Unfortunately, as Bishop Sheen once noted, many people approach prayer as if it were a parachute. They hope they never have to use it but know it may be useful in case of an emergency. Although having recourse to God in a time of crisis is a good start, we should have much more frequent contact with God in our daily lives.
If I develop a greater appreciation for prayer, I will have a greater motivation to pray. One way to do this is to look at prayer as a gift. St. John Vianney once wrote: “We don’t even deserve to pray, but God permits us to speak to Him. He even is pleased and desires it of us.” These words might serve as a good motivation for us when we are tempted to let our prayer life dwindle because of spiritual laziness. Instead of focusing on the effort involved in keeping our eyes fixed on God, we might ponder the fact that prayer is a gift and is not due to our efforts alone. In fact, as the Cure of Ars stated: “We don’t even deserve to pray…” God is infinite, perfect and Love Itself. We are finite, imperfect and tend towards self-centeredness. What have we sinful creatures done to deserve to be able to commune with Almighty God? Yet, God desires this union with us.
Despite our sinfulness, “God never ceases to draw man to Himself” (CCC #27). He loves us, but also desires us to return that love. As St. Augustine put it, “He thirsts that we might thirst for Him.” Out response to that desire is prayer.
Prayer is traditionally defined as the raising of one’s mind and heart to God. It is important to realize that both of these elements are necessary. First, one’s mind must be raised to God. How can you love what you do not know? The intellect seeks to know the object of its love – God. The more you know about God, the more you should be drawn to Him. He is perfection. He is love. It is not the same scenario with people. We do want to know everything about those whom we love. Often, the more we find out about others, the more we see their imperfections and weaknesses, which do not naturally attract us to them.
Prayer does not just consist in the raising of one’s mind to God. Our hearts must be raised to God as well. One could easily think about God and yet despise and reject Him at the same time. The raising of our hearts is necessary in prayer because our goal is union with God, which requires love.
Some may not be aware of this, but prayer is necessary. St. Alphonsus Liguori is quoted in the Catechism with the following words: “Those who pray are certainly saved; those who do not prayer are certainly damned.” (CCC #2744). These very blunt words convey the truth. How can we be saved unless we open ourselves up to God and allow Him to work through us? The closer we grow in our relationship to God, the more we realize that without Him we can do absolutely nothing. Any cooperation on our part is because He has allowed us to participate in the work of redemption by offering ourselves united to His sacrifice for the salvation of souls.
Our prayer life is also a way to combat temptation and sin. St. John Chrysostom said, “It is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin.” If we are seeking to draw closer to God, why would we ever want to displease Him? It is when we take our minds and hearts off of Him that we begin to slip, and our attention becomes focused on ourselves and objects that are not God.
How should we pray? The Baltimore Catechism tells us that we should pray with attention. We need to think about what it is that we are doing and who it is that we are addressing when we pray – Almighty God. We should have no willful distractions either. In addition, we should pray with a sense of helplessness and dependence upon God. Again, we can do nothing without God’s grace and heavenly aid. We should pray with a great desire for the graces we beg of God. Why even ask God for graces if our hearts are not in it? Furthermore, we should pray with trust in God’s goodness. We know that God desires our good and loves us more that we love ourselves. We can trust that He will answer our prayers in the manner that will work out for the greater good. Finally, we are called to pray with perseverance. This can be tough, especially when we do not seem to get a response from God right away. We can be assured that God hears our prayers, but His answer might not always be what we expect. We may not always receive our expectant “yet.” The answer could be a “no” of maybe even a “yes, but later.” God knows what is best for us.
Our call to persevere in prayer is also noted in (1 Thess. 5:16), when we are called to “pray constantly.” It is possible to turn everything we do into prayer by offering it to God, even distractions in our prayer. In fact, St. John Vianney went so far as to say that “Everything not offered to God is wasted.” With this in mind, one can see the great importance of making the Daily Offering when rising each morning.
By striving to live a life of genuine prayer, we keep our eyes fixed on our treasure, which is Heaven, where we desire to enjoy God’s loving presence without interruption for all eternity.