Wednesday, 17 August 2011


The sacraments have been instituted by Jesus Christ for the sanctification of our souls. We know that in certain cases they can give grace without any active co-operation on the part of the recipients, as when an infant is baptized, or an unconscious man receives the sacrament of Last Anointing. But, ordinarily, God‘s action in our souls pre-supposes corresponding activity on our part. Our minds and wills must be used in order to excite in us suitable dispositions for the reception of the sacraments. In practice, therefore, if we are to benefit by the sacraments we must know how to pray, and must try to pray well. Prayer is a necessary preparation for the sacraments, and these in turn, by uniting us with God, dispose us for prayer. Prayer and the sacraments are both sources of grace, and hence are very closely connected.
Prayer, in a narrower sense in which the term is often employed, means asking God for those good things which we need. In this sense, ―to pray is synonymous with ―to pray for. Prayer of this kind is of great importance, because it is only from God that we can get the grace and help we need to live good lives. But there is a wider and fuller sense in which the term prayer is used, namely, the rising of the mind to God. In this sense, prayer includes not only petition, but also adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and every act by which we are brought into conscious union with God for His
honour and our own good. It is in this wider sense that we will now consider prayer.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of prayer, so much does the success of our spiritual life, and therefore of our life in general, depend upon it. It will help to bring home its importance if we reflect upon these three points; (1) prayer is a duty, (2) it is a necessity, and (3) it is a great source of happiness. Prayer is a duty, and one of our chief duties in life. Whatever we neglect, we must not neglect prayer. We owe our existence to God—we came into existence through His power, and we are kept in existence through the same power. If God ceased to think of us or to exercise His omnipotence in our regard, for a single instant, we should cease to exist. Our souls and bodies, and their faculties, material good things and natural happiness, grace and the supernatural life, our faith and the blessings we have in the true Church, eternal life with God and the happiness that will mean—all these we owe to the goodness of God. We are, therefore, under a debt of love and gratitude to God far greater than any debt we could owe to a fellow creature. No tie between parents and children, husband and wife, brothers and sisters, friend and friend, could be so close as the tie between each one of us and God. This tie is real, though we may not always be conscious of it. In prayer we give it conscious acknowledgement, we learn to appreciate it better, and we endeavour to meet the obligations which it imposes.

Prayer is not merely a duty which we are bound in conscience to perform; it is, moreover, a necessity of life. St. John Chrysostom says that prayer is to the soul what nerves are to the body, ramparts to a city, arms to a soldier, wings to a bird, breath to a living being. We cannot live without air and food and sleep; it is just as impossible for our supernatural life to continue without prayer. By prayer we become united with God, and obtain the supernatural help without which we cannot long resist the attacks of evil, or accomplish any supernatural good work. Prayer nourishes the supernatural virtues in our souls. Without prayer, faith, hope, and charity, and all the other virtues become weak,
just as in time of drought vegetation gradually withers and dies. It is all the more necessary for us to realise the necessity of prayer, because we can suffer from spiritual starvation without noticing it. If we neglect to take bodily food we feel hungry, and continued abstinence from food makes us weak and unable to work. But if we abstain from spiritual food, the serious consequences are not brought home to us in the same way, and we may starve ourselves
without knowing it. Prayer, therefore, is a necessity for spiritual health and strength; and if we want to grow stronger spiritually, we must nourish ourselves more with prayer and the sacraments. There is no other way.

What we recognise as a duty and a necessity we may indeed perform conscientiously, but without much enthusiasm. But prayer is far from being merely a duty and a necessity. It is at the same time a source of genuine happiness.
The reason for this is not difficult to understand. Happiness comes from the possession of what is true, good, and beautiful. But in God we have truth itself, goodness itself, and beauty itself. Everything in this world that is good or beautiful is so because it comes from God and bears some traces of its origin. But nothing in this world possesses enough goodness or beauty to satisfy our hearts completely; only in God shall we find all that for which our hearts crave. Prayer helps us to know God better and love Him more, and thus brings to the human heart what it needs to make it happy. Our life is happy if we have a clear understanding of its meaning and purpose, if we have the courage to endure the
painful things it brings, and if we have strength to overcome the difficulties we meet with. In prayer we learn to know the mind of God, and understand His plans in our lives; we find in His love and providence abundant motives for patience and resignation in all that befalls us; and in prayer we receive a divine strength which enables us to fight against all our enemies and pass safely through all dangers. Through intimacy with God we come to see things as He sees them, and our wills are brought into conformity with His. This union of mind and will with God is the goal for which we were created, and the perfection of our human nature. The more we approach it the greater is our sense of well-being, and the greater our happiness. Prayer is often hard, but we can draw courage from the knowledge that perseverance in prayer will lead us along the road to true peace, success and happiness. It is especially necessary for young people beginning life to realise the importance of prayer. They are full of plans, hopes, and expectations for the future. But no real success can come to them in life unless they have God with them, and His love and His law are guiding them. Familiarity with Him, which can only come through prayer, will be their greatest asset.

