A lot is said about prayer and a lot has already been said about prayer. Every social media is filled with prayers and many people have asked many questions about prayer. We admire the lives of very many saints both living and dead. What is so surprising about people whose lives reflect the glory of God like St. Padre Pio Saint Mother Teresa and very many others is that they believe they are sinners and they do not know how to pray. Our own current Pope Francis whose life has touched many with very many people following him on social media in billions says he is a sinner and he always asks people to pray for him. Many people have dedicated their lives to prayer and still they continue to pray without ceasing. So the question still stands, what is prayer and how can we pray?
According to Oxford English Dictionary prayer is defined as a practice of communicating with one’s God. Other people can say prayer is silent or loud conversation with the unseen God. No matter how we pray and the method we use, it all aims at talking with God.
Many different religious sects always lead their followers to pray in particular ways to nourish the spirituality of different followers. What is then the difference between religion and spirituality? Many scholars have different approaches of defining spirituality though they all agree on what religion is. Religion may be simply put, different people gathering together under the same roof to pray together in ways so appropriate to them. In Catholic Church our main prayer is the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Holy Mass. Other different religions have their own according to what they see fit for them. Spirituality in simple terms can be what matters most to the inner being of a person, what is so intimate, most desired, most valued in the intimate being of a person and the person can do nothing without it. Many people are so intimate with money, love of children, spouse, job, cars, idols, phones and tablets, computers, spirits of ancestors which is the most popular in Africa and other parts of the world. This most intimate thing that occupies the mind and life of this person is said to be his/her spirituality. The thing that a person in need turns to for consolation in terms of need is the spirituality. Something that makes someone so intimate constitutes prayer to this person. Some people go to witchdoctors or ancestral spirits to look for quick answers to their needs. As missionaries, we meet these people and there are times you find in the middle of the Holy Mass a person getting a phone to check through. There are certain situations when a person can have prayers and follow the order of Mass and songs from a soft copy on a phone. So what is so intimate to you in your life as a missionary? If you get distractions concentrating in prayer, what comes so prominent is where your spirituality is drawn and so you need guidance on how to overcome this and be directed to proper methods of prayer. A true prayer needs to be when all your attention and self is drawn to God or the scriptures you have chosen to focus on. However not many times a person feels drawn to prayer like explained but the intention in prayer must always persist to pray to God as we shall see later in this article. It is not about being with others. Religion therefore helps to direct a person’s spirituality towards God, focussing on God not on any other consolations when in need. A spiritual person tells us to look for God of consolations but not consolations of God. This brings us to focus all our attention to God when we are in prayer, when challenges come; we draw our attention to God but not something else. In a very beautiful Hymn we sing, Jesus never fails…things of this will let you down but Jesus never fails…which stresses the importance of focussing on God other than focussing on earthly things that all have an end in case we have an issue burning in your life.
What do others say about Prayer?
Soren Kierkegaad said in true prayer, it is not God who hears what is asked of him but he who prays and who continues to pray until he hears what God has to say to him. Therefore, in prayer we need not to target quick solutions to our petitions but as they say Pray until something happens. It is important to pray always and not to lose heart Lk 18:1. It is important to pray always without becoming weary focussing our attention on God in body and mind.
Jesus advises us to be persistent in prayer. Like friendship, prayer relationship takes time, effort and sacrifice. In our Christian life we should never speak of success but faithfulness to him and his word even if we do not get what we have asked. True prayer has no conditions attached to it, we need to pray and continue to pray at all-time even if we fail to get all that we want. In all that we pray for, it is very important to ask God to let his will be done in our life but not what we want from him in our prayer. We always ask God to answer our petitions but we need to remember that on entering the service of God, we need to prepare your soul for temptation from all that we face in life.
Many times as missionaries we teach others to pray, we show them how to live as Christians but we may fail to teach ourselves to pray. As such we ask many people to pray for us. This is very good but the heart of prayer is from the individual and others intercede for us to add on what we already have in our heart.
Why do we pray?
