The following illustrate the qualities of prayer: "He that adoreth God with joy shall be accepted; and his prayer shall approach even to the clouds" (Ecclus. 35: 19). "Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight; the lifting up of my hands, as an evening sacrifice" (Psalm 140:21). "The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him" (Psalm 144: 18). "Ask, and it shall be given you" (Matt. 7: 7).
Prayer is the lifting up our minds and hearts to God.
Prayer is loving conversation with God. The mere thought of God is not prayer: devils think of God, but they do not pray. In prayer we concentrate all the power of our souls and elevate them to God.
Is it not an honor to be allowed to talk to the President of our country? But at any moment we can talk to God Almighty in prayer: He has no hours of appointment; He has no secretaries to forbid our entrance into His presence, no busy signals when we call.
God not only permits, but commands us to pray. Prayer is a privilege and a duty. "And He also told them a parable - that they must always pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18: 1). God wants us to talk to Him at any hour of the day and night, and even of the most trifling things. The more often we speak to Him, the better is He pleased. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5: 17).
Prayer includes every kind of divine worship: reception of the sacraments, hearing Mass, attending sermons, Benediction, Vespers, etc. All devotions of the Church are prayers. Prayer i a means by which we obtain God's help. No man can be just who does not pray. Prayer is a recognition of the Creator and His Power.
We pray to adore God, expressing to Him our love and loyalty. This is the prayer of Praise. We ought to praise God, Our Lord and Master, for His infinite perfections. The Church praises Him unceasingly.
The Gloria and Sanctus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the Roman Rite, the Sacred Canon of which has come to us from Apostolic times, divinely inspired. The Te Deum and the Gloria Patri are all prayers of praise. The Blessed Virgin Mary praised God in the Magnificat. We must adore God as becomes reasonable human beings. Chain prayers are foolish.
To thank Him for His favors. This is the prayer of Thanksgiving. All we have comes from God, and we are obliged to render Him thanks. Too many take His favors for granted, and neglect to thank Him. Christ Himself complained when He healed ten lepers, for only one returned to give Him thanks (cf. Luke 17: 12-19). If somebody picks up a pencil we have dropped, we hasten to thank him with a mile; but for God Who made us and keeps us in health and happiness, we are stingy! A Te Deum is sung for occasions of solemn thanksgiving.
To obtain from Him the pardon of our sins, and the remission of their punshment. This is the prayer of Contrition. This is penitential prayer, as the Miserere. It is a form of petition, for by it we ask God to forgive us. The good thief prayed: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom" (Luke 23: 42). And how well and quickly he was rewarded! God never forgives our sins without contrition.
To ask for graces and blessings for ourselves and others. This is the prayer of Petition. God wishes us to ask Him for all that we need, spiritual or temporal. He is not ignorant of our needs; He knows them better than we do. But He prefers to have us ask Him so that we may not take His favors for granted, but recognize our dependence. Christ Himself used a prayer of petition in the Garden and on the Cross. The Christians prayed for the deliverance of Peter when he was in prison. "Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10: 13).
We should pray with attention. We should remember to Whom we are talking, and avoid deliberate distractions. Let us prepare ourselves before prayer and assume a reverent posture. To be properly attentive, we must pay attention to the words we say, and to God Who hears. In order to be pleasing to God, we must pray in the name of Jesus and in accordance with His will. We must therefore pray for whatever is for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. The Church prays always in the name of Christ: "Through Christ our Lord." Our Lord promised: "If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16: 23).
We should pray with a conviction of our own helplessness and our dependence upon God. We should humbly acknowledge our nothingness, our unworthiness, and God's greatness. "The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds" (Ecclus. 35: 21). Remember how Christ praised the publican who humbly struck his breast and prayed: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." We are entirely dependent on God our Creator: whatever He refuses us, we cannot have. "Without Me, you can do nothing" (John 15: 5).
We should pray with a great desire for the graces we beg of Him. It is far from polite to a fellowman to ask him for something and at the same time to act as if we did not care whether he granted our request or not. How much more reprehensible such an action would be before Almighty God!
To prove our great desiere for the favor we ask, we must be sure to possess a pure heart, to be in the state of grace. Even the prayer of sinners is profitable, especially when they are sorry for their sins; but the purer our heart is, the better is God disposed to hear our petitions.
Who would have the temerity to enter a king's presence clad in filthy and torn garments? Yet in praying with an impure heart a man would be doing much worse - coming into the presence of God with a stained sousl.
We should pray with loving trust in His goodness. We should have confidence, filed with a firm belief that God will grant our prayer if it is for our good. God loves to see faith, confidence, and trust in our hearts. At the same time, we should be resigned to God's will. We must leave to God's good pleasure the granting or withholding of our wish, how and when He would grant it. "Amen I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Arise, and hurl thyself into the sea,' and does not waiver in his heart, but believes that whatever he says will be done, it shal be done for him" (Mark 11: 23).