Let us suppose now that we are convinced of the obligation and necessity of prayer, and the immense benefit it is to us. But the difficulty of prayer is in practice. How are we to pray? One compendious answer is: Pray anyhow: provided you do it. We learn how to pray chiefly by praying, and no amount of talking about prayer will take place of actual prayer; just as we can never learn to swim no matter how much instruction we get, unless we go into the water.
No Catholic is altogether unskilled in the art of prayer. From our earliest years we have been taught to pray, and prayer does occupy a prominent place in the life of every practical Catholic. We have our morning and evening prayers, Sunday Mass, preparation for and thanksgiving after reception of the sacraments, and other prayers from time to time. If we want to learn how to pray better we can begin with the prayer that already forms part of our lives.
Morning and evening prayers are important. It is important to be regular at them, and it is even more important to make sure that they are real prayers. One reason why people are sometimes irregular at their daily prayers is that their prayers are little more than mechanical recitation, so that they find little profit in them. To try to say our prayers well makes them, on the whole, easier to say. Later on some practical advice will be given about how to improve the quality of our prayers. Let us be content here with resolving to say our ordinary prayers regularly, and with as much attention as possible. Short prayers well said are better than long prayers carelessly said.

Sometimes it happens that people are in such a hurry in the early morning that their prayers almost inevitably suffer. A busy mother of a family, or a man or a girl who has set out for work very early, may not be able to get the time and quiet that are necessary for good morning prayers. Would it not be better, in such a case, for them to reduce their morning prayers to a very small amount — say, the sign of the Cross, the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Morning Offering — but make them real prayer; and then, later in the day, when the housework is done, or a break comes in the day‘s routine, to give a few minutes to God to make up for the want of time in the morning? A lot of people are suffering spiritually because circumstances make prayer in the early morning very difficult, and it does not occur to them that they can supply for this later in the day. Morning prayers are excellent; it is natural to begin the day with prayer. But it is a great mistake to think that prayers must be said in the morning or not at all. There is no precept of God or of the Church binding us to pray either in the morning or the evening. But we are bound to pray, and to pray frequently. So we see that the very insistence on the importance of morning and evening prayers may have an opposite effect to that intended, and may lead even to neglect of prayer.
If people are going out to an entertainment in the evening, or to a card-party, a dance, or something like that, we can be pretty sure that, if they come home very late, their night prayers are likely to suffer. Why should they not anticipate this, and say their prayers before they go out, and then a very brief prayer will suffice before they go to bed?
The time we say our prayers is much less important than the fact of saying them.

The true Catholic will try to keep in touch with God by short prayers during the course of the day. The Angelus, I am afraid, is not so well established among us as in other parts of the Catholic world. Even the sound of the church bells ringing the Angelus is not so familiar here. But this old Catholic custom of recalling the great mystery of the Incarnation three times a day, and going through, in dramatic fashion, the Gospel scene, while we repeat the words of the Angel and Our Blessed Lady, is of great value in keeping us in touch with the supernatural, showing us our life in
the light of the Incarnation. Then we have grace before and after meals. It can be neglected altogether, it can be said
carelessly, without any raising of the mind and heart to God, and it can be a real prayer. Why should we not say grace
regularly and prayerfully ? It will mean that there is more prayer in our lives with little trouble to ourselves. Even the sign of the Cross, made thoughtfully, can help to sanctify our days. We should not be ashamed of the sign of the Cross. St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, in the early centuries of Christianity: ―Let not shame prevent us from confessing our allegiance to the Crucified; let the fingers boldly trace upon the forehead the sign of the Cross, as a distinguishing mark, and this on all occasions—when we eat and when we drink, on coming in and going out, before we sleep, as we fall asleep, and on rising from sleep, when we walk and when we are at rest. (Cateches. xiii) Nowadays, when the enemies of Christ Our Lord are so open in their hostility, it is not right that His followers should be ashamed of His Cross, any more than a soldier should be ashamed of his uniform. The world needs true religion; but we are inclined to keep ours too much to ourselves. Would it not be for the honour of God and do immense good if every Catholic, were to make the sign of the Cross openly and reverently, if unostentatiously, before and after meals, whether at home, with friends, or in public? We talk of Catholic Action. Here is a small thing, practical for all, that might have a great effect.
We have, therefore, already in our daily lives opportunities for practising the art of prayer. For those who wish to develop the spirit and practise of prayer to a greater degree and make it play a more important part in their lives, the following different methods are suggested. We learn to pray by praying, so the employment of methods such as these is the way to make ourselves proficient in prayer.

