Firming Up Our Prayer Life
Our need and duty to pray to God, and our endeavours to do his will faithfully, have had many expressions in the history of the Church. Indeed, it began when the earliest Christians met to praise our Lord and to break bread together.
In time, certain patterns of prayer were established conventionally, such as liturgical worship, acts of penance, pilgrimages, particular devotions to the Eucharist and the Sacred Heart, the Rosary, prayers to the saints and many more.
All of these have one focus: to experience intimacy with Jesus Christ who is the source and fulfilment of our lives, and to cleanse our souls of their unworthiness in the divine presence.
The great monastic movements of the early centuries witnessed the saintliness of intensely prayerful men and women such as Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and their followers.
Then came the movements led by Ignatius of Loyola and Francis de Sales, all of which had a strong impact on the spiritual lives of everyday men and women.
In our age, spiritual retreats, centring prayer, Bible study groups, pilgrimages and so on provide us with the opportunity to deepen our consciousness and love of the ever-present God.
We have been urged to encounter God in silence. Retreats, in particular, create ways of silence which, if we allow them, are for most of us impossible to attain in our daily lives.
Even our attempts at relaxing are often disturbed by cellphones, social media, television and so on—or by our concern about what we might be missing when we do not answer the cellphone, check our Facebook or switch on the TV.
We might also be disturbed by worries about work, family or bills.
Amid the din of modern life, many of us find it difficult to hear God.
It is good to get away from these distractions, if we can, to refuel the spiritual tank by making space and time for God.
Being alone with God, a time to talk to him and listen to him, can bring us great inner peace and spur us to greater holiness.
And personal holiness attracts others. Indeed, successive popes have called on Catholics to be public models of holiness, addressing especially the youth.
This is underpinned by our prayer life.
Even Christian critics of our faith may find little amiss in the great example of prayer given by modern saints such as Padre Pio and Mother Teresa.
Over many centuries, the Church has amassed an immense volume of literature on prayer and its necessity.
But ignorance of this spiritual treasury prompts people to find novel ways to meet their need to express the longing of their souls for God, such as in the New Age movement, in curiosity about the customary rituals of the East, and the assortment of Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches.
Obtaining the “power tools” of spirituality may require investments, in time and funds, that are beyond the reach of many Catholics.
However, parish missions, parish prayer groups and involvement in devotional or prayer movements—when that becomes a possibility again—require no investment other than time.
In these times of lockdowns and restrictions due to the coronavirus, several such options are freely available on the Internet.
The free time created by these restrictions can be put to good purpose in firming up our spiritual life.
The act of praying has no price tag and its rewards are immense.
Traditionally, growth in prayer has been called growth towards perfection, and it has three stages, known as the purgative way for beginners, the illuminative way for the devout, and the unitive way for those well-advanced in contemplation.
Those on the purgative way strive to rid themselves of the obstacles to perfection by training the mind and will to struggle against sin and temptation.
Those on the illuminative way train their minds and wills in persistent prayer and the practice of the virtues.
The unitive way is the path of the contemplative who lives in habitual and trusting union with God.
Not all may reach the heights of perfection, but none should fail in our Christian call to take the first proactive step along the path, and leave the rest to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.