Our Lord prayed in the Garden: "Not My will but Thine be done" (Luke 22: 42). He had asked that the chalice might pass from Him, but left the answering of the petiton to His Heavenly Father. God knows best what is for our good. We ought not to dictate to Him how and when to answer our prayers.
We should pray with perseverance. Even if our petition is not immediately granted, we should not stop praying as Christ directed in Luke 18: 1, "We must always pray, and not lose heart." Our Lord Himself told the parable of the man who continued knocking, and thus actually forced his friend to give him what he wanted. Saint Monica prayed for eighteen years for the conversion of her son; after that he became a Doctor of the Church and a great saint Saint Augustine. Our Lord also gave us the example in this: after having labored all day, He frequently passed the night in prayer.
We should pray especially for ourselves, for our family, our parents, relatives, and friends. We should pray for all our needs of soul and body. Note "needs" not wants. We should particularly pray for those whom we love: our parents, brothers, and sisters, friends and relatives, benefactors and superiors. But like the Saints, we must also pray for our enemies. And we must make reparation by praying for all whom we may have injured.
We should pray for sinners, for the souls in Purgatory. It is so sad today that so few pray for the holy souls in Purgatory since the whole concept of the Communion of Saints has been blotted from the memory of so many Catholics. If we are are not reminded we are the Church Militant and that it is our duty to pray for the Church Suffering through the intercession of the Church Triumphant then who will pray for us when we reach Purgatory? Of course, that question might not be relevant to so many modern Catholics who have discarded the notion that Purgatory even exists. Heck, many don't even believe in hell any more. Maybe that is why Padre Pio's words are so poignant today. When confronted by one who told the holy Capuchin that he no longer believed in hell, Padre Pio simply replied: "You will when you get there!"
Let us pray that those who may not believe today will realize in time and right their ways. Pray unceasingly for the poor souls in Purgatory.
We should pray for the Church Militant, for all its spiritual and temporal needs, that it may be established in all hearts, that pagans, heretics, and sinners may be converted. This is especially true today when the great apostasy is so vast. We must pray for the Pope, bishops, and priests of the Church, and for the officials of our country. No matter how we feel personally about the characters and actions of any men in the Church or society, we must pray for them. Just as the prayer at the end of Mass, mandated by Pope Leo XIII until it was so foolishly forsaken after Vatican II, includes the petition "hear our prayers for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exultation of our holy Mother the Church," so we should say prayers especially today for the Church.
When we say "pray for the intentions of the Pope" this does not mean that we should pray that 'the Pope's will be done.' What that means is to pray that the Pope, whoever he is, will adhere to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter and keep in tact and holy the Truths and Traditions passed down and safeguard souls for that is his primary purpose above all as the servant of the servants. The 'intentions of the Pope' have been vastly abused in recent times to push agendas that are not in line with true apostolic tradition.
We should also pray for our country and our temporal rulers, that their power may be used for the good of the people and the glory of God. We should always pray that God's will may be done by all, that virtue may flourish everywhere. Only through Christ and by working tirelessly to establish the Social Reign of His Most Sacred Heart as Ruler of all hearts and minds, can this be achieved. "Pray for one another, that you may be saved. For the unceasing prayer of a just man is of great avail" (James 5: 16).
We know that God always hears our prayers if we pray properly, because Our Lord has promised: "If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you."
God never forgets a promise, and how often has He promised to answer prayer! Our Lord promied: "Ask, and it shall be given you" (Matt. 7: 7). "All things whatever you ask for in prayer, believing you shall receive" (Matt. 21: 22). "Amen, amen, I say to you: if you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16: 23). "Ask whatever you will, and it shall be done to you" (John 15: 7).
God answers our prayers more quickly if they are accompanied by some sacrifice or mortification, to show our humility and earnestness. A prayer is more powerful with God if several join in the petition, and if those who pray are just. "If two of you shall agree on earth about anything at all for which they ask, it shall be done for them by My Father in Heaven" (Matt: 18: 19).
We do not always obtain what we pray for, either because we have not prayed properly, or because God sees that what we are asking would not be for our good. In the latter case, God will grant us something better. No prayer is offered in vain. God is like a kind and wise father, who gives his child fruit instead of the knife he is crying for. "Everyone who asks, receives" (Matt. 7: 8).
St. Ignatius said, "Pray as if all depended on God: work as if all depended on self." If we pray for favors or help, we must also do all we can to carry out our wishes. For example, if we pray for the recovery of a loved one, we must get the best medical help we can.
Kinds of Prayer
There are two kinds of prayer: Mental prayer and Vocal prayer.
Mental prayer is that prayer by which we unite our hearts with God while thinking of His holy truths. This kind of prayer is also called "Meditation." In it we spend the time thinking of God or of certain truths He has revealed, and by such meditation we hope to become better. Priests and religious have daily meditation.