1. Adoration. One of our primary duties is to adore God, simply because He is God; because He is the one absolutely perfect Being, without any dependence on anyone or anything, and the source of everything that exists outside Himself. Any beauty or goodness we find in the world has its ultimate source in God‘s infinite goodness and beauty. Adoration is the act by which we acknowledge God‘s unique position as Creator and Supreme Being, and it is an excellent form of prayer. In it we humble ourselves in our littleness before the infinite greatness of God. We acknowledge that we are nothing of ourselves, because all that we have or are comes from God. We praise and worship the incomprehensible goodness, beauty, wisdom, and power of God. No words are necessary; but a bowing-down of our spirit in the presence of our Creator. ―My God and my All.  As Thomas a Kempis says, that thought is sufficient for one who understands.
One great advantage of this prayer of adoration is that it at once puts us in our proper position as creatures, before God, and fills us with the spirit which it is most necessary for a creature to have. Even in our prayers we are too inclined to think of ourselves, and perhaps to regard God as a Being Who exists merely to look after our welfare and comfort. We want more of the spirit of Our Blessed Lady: ―My soul magnifies the Lord; it is in God I have rejoiced; holy is His Name.
When adoring God we should, of course, unite ourselves with Christ, our Saviour, in His adoration, and with His perfect sacrifice, which is continually being offered up all over the world. Any time we give ourselves to prayer we can recall that at that moment, somewhere, the great Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered up as the supreme act of adoration, that it is the offering of the Church, of which God in His goodness has made us members, and that in every Mass we are included when the priest prayers ―for all faithful Christians.

2. Thanksgiving. Another way in which we can profitably pray is by thanking God for all He is to us and all He has done for us. As a rule, we do not thank God enough. There are many who will pray earnestly enough when they are asking a favour of God, but who are very slow to return thanks. Ten lepers were cured, but only one came back to give thanks (and Our Lord noticed the absence of the other nine). Let us think of all the benefits we have received from God. Have we thanked Him for even one in ten of His gifts? He has created us, He came on earth and redeemed us, He left us the Church, gave us the true faith, the Blessed Eucharist and the other sacraments, and is preparing a place for us in His own home. Then there are so many personal graces and favours bestowed on us in the course of life. Such wonderful gifts should excite gratitude and make us eager to give thanks as best we can. We can pray, then, in a way that will be very pleasing to God, and very useful to ourselves, by thanking God for some particular grace or mark of his love, or for all the gifts which we have received from Him, not forgetting those which are hidden from us, and those which we sometimes fail to recognise as gifts, such as crosses and sufferings.

3. Sorrow. We have all to acknowledge that we are sinners. We have offended God more frequently and grievously than we can well realise. It is, of course, sufficient, in order to obtain forgiveness, that we should be truly sorry for these sins once. But when we remember God‘s infinite love for us, and our own great ingratitude, it is only right that we should, again and again, try to renew and to express our sorrow for all our sins. It strengthens our love for God, and makes reparation to Him, while at the same time it helps to make and keep us humble. If we form the habit of frequently renewing our sorrow for sin, there is further advantage that it is a great protection against future sin. We do not commit sin while there is hatred of sin in our souls. We commit sin because we forget the horrible nature of sin and the injury and insult it is to God. Therefore, by frequently, in time of prayer, renewing our sorrow for all the sin of our lives, we are paying a debt which we owe to God, and are at the same time safeguarding ourselves against the greatest evil that could befall us.

4. Love. Gratitude and sorrow both prepare the way for love. Sometimes ordinary Catholics are inclined to think that acts of love of God, and prayer devoted to the expression of love, are only for chosen souls. This is not so. We are all children of God; our destiny is to be with God forever, and to love Him with the whole force of our being. Therefore, we can, and should, even in this world, practise what will be our occupation and our happiness throughout eternity. The more we learn to love God here, the more shall we be able to love Him, to our own greater happiness when we reach home. We should not, therefore, regard the prayer of love as something unpractical and unsuitable for us. How many reasons we have for loving God, apart from the motives for gratitude already enumerated! We cannot, help loving what is good and noble and beautiful. But in God we have Beauty itself and Goodness itself—Beauty and Goodness that have no limits.
The love that we are speaking of is not sentiment or feeling. Sometimes, it is true, the love of God will be accompanied by feelings of love; but love does not consist in feelings. It is the esteem of God above all the good things of earth, the readiness to surrender ourselves and all that we have to Him, and the determination not to let anything whatever in this world come between us and God. ―O my God, my love, Thou art all mine and I am all Thine. These are the words of Thomas a Kempis, and we can use these or any other words in time of prayer to express and nourish our love of God. Or we can raise our hearts to God and love Him without any words at all. And practice will enable us to grow in love, and will make it easier for us to elicit these acts of love. We were created in order to love God, so that we are doing something that is natural to us when we devote some of our time of prayer to this exercise. We have an instinctive love for what is good; and God is good, beyond all our power of comprehension.