Many people have reasons to pray and we need to understand that there are very many reasons why people pray. Others pray for success in getting a marriage partner, improve on business, success in academics, to know God, to find vocation in life, for the soul of the deceased especially those in purgatory. Whichever reason is there we should focus our prayer in the following as our Spiritual writers put it:
Personally some reason we pray for include;
- Forgiveness of our sins, the sins that we commit all the time and our prayer should ask for forgiveness as Jesus said …. come to me all that are overburdened and I will give you rest Mtt 11:28
- The love of God, we need to pray for perseverance in the love of God as our human love is conditional and self centered in most cases of our life
- The love of prayer, when we persist in prayer we tend to be drawn to love praying as part of our lives
- To find perseverance and peace. Unguarded looks are often the cause of grievous sins as one spiritual teacher said. Unless we have peace in our lives we cannot understand what true peace means in other peoples’ lives
For the Church;
- To glorify God, venerate Blessed Virgin Mary, Angels, Saints and many more
- Provide for spiritual necessities of children of God
- Procure deliverance of souls in purgatory
To live and pray very well we are encouraged by our spiritual leaders as devout soul should be pure, honest, transparent in all that we do with our hands, lips, eyes, ears and the whole body. St Paul tells us “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you whom you received from God? 1 Cor. 6:19. As human beings it is not easy to know ourselves transparently as John Powel SJ said that “to reveal myself openly and honestly takes the rawest kind of courage”. The best prayer is to accept and believe we are nothing in front of God and we are nothing but sinners and pray for his mercy and forgiveness.
We must know that there was nothing Jesus did without prayer and we too can do nothing without prayers in our life like what Jesus went through in the wilderness Mtt. 4: 1-11. A good prayer is where we feel so free to pour out our heart without fear. Prayer can be sharing a relationship with God and some people just need to be in the presence of God
There is a story of Simon Makonde who was born on Sunday, baptised on Monday, was confirmed on Tuesday, he wedded on Wednesday. He fell sick on Thursday, taken to hospital on Friday, died on Saturday and was buried on Sunday. This very imaginary story explains that the journey of sanctity is not something very short. It has to be tested by time and challenges. What matters is where you will be at the end of time, hell or heaven. To pray well, St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us we must focus our attention on that day we shall die whether near or far, in painful of peaceful death, alone or in care of others. When we die what will be our fate on the last judgement day Mtt. 25: 1-13? To pray well we always focus on our death and final judgement. We must live a life based on the beatitudes Mtt. 5: 1-12 and the teaching on the mountain Mtt. 5. 1-12
Where do we see God in our life?
God is everywhere and we can find God in all that we do and the people we meet. The fact you are able to read this message means you are blessed among billions in the world that do not have access to internet and the computer, you have eyes that are able to read compared with millions who are blind, you are blessed because you belong to a group who have a very great concern for one another. All these call for a big thanks giving to God. When you look at the nature, trees, sand, animals, birds, water, the wind, and cool/warm water breeze are all ways we can appreciate God in the creatures as St. Ignatius and other saints did. A story is told of St. Ignatius who would move at night to the balcony of his house and gets taken up to look at the stars and tears begin to flow down his cheeks with eyes fixed on the stars. This is a good thing we can try to identify with God in our life.
PRINCIPLES OF PRAYER
Spiritual teachers came up with some points to help and guide us in our prayer. These are just suggestions to look at but personally it has helped me a lot.
- Prayer is an interpersonal relationship with God. It has to be internally felt by a person but not told what to do. When you pray it must be an inner most feeling in your heart. Use few words but to the point.
- Prayer is an affectionate communication with God performed by the Holy Spirit and supported by the Holy Spirit. We must be ready to surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit to take control of our lives. Prayer must be from the mind and the heart. When you pray endeavour to forgive all who offend and ask for forgiveness from all you might have offended to have a good prayer life Mtt. 6:12, and St. Paul tells us to pray with the spirit who intercedes for us Rom. 8:26.
- Learn how to thank God is the simplest and yet important principle. One who does not thank is not welcome and appreciated. For our prayer life to be good we need to be thankful to God and to other people in our life and this appreciation goes to God in prayer.
- Prayer is above all an expression of Love. Thank God for all that he has done in your life and has given you. Pray for empowering that is asking for God’s grace upon your decisions. Love with charitable acts to God and fellow brethren and always ask God “what do you want of me, what can I do in this situation?”
5.Prayer is to make the power of God come down in our weakness and difficulties Eph. 6:11. Make resolutions before you ask God for help. When we feel we are weak the best we can do is to call on the power of God in our weaknesses and beg for his forgiveness and mercy for having sinned against him.
