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Discovering Prayer by Sr Marie-Laetitia

All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society

CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY PUBLISHERS TO THE HOLY SEE


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Contents

I. The Need for a Life of Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 II. A Definition of Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 What Prayer is Not . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 True Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 A Loving Exchange . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 Different Types of Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Personal Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 Degrees of Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 The Relevance of Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

III. Methods and Advice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19 Limitations of Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . Desire and Determination . . . . . . . . . . Placing Oneself in the Presence of God Childlike Trust and Humility . . . . . . . . . Silence and Inner Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Body in Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Vocal Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Meditation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Distractions and Dryness . . . . . . . . . . . Temptations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “Spiritual Bouquet� . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

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I. The Need for a Life of Prayer

he word prayer may instil fear, even discouragement in the heart of Christians today. Its sounds old-fashioned, best suited for a special group of people such as monks and nuns, a spiritual elite.

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Prayer? Oh no, that’s not for me! It is too difficult! It’s too old-fashioned. Today, what we need is action. How often do we come across such statements. It is time to reappraise the role of prayer by highlighting its beauty, its fruits and our desperate need for it. It is our duty to “pray constantly” (cf. 1 Th 5:17). But how can we pray constantly when our time is taken up by a multitude of good works or apostolates? Let’s turn to our model, Jesus. He leads us and we have to follow His example which shows that the whole of Christ’s life became an unending 3


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contemplation of the Father. Whatever He did, wherever He was, Jesus constantly focused on the Father, in communion with the Holy Spirit. He declared that He was in the Father and the Father was in Him (cf. Jn 17:21). Day and night, whether on the mountain, in the Temple, in the desert, in normal events or chance meetings, He prayed at all times. Now it was about this time that he went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Lk 6:12) When He invites us to follow His example, Jesus draws us into His own prayer. His contemplation is essentially a Son’s prayer of thanksgiving to the Father. In our day and age, we should realise that as the body needs food, water, and air to survive, so does the soul crave for nourishment, oxygen, and vital breath. This breathing of the soul is to be found in God. The oxygen we need is prayer: it places us in the presence of our Creator and the Source of our very existence. “It is in him that we live, we move, and exist.” (Ac 17:28) If we do not allow our soul to breathe, we deprive it of this oxygen; it will soon suffocate to death, it will not survive!

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We have been created in the likeness of the Three divine Persons. Each one of us should enter into a direct and personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. We shall be truly ourselves only when we offer ourselves up directly to the Father, by living closely in His presence. “You have made us for Yourself Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.� (Saint Augustine) Therefore, it is vital for the soul to pray. This very need touches everyone. Prayer, which places us in the presence of the true source of our own life, is not just for the consecrated religious, the elite. It is open to everybody and more particularly to those who aspire to develop an intense inner life. Prayer is for those who seek to come closer to God, in spite of the multitude of apostolic activities to which they are dedicated. We do not seek a substitute to life. We seek True Life itself. We cannot be content just to struggle along, to keep alive. No. We want to live a really full and intense life. We can therefore understand that two or three minutes of daily prayer, however regular, scrupulous, and dutifully Christian, will not be sufficient to live up to this ideal. Our whole life must be a continuous 5


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prayer. We may even have to experience the fear of encountering God’s heart burning with love for us. Before attempting a definition of prayer, it is important to understand that it is not just a particular devotional exercise. Prayer is the heart of the entire spiritual life. From it flows everything else in the spiritual life: sacrifices, works of charity. Why should we turn away from it? Why not let ourselves be drawn into it even if we may be afraid? Saint Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church and a teacher of the spiritual life, encourages us in the path of prayer. For her, prayer is the key and the door to the castle where our Lord and King resides. This is what she says: “Well if prayer provides so many benefits and is deemed so necessary that nobody could find any objection to it, whereas there would be a great objection for not following it, why would those who serve God and want to honour Him neglect this exercise? In truth, I cannot understand it.” (Life of Saint Teresa, chapter 8) Teresa of Avila knew what she was talking about. She revealed her own experience. She played at hide and seek with the Lord for years on end, without allowing herself to be truly attracted into a 6


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loving relationship with the Lord. Suddenly, through divine grace, she understood everything clearly. Prayer was the key to the castle she had wished to enter without success. She went on repeating to her spiritual daughters: “Prayer, prayer, prayer.” She recommends the same thing to us. Others have too like Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, and many other saints. It is truly a question of spiritual life or death. “The person who prays, saves himself surely, the person who does not pray is surely lost.” (Saint Alphonsus Liguori) This saying is not a threat. It is the cry of a heart which understood that without an intimate contact with God a person cannot survive. Let us now examine what prayer is. In this, the masters of the spiritual life help us with their teaching.

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II. A Definition of Prayer

1. What Prayer is Not efore attempting a wide definition of prayer, and to help us find out what prayer is, we should begin by saying what it is not. Methods and advice can help us in prayer - we shall come back to them a little later - but they do not, in themselves, constitute prayer.

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Reading a book, spiritual reading, the Bible, etc., or thinking about God, these are not prayer. Praying for the world, for those dear to us, practising devotions, (for example saying the Rosary or the litanies of the Sacred Heart), all this does not mean that we live in prayer. These things can help us to grow in the habit of praying, but in themselves they are not prayer. We do not intend to run down or devalue these different forms of prayer. We are trying to free prayer from all that obscures its meaning. So, what is prayer? 8


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First, a word of warning, or perhaps, of consolation for those who are tempted by discouragement. Prayer is easy. What is difficult is the concept we have of prayer, of what we try to achieve in it. Prayer does not come about through our own human efforts. It is not a problem which we can overcome through efforts and struggles, even though prayer can make many demands on us.

2. True Prayer “Prayer is an intimate loving relationship where we converse personally with God, conscious that we are loved by Him.” (Life, chapter 8) This definition by Saint Teresa of Avila is wide and precise: • it is wide: it goes beyond restrictive frameworks which sometimes only define the means that lead to prayer. • it is precise however: it holds the essentials of a loving exchange between God and the soul. It also preserves the freedom of both in this mutual relationship. This “intimate loving relationship” with God is an exchange between two loves. The love that God has 9


Discovering Prayer