5. Examination. If we are to make progress spiritually, we must know ourselves. Unless we know our own character and habits, our faults and weaknesses, the virtues that need watching or developing, in any efforts we make we shall be just beating the air. We may examine our conscience sufficiently for the purpose of going to confession; but we may never really discover the roots of our faults, nor the way to eradicate them. We do not know what steps to take to strengthen our character, because we have never really studied it. We know we are wanting in charity or humility or patience or some other virtue, but we have never taken the trouble to make any practical plan for developing and strengthening that virtue. Here is matter for consideration in the presence of God. We examine ourselves, not simply in order that we may benefit, but that we may serve God better. Examination is, therefore, a suitable subject for the time of prayer. We may examine our life in general, our conduct, our inclinations, our habits; or we may take some particular virtue, and consider how we can grow in it, or some particular fault, and consider the means to be taken in order to overcome it.

6. Petition. This is a very important part of prayer. By ourselves we are weak; indeed, we are helpless, for Our Lord tells us: ―Without Me you can do nothing. We are, therefore, absolutely dependent upon the grace and help of God; and that grace and help will be ours if we show a readiness and desire to receive them. We do not ask for God‘s gifts with a view to overcoming any reluctance on the part of God to grant them; He is more willing to give than we could be to receive. But we ask, because by so doing we dispose ourselves for His gifts; we thus open the door to God, Who is already waiting and knocking outside.
God can do all things, and He loves us with a love which we cannot measure. Why, then, need we complain that we are so poor and helpless ? It is better to be poor and helpless in ourselves, with God‘s power and love at our disposal, than to have some possessions and strength of our own, and have to depend entirely upon ourselves. What a marvellous power prayer gives us! ―Whatever you ask the Father in My Name He will give you. That is the promise of the Lord, and we must have complete faith in His word. He may not always grant our prayer in the way we think best (and it is well He does not!), but no prayer, offered in the right spirit, ever goes unheard. St. Monica prayed that her son, Augustine, might not leave her and go to Italy, for she was afraid that she would lose all influence over him; but he went to Italy and there got the grace of conversion, and became a great saint and doctor of the Church. Monica got her wish, the spiritual welfare of her son, but not in the way she had thought best. We often pray for a snake and God gives us fish instead; we ask for what we think is bread, but is only a stone, and God gives us real bread instead. We should thank God for the prayers He has not answered—that is, has not answered in the way we wanted, for He is much wiser than we are. He knows all things, He can do all things, andHe loves us. That is the foundation of our confidence in prayer. If our prayer is to be pleasing to God and effective, we must have confidence, for want of confidence dishonours God, as it means that we doubt His love or His power; we must have humility, acknowledging our total dependence on God; we must be resigned to God‘s will, because His will is always best, and if we are asking for something that is contrary to His will we are asking for something that is not good, though we may think it is; we must persevere, thus showing our earnestness, as well as humility and confidence; and we must base all our petitions ultimately on the merits of Jesus Christ. So the Church always offers her prayers to God, ―

Through Christ Our Lord. ―O eternal, Father, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ and my Father, He promised that whatever we should ask in His name You would grant us; trusting in this promise, I humbly and earnestly beg this grace of You, through the most holy name of Jesus. Your dearly-loved Son and Our Lord and Saviour, if it be in accordance with Your most holy will.

If we pray in that way we have God‘s word for it that we shall be heard. We can pray for ourselves, or we can pray for others. When we pray for ourselves, it would show very little sense if we prayed for nothing but temporal favours. There are far better gifts than these; and it cannot be very pleasing to God if we are always asking for temporal gifts and neglecting the far more precious spiritual treasures which God is so anxious to bestow upon us. Therefore, we should pray for grace to love God more, to be more humble and charitable, more obedient and zealous, and more inspired to devote ourselves to His service. When we pray for others, in the same way, we should try to obtain for them those spiritual blessings which will mean so much more than any material advantage. When we ask graces for others, we must remember that they are free to reject what God offers them. But still we can confidently ask that God will speak so persuasively to their hearts that they will be ready to accept the graces given. There are souls to be saved, sinners to be converted, non-Catholics waiting for the light of faith, Catholics tempted to abandon Christ, others suffering severe persecution, good works in need of support, evil influences to be overcome, souls in Purgatory waiting for relief. How can any Catholic say that there is nothing he can do for the Kingdom of Christ? What wonderful things could be done if Catholics exerted the full power that prayer gives them!