- The prayer of simple presence or prayer of silence is very important that is, put yourself in the presence of God without words. Quiet time in the presence of God without saying a word and without having anything to think in your mind. Put all your presence to God in Adoration.
7.The heart of prayer is in listening. Listen to the voice of God speaking to you
- Our mind which has to be very clear with nothing negative moving on and it must focus only on God and the wonders God has done for us. No thought of revenge, committing a crime and plotting God always uses the normal ways to talk to us, just only listen and follow what you get. In this way we must be conscious of false positive voices from the devil. An encounter with your Spiritual Director is necessary to discern voices from God or the devil
- Your will to do something. What is that you always wish to do? is it so pleasing to God according to what the church teaches us to do? A friend giving you a good advice in both spiritual and other areas of life is God talking to you through that friend. We need to always listen to the people talking to us in our communities or other places about our character and what we need to keep and what we need to drop as far as our character is concerned
- Your emotions how are they, happy or remorseful, contented or dissatisfied
- What are you always imagining in your life both public and private, do you imagine conversing with Jesus, Mother Mary and the Angels or something opposite to what is suggested here?
- What is in your memory that you always think about, something pleasing to God or pleasing to the devil?
- Christ also speaks to us through his own personal life we read from the Holy Bible and the apparition the Catholic Church approves for the Catholics to follow
- He speaks to us through the Prophets and the Catholic Church Leadership especially through the Encyclical letters from the Holy Father the Pope
- Place and time are important to pray and must be conducive. However, you do not need always a quiet to pray and just switch off the noise from your mind in the middle of a noisy place if it comes to your will to pray
- Struggling with problems in prayer in form of distractions in prayer is very normal and is always expected in our human life. But this should not make you abandon your prayer and communication with God. Such distractions include sleep, thoughts and many others but only pray to overcome them. Our spiritual leaders encourage us to persist in prayer even if distractions come. One reason we sleep in prayer is that we go to pray when we are already tired from what we did during the day. This may necessitate a change in your prayer time or is a sign of a tired and exhausted body. Therefore, you need to take a leave from what you do and take a retreat that can nourish you and make you capable of communicating with God in prayer. If you always pray in evening hours a shift to early morning could be of help. They say what matters in prayer is the intention though the way may not be appropriate and having a target for your prayer intention matters so much and God listens to such prayers even if with a lot of distractions.
- Our Father should become the basis of a Christian prayer as it is taught to us by our Lord Jesus. It should never be recited but meditated upon. The prayer of our Father covers all our life if meditated on from word to word and this should be our root of meditation on daily basis.
There are many ways we can pray in a group from the divine office, family prayers recited in a group and mental prayer which has been seen to be helpful in prayer life and all the Saints practice mental prayer or meditation on daily basis both the saints living and dead. Such meditations can focus on fining the will of God in our lives or even finding God in what we do as suggested by St. Ignatius of Loyola. If you are a farmer you need to see God in the plants and animals you keep, a teacher finds God in the pupils or students he/she teaches, a married couple must find God in the lives of the spouse and the children and home and many other examples in all the work we do. St Ignatius suggests in his Spiritual Exercises to imagine one walking side by side with Jesus or attending his sermon on the mountain or talking about the last judgement what questions will you ask him or you walk with the Lord Jesus in his Passion in the Garden on the way to Calvary how do you still up to now crucify Jesus and how do you intend to reconcile with him by being sorry for your sins and asking for forgiveness. These are just very minor suggestions but each person is to find out the best way to pray and meditate as guided by the Holy Spirit in the person prayers.
Why mental prayer and what makes up a mental prayer?
Without mental prayer a soul is without light. Someone said “they who keep their eyes shut cannot see the way of their country”. We need to realise that the external truths are all spiritual things that are seen not with the eyes of the body but with the eyes of the mind by reflection and consideration as one spiritual writer tells us. St. Bernard tells us that meditation regulates the affections, directs the actions and corrects the defects. One Saint during his life time would starve the body for weeks if his body got taken up with the lust or desires of the flesh and he would punish the body without food or drink until he would be very weak and asks the body if it can defeat God in his meditations for perfection in life aimed at sanctity. This can teach us a lesson in overcoming evils in our life with fasting. Jesus defeated the devil in the desert with fasting and prayer and this can teach us something to learn about how to achieve sanctity in life.
St. Teresa of the child Jesus said that he who neglects mental prayer needs not a devil to carry him to hell but he brings himself there with his own hands. Abbot Diodes said a similar thing that he who omits mental prayer soon becomes either a beast or a devil. St. Paul advises us that without petitions on our part God does not grant the divine help and without aid from God we ca not observe the commandments 1 Thess 5:17 that we must pray without ceasing. This prayer comes best in meditations.
St. John Chrysostom said by prayer we may obtain from God his Graces; without prayers it is absolutely impossible to lead a good life. The neglect of mental prayer is the cause of the great relaxation of morals we witness every day even in some of our religious communities and families. God wishes to be asked, compelled and he wishes to be overcome by certain importunity in prayer. Charity cannot last unless God gives perseverance, how will the Lord give us perseverance if we neglect to ask him for it. Saint Teresa again said without mental prayer there is no communication to God for perseverance of virtue. Cardinal Bellarmine said that it is impossible for he who neglects mental prayer to live without sin. Saint Augustine said to obtain divine mercy and grace, it is not enough to pray with tongues, it is necessary also to pray with the heart. Mental prayer makes one to see their own misery and return to God. Mental prayer makes a soul; modest, humble, devout and mortified in all things. Lack of mental prayer leads to wanting in modesty of the eyes, pride, resending every word, undevout, no longer frequenting the sacraments and the Church, attached to vanity, useless conversations, past times, earthly pleasures. St Chrysostom again tells us that he who does not pray to God or desires not to enjoy his divine conversation is dead….the death of a soul is not to be penetrated by God. Mental prayer is the root of fruitful vine. St. Climacus said that prayer is a bulwark against the assault of the afflictions, the spring of virtues, the procurer of graces. And Ruffina echoes a similar point when she said all the spiritual progress of the soul flow from the mental prayer, and Gerson said that he who neglects meditation cannot without a miracle lead the life of a Christian. St, Ignatius of Loyola noted that mental prayer is the short way to attain perfection and he who advances most in meditation makes the most progress in perfection.
Some virtues shown by people who live a life of meditations include the following but no exclusively limited to;
- Humility and a big heart to persevere in vocation as was seen by St, Daniel Comboni and other Saints both living and dead. St. Bernard said that the truly humble man does not desire to be advertised as a humble man but wishes to be reputed and considered worthless
- Feel the suffering of others and be able to heal in ways appropriate to you
- Have a heart for others unconditionally
- Love the poor and the suffering
- Trust in the Sacred of Jesus and the Immaculate Herat of Mary at all times
- Always be positive with people and their problems both personally and to others as well
- Share their challenges and achievements, life with others, they always have in mind that faith without actions and good works in a relationship is dead
- They are always calm, happy, have visions for the future both good and bad, trust in God at all times and all circumstances they go through in life
Therefore, a good Christian should;
- Never fear to fall and when they fall they look straight to Jesus for forgiveness of their sins they commit all the time. This brings them so closer to perfection which is a step ahead to sanctity.
- Looks at the cross all the time. Each time you look at Jesus on the cross fills your mind with thought about his passion and death and puts you in a position of thinking about the sins that you commit that still nail Jesus on the cross every day
- They pray all the time whether in sin, sanctity, sorrows, joys and any condition they find themselves in life
- They have a Spiritual Director whom they contact at all times when in need and not in need but for guidance all their life
- They renew their Baptismal promises, commitments and vows all the time
- They know that it is very hard to be a Christian but can move ahead and ask for the Grace of God to do this
The virtues that helped the Saints to persevere in their faith were but not limited to, they had;
- Unshaken faith in God and surrendered their lives in the hands of the divine providence
- They had hope in every situation that the hand of God is on their lives and so fear, death, persecutions were not an issue for them to fear in life and as such they freely gave their lives for God
- They were charitable with their life, time, concerns, prayers that they freely gave their all to those in need
- They loved unconditionally at all times the needy and they were not attached to anything of this world, that is why others gave all they had to the poor and needy and lived a simple life from royal life styles, something worth noting for us to think about.
