prayer life is a sign of predestination toward God. In the final analysis, prayer in all its forms takes on a sacred character which carries us closer to God.
Although most people think of prayer as a means to "get", the highest forms of prayer are means to "give" to God our adoration, thanks, humble contrition, life, service, and efforts. Even when we ask, we can ask for others instead of always for ourselves. Even when we ask for ourselves, we can do so in humble acceptance and trust in God's Will and obedience to the dictates of that Will, as Christ did in the Garden. Carried to its highest relationship pattern with God, prayer becomes a joyful song sung in the spirit of St. Francis through words, music, and actions performed while keeping The Lord in our minds, hearts, and souls. Rather than being some rote magic formula for success, prayer in this form takes on a much more sincere and profound power.
The prayer of the true Catholic is a song both rich in tradition, deep in meaning, firm in sincerity and faith, and devoid of superficial mantras and mindless chants. It is not the quantity, but the quality of prayer that renders it a sacred trip to God. In its deepest sense true prayer becomes a meditation of humble, loving, contrite, trusting acceptance of God into our minds, hearts, and souls. The visible element of prayer is but the tip of a spiritual iceberg of great meaning and purpose. In the end, is this not what a Sacrament is all about?
NEXT We will resume his series on Catholic Identity Crisisi in the USA: PART SIX: Are You Guilty?
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Editor's Note: Heaven is once again under attack by those who would seek to ignore and overthrow God's majesty and authority. Gabriel Garnica, educator and attorney, submits regular insights and commentaries to remind and help guide readers toward a deeper and more assertive faith. Touching on topics and issues ranging from personal faith, doctrine, education, scripture, the media, family life, morality, and values, Gabriel's notes are music to traditional ears but unpleasant tones to those who have bought into the misguided notions so prevalent and spreading in today's Catholic world.