Prayer in many respects can be the most challenging aspect of being a Christian today. This is unfortunate because prayer is how we communicate and share in the love that God has for us. It is easy to believe that God loves us, but what does this mean if we never take the time to contemplate God’s love, or thank God for His goodness? A marriage in which husband and wife never speak to one another is on very rocky ground, similarly, how will we ever grow in our relationship with God if we do not take the time to speak with Him?
Just as different couples communicate their love to one another in different ways, and those methods may evolve over the course of the relationship; so to our prayer life with God can be expressed in an infinite variety of ways. Sometimes we may think that we are “bothering” God with our prayer, or that God does not care about us. Is a mother “bothered” when her child wants to talk to her or ask for her help? Is a father “bothered” when he is asked for advice by a son or daughter? Of course not! How much more so for God, who created each of us uniquely and loved us into being! God created the whole universe with each of us in mind, and He could not have imagined a universe without you! What an amazing gift that we have, to be able to share in the life that God has given to each one of us, and to share our joy, sorrow, and presence with our Creator.
What form of prayer is best for our relationship with Him? The only way to find out is to try! The new Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church describes prayer in this manner:
“Prayer is turning the heart towards God… Prayer is the gate leading to faith. Someone who prays no longer lives on his own, for himself, and by his own strength. He knows that there is a God to whom he can talk. People who pray entrust themselves more and more to God. Even now they seek union with the one whom they will encounter one day face to face. Therefore the effort to pray daily is part of Christian life.” (469)
Tradition gives us 5 “types” of prayer:
1) Blessing and Adoration- A prayer of blessing is a prayer in which we call down the blessing of God upon us and those whom we love. A priest blesses us at the conclusion of Mass as we are being sent back out into the world. A parent can trace the sign of the cross on their child. We may pray a prayer of blessing over the food we are about to eat. Adoration consists in recognizing our own creatureliness as we adore the greatness, power, and holiness of God; just like lovers stare into one another’s eyes in awe.
2) Petition- A very common form of prayer, this consists in us “asking God” to hear certain wants or needs that we have. Strangely, God already knows what we need, petitioning God is something that is good for us. “Someone who does not ask and does not want to ask shuts himself up in himself” (YouCat 486). In a sense, by asking God for certain things, we realize in a healthy way that we are dependent on God for everything that we have, and that all of our gifts have their source in God.
3) Intercession- This prayer is similar to petition, but rather than directing the prayer towards ourselves, intercession consists of praying for the needs of others. St. Monica famously prayed for her sonSt. Augustinefor decades before his eventual conversion. As Christians we pray for our families, our communities, and even our enemies.
4) Thanksgiving-St.Paul asks us, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7) When you think about it, literally every moment of our lives can be cause to give God thanks. Our past failures may give us the strength to overcome new obstacles. A sickness can be cause to give thanks for our health when we recover. We are always abundantly blessed by God! When was the last time we thanked God for a member of our family, our friends, homes, jobs, and experiences?
5) Praise- Beyond giving thanks for certain aspects of our lives, a prayer of praise is directed solely to God as we recognize his holiness. “God is good!” Praise gives voice to the spontaneous delight and joy that wells up in our hearts.
Musings on Prayer…
“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.” –St. Therese of Lisieux
“The desire to pray is already a prayer” –Georges Bernanos
“Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” –St. Teresa of Avila
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes the person who prays.” –Soren Kierkegaard
“Keep your soul in peace. Let God work in you. Welcome thoughts that raise your heart to God. Open wide the window of your soul.” –St. Ignatius Loyola
“Here God and the Devil struggle, and the battlefield is the human heart.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“For you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” –St. Augustine
“A person should pray for half an hour a day, when busy, one hour.” –St. Francis de Sales
“Every time we make a decision concerning our families, we need to pray.” –Bl. Teresa of Calcutta
“Do what you can, and pray for what you cannot, and so God will grant you the ability to do it.” –St. Augustine
“I look at Him, and He looks at me.” –A peasant to St. John Vianney on prayer