Therefore, we need a heart burning with love for God and our neighbour Lk 10:27. We need therefore a very strong relationship with God, human beings, the environment to do what is so pleasing to God as all are creatures and works of the hands of the Mighty God. Therefore, we need to beware of the presence of God with us at all times both in public and private life especially in all that we do. St. Mother Teresa says at the end it is not about how many certificates and diploma we have but how much Love did we put in all that we did. So above all we need to have love in our heart so that we are able to please the Lord in all that we do.
In order to progress on mental prayer, we need to beware of the Pride in us that comes when we feel we are all and no one knows what we know and we are only mist perfect in all things and more rich in money, blessings and virtues than others Lk 18:9-14. As missionaries our attitude should be the one of the tax collector and say “God be merciful to me a sinner….”. Saints know that God is the author of all good things and live a humble life. St. Bernard again said that Pride is less hateful in the rich than the poor, so who are, are you the proud rich in money, pride, jealousy, hatred, lust?
Effects of Pride
- Presumptions that is believe in yourself not the help of God and others and they take all credit for themselves even if it is at the expenses of others effort and sweat
- Ambitions which is a vice making us to seek our own honour with inordinate avidity. We ned to avoid merit of honour and confess honours we get is due to God, we only use it to serve our neighbours
- We are so ambitious. St. Ambrose said ambitions often makes criminals of those whom no vice would delight, whom no lust could move, whom no avarice could deceive
- Envy which is sadness arising from contemplation of our neighbour’s welfare
- Vain glory which is inordinate appetite for praise, desire that our merits should shine forth with glory
- Boastfulness i.e. desiring to be supremely honoured above others, praises and exalts him/herself, exaggerating and amplifying things to make his/her merits appear greater than what it really is
- Hypocrisy- demonstrates externally a virtue and sanctity which we do not really possesses
- Disobedience i.e. violate command of our superiors/leaders, treating them with contempt/worthlessness
- Discord- discrepancy of the will which prevents it from conforming to the will of God and the good of our neighbours
Therefore, these re some fruits of pride in us and the way to overcome is to practice all that has been described in this article which can be summarised as;
- Avoid talking evil about others
- Stop being jealousy about others
- Your academic qualification of PHD, Masters, Bachelors should not be of stepping on others
- If you have prayed and prayed but have not got what you want, change your attitude
- In your jobs, home, community do people see you as an insecurity, security or they see Christ in you or the devil?
- Great deeds make Christ to shine in you and in all that you do
- Pray that God gives you that grace to persevere in prayer and good Christian virtues
- Always remember that the greatest saints wanted that anybody who sees them feel peace and they were ever there for the concerns and the needs of others.
To summarise all this allow me to share with you Pope Francis’ message for the Lenten Season of 2017 which if we can try to live it in our daily lives, it can help us to find peace in our minds among the thousands of what we do all the time in our life. It does not only apply for lent but should be a life rule for any human being still living that is, they are very excellent resolutions for a Christian life on daily basis;
- Fast from hurting words and say kind words
- Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude and gladness
- Fast from anger and be filled with patience
- Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope (people cannot change easily as they will)
- Fast from worries and trust in God
- Fast from worries and contemplate simplicity
- Fast from pressures and be more prayerful
- Fast from bitterness and be filled with joy
- Fast from grudges and be reconciled
- Fast from revenge and be merciful
- Fast from selfishness and have sharing concerns
- Fast from words and be silent so that you can listen (talk less and listen more)
As I wrote this it does not mean I practice all these, I am far worse than you who is reading these words. We need to pray for each other so that we can do our missionary work in the life of total self-giving to God and our neighbour.
Let us meditate on these words of Jesus in the apparitions to Vassula Ryden (2005) in True life in God be a consolation to us that “…..fear not oh sinner! If by your sins you have made yourself the slave of hell and are unable to deliver yourself, offer me to my Eternal Father and you shall escape death”. Mother Mary also echoed the same words in the same book when she said “….behold here is my son, endeavour to save your soul by offering Him frequently to God”.
May Mother Mary teach us meditation and contemplation which all made her life here on earth. Let us pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary to help and guide us in this journey of discovering our true identity as missionaries in search of the truth and giving this truth to ourselves and then to others, Amen
Let us give the Glory to God for all that we are we are going through whether good or bad.
Ezati Eric, CLM Uganda