7. Confidence. Confidence has already been mentioned as a disposition which we should have when we ask for God‘s gifts. But making acts of confidence in God is in itself an excellent way of praying. We can think of God‘s knowledge, His love, and His power, so far beyond our comprehension, and the ground for confidence which they give us. The more we grow in confidence in God, the stronger we become, and the happier we are, while at the same time our confidence both honours and pleases God. There are some people whose whole lives would be changed if they only acquired true confidence in God. We can acquire this confidence, or an increased measure of it, if we frequently make acts of confidence and frequently dwell on the grounds for it. Without confidence in God, we cannot be a success in life; with deep confidence in Him, we cannot fail. That should urge us to cultivate this virtue.

8. Talking to God. Sometimes the most useful form of prayer is just talking to God. We have desires, we have aims, we have perplexities, we have needs; and there is no one to whom we can talk so freely about them as to God. The most understanding friend could not enter into our thoughts and wishes as God can do. The habit of talking to God can be acquired by practice. We need the help of faith. We must try to bring home to ourselves that God is really with us and wishes us to speak to Him. ―

O my God, I belong entirely to You. You by Your power drew me out of nothing, in order that I might share in Your divine life. I am Yours, and nothing can separate me from You. I wish to give myself to You, keeping nothing back. You are infinitely good; help me to love You as You should be loved. I do not wish to have any other object in life than to love You and devote myself to Your service. I can do nothing of myself; but I know that You love me and will never fail me. Take complete possession of me, and live and work in me.

In some such way as this we may try to express our desires and aims in the spiritual life, and thus develop a habit of intimacy with God. We may always have the same things to say, but that is rather an advantage than otherwise.

9. Vocal Prayer. In vocal prayer we commonly take words and thoughts that have already been prepared
by others, and make them our own. It is a very useful and for most people a necessary form of prayer. There are the great prayers of the Church, which are suitable for all – the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and other common prayers, the Psalms, which the Church has made peculiarly her own through their recitation in the Divine Office, and the prayers of the Mass. The more thoughtfully and attentively we can recite our vocal prayers the better. The great danger of vocal prayer is of becoming so used to the form of words employed that we recite them merely mechanically. It is a danger which can only be avoided by care and attention, and a certain amount of routine is almost unavoidable. We must keep in mind that it is having our heart in vocal prayers that really makes them prayers, and that it is much more important to say our prayers well than to say many prayers. Many people would
benefit if they said fewer prayers, but said them better.
The advantage of this kind of vocal prayer is that it provides us with suitable thoughts and sentiments, without our having to trust to our own initiative. We can choose different prayers to suit different needs or different states of our soul, or merely to provide variety and freshness. It is well to take some trouble to find the kind of prayers that do suit us, because this type of vocal prayer is for most people the easiest form of prayer, and gives valuable training in the art of prayer in general. If used diligently and in a thoughtful manner, it leads people on easily to other, more personal forms of prayer.

10. A Development of Vocal Prayer. One way in which we can use vocal prayer to help us on towards mental prayer is to take some vocal prayer phrase by phrase and ponder on it as well as we can. For example, we repeat the words, ―Our Father, and instead of going on immediately to what follows, we think of what those words mean, and make whatever acts of love or trust or thanksgiving suggest themselves to us. Then, when we feel we have exhausted those words for the time, or find our attention beginning to wander, we go on to the next phrase, and so on during the rest of our time of prayer. We can use such prayers as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Confiteor, the Hail Holy Queen, the hymns to the Holy Spirit, the prayers of the Mass, or any other prayers which appeal to us. Besides the immediate benefit derived from this form of prayer, there is the further advantage that when we have thus gone through such prayers in this thoughtful manner, the prayers themselves, when used afterwards in the ordinary way, mean much more to us and provide much greater nourishment for our souls. If, for instance, we went through the chief prayers of the Mass in this way, a greater unction would cling to these prayers when used during Mass, even though we could not then delay upon them in the same way.

Nihil Obstat:P. JONES

Censor Deputatus

Imprimatur : D. MANNIX,

Archiepiscopus Melbournensis.