Vocal prayer is that which comes from the mind and is spoken by the lips. We can also pray in song by means of hymns and other religious music that is reverent. Indeed so much that passes as music and used in the Novus Ordo today is not reverent, but mundane, even profane. There was a reason the Church directed that Gregorian Chant be used. First, because it was guided by the Holy Ghost and was in total harmony with the Sacred Liturgy held so precious and sacrosanct and universally Latin for so many centuries. To veer from that sure path is inviting disaster and taking one away from prayer through distraction and harming the soul as we shall address in a few paragraphs later.
The public prayers of the Church are vocal. Vocal prayer is both useful and necessary. Our body, as well as our soul, must give homage to God. But praying with the lips alone, without the spirit, is worthless. That is, basically, "lip service." Yet, we may use our own words in praying to God, and it is well to do so often. In prayer, we may use authorized forms that we have learned, or we may speak to God in our own words according to the dictates of our heart. Indeed, we should speak to God from time to time in our own words, for they seem more fitted to our needs and feelings than set forms. We should speak to Him like a child to its father. It is not necessary to say long prayers. God regards not the length, but the fervor: not the time spent, but the love.
Distractions in our prayers are not displeasing to God, unless they are willful. If we try to pray well and to keep distractions away, but in spite of all our efforts we do not succeed, God is not displeased.
A busy mother, even at prayer, may have an undercurrent of thought about the children's lunch. A businessman who has several important decisions to make would very likely be distracted in prayer. And yet both can make their prayer more sincere by just offering whatever they do - indeed all of us can do this - by living in God's will at every moment of the day.
Prayers said with willful distractions are of no benefit to us. They are like a phonograph record we play at God. Since with such "prayers" our hearts and minds do not go up to God, and our will is not in God, they cannot be true prayers. It is foolish to pray with willful distractions, because it is only a waste of time, during which we finish nothing else anyway. Our Lord said, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me" (Matt. 15: 8).
This is another reason the sterile atmosphere of the modern buildings and iconoclastic places that serve as "dens of thieves" today and yet are called churches, create unnecessary distractions as do the relaxed dressed code and immodest behavior so evident in so many Novus Ordo parishes today, and so manifestly apparent at World Youth Day celebrations and Papal visits where they shamelessly parade right in front of the Pope who says nothing to deter their behavior. Sadly, most of the bishops follow suit and, in sync with them, the pastors so that the faithful have no chance to find reverence and a place to pray quietly except in those churches and chapels that have remained faithful to the architectural and atmospheric culture of true Roman Catholicism. In 95% of the cases, those places are only found where the high altar remains intact, where the Holy of Holies resides front and center in the Tabernacle - in His house, and where the communion rails still separates the Holy of Holies from the people and where reverence and silence rule in the presence of the King of kings.
And yet, we cannot be in church all the time, nor on our knees. Therefore, we should pray always, and in all places. St. Paul said, "Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10: 31). "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5: 17).
Even when we are not on our knees, we should pray while we work. Even if it is mental work, we can stop once in a while to raise our hearts up to God. We should offer our work as a prayer to God, by directing our intention, and often renewing it. Ejaculatory prayer, using short exclamations, is most helpful and can become habit-forming. Some good ejaculations are: "Blessed be God", "Praise be to God", "Praise the Lord", All for Thee, my Jesus", "Jesus, I trust in You", "My God and my all", "Jesus, Mary, Joseph", "Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love You, save souls!"
As noted earlier, we can pray at home, at work, in the company of others, even on the street, in the car - whever we are. The best place to pray is in church, because it is the house especially consecrated to prayer - or at least should be intended for that specific purpose. Some times with the jam and gab fests that go on one would really have to wonder: what am I doing here? When one truly contemplates and meditates on that question in how one can best pray and fulfill the will of God, one is reminded of the Tried and True that sustained the Church Militant for nearly 2000 years through thick and thin. In keeping with that moniker, we must fight for our faith through prayer and resisting anything that takes us farther from prayer and away from the Truths and Traditions handed down. We must preserve them with our lives for, indeed, our very eternal lives depend on it.
Finally, we ought to say especially our morning and night prayers, grace at meals, and the Angelus three times a day. We should also pray when we are tempted, in misfortunes, danger, or need, and at the beginning of every important undertaking and this includes everytime we get behind the wheel, stop at a stoplight, sit or stand in line, or walk into a room. The Sign of the Cross is one of the most Catholic prayers and a testimony of our Faith. It states that we are proud to be Roman Catholic, proud to proclaim God the Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the Sanctifier - the Spirit of Truth. The key to all this is that the more conscious we become of prayer, the more conscious we become of God's everlasting presence and therefore the more conscious we become of striving always to live in the Divine Will. Life may not get easier temporally, but it sure will supernaturally and help us handle whatever the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us.
For previous installments, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives