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Thoughts on Prayer
by Brother Craig
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
Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Understanding Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 How to Pray . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Suggestions for Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Index of authors quoted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Dedication To my parents, my first teachers of prayer, with love and gratitude
All rights reserved. First published 2013 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road London SE11 5AY Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0046. ÂŠ 2013 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society.
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ISBN 978 1 86082 881 2
Introduction I love to read. As a monk I love to read about prayer. During my reading, over many years, I have written down various quotations from numerous authors. Here I have collected quotations about prayer. Each short section begins with one of these. I have tried to do my best to comment on and explain them. In reading and pondering these quotations please adapt them to your own life. It is my hope that these quotations and my little thoughts about them will help nourish and enrich your prayer life. God bless you. Brother Craig
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Understanding Prayer “Pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t.” Dom John Chapman, OSB This is perhaps the most essential quotation in this collection. It should be remembered as one reads the various quotations and my words about them. One can receive advice on prayer. One can read very helpful, inspiring books on prayer. Still, each person must pray as he or she can. One might try one way of praying and discover after some time he or she cannot do it or it is not his or her way. Then it is best to try another way. Each person is different, has a different personality. This should be taken into consideration. There is not one way of praying for everyone and God respects the person whom he created. Also, God will lead different people in different ways of prayer. Whatever way he chooses is best for that person; the best way for you. By following this quotation you will pray without strain or trying to pray in a way that is not for you.
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“After all, it is those who have a deep and real inner life who are best able to deal with the irritating details of life.” Evelyn Underhill This is so true. There are sometimes “irritating details of life”, but the person with a deep inner or spiritual life is better able to handle them and is less bothered by them. By having a deep inner life, which is mainly obtained by prayer, one can be better prepared. Difficulties and problems will still occur but one will not be taken unawares. But perhaps the main reason for the truth of this quotation is if you have a “deep and real inner life” when something goes wrong you will “turn in” and not act from the “surface”. You will not speak or act without thinking. Perhaps you will remain in silence for a moment; to pray, to think, to ask God for help. You will pray to God about what should be done, asking what should be done first and then so on. You will pray to God for a plan of action. Being a person with “a deep and real inner life” you will know, as much as you can know, if the plan is from God. All this will happen and you will become, “best able to deal with the irritating details of life.”
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“The best of all actions is to pray, that is true genius, the one that never goes wrong.” Søren Kierkegaard This quotation is from a Christian whose writings call us to live the Gospels fully and radically and although he was a Lutheran, some people have found their way, through his writings, into the Catholic Church. Of course, I was pleased when I read he had a great admiration for monastic life! This quotation begins by stating the great value of prayer, that it is, “the best of all actions”. It is intelligent to the point of “true genius” to pray! Then we are told why: because by praying we can never go wrong. With actions we can make mistakes but regarding any situation, whether a problem or anything else, we cannot make a mistake by praying. I do not think Søren Kierkegaard wanted to teach that you should never take action or carefully do what may involve risks or lead to mistakes. You must do things and take risks; and you will make mistakes throughout your life. This writer’s words are not suggesting turning to prayer in a way that considers prayer as “a last resort” as one sometimes hears said. It is rather for those times when the mind offers no solutions so the best thing to do is not to act. Or rather - “the best of all actions is to pray”. True, you may not put that quotation to use often. But when it is needed, I suggest you follow it. For in truth prayer, as the quotation says also, “is true genius”.
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“Prayer is one’s greatest earthly happiness.” Søren Kierkegaard People want to be happy. Søren Kierkegaard, a writer not known for writing about happiness, teaches that prayer, here on earth, is one’s greatest happiness. I think it is true not only for all the good things praying is, but also for all the negative things it lacks. That might seem surprising but there are many of them. Allow me to consider a few. Prayer lacks struggle. This is so often part of one’s day, the struggle of rushing here and there, as well as stress: stress at home, at school or at work. Just about everywhere one encounters struggle or stress. One reads that stress is a major cause of physical illness! Struggle and stress; prayer is a break or rest from these and is relaxing into the presence of God. Prayer lacks worry. That is, in its very nature. True, you can be distracted by worries when you are praying. But you can take worries that come to mind and pray about them to God. Prayer, as well as being many other things, is a break or “holiday” from the struggles, the stress and worries in your life. Truly, for these and many other reasons that you can think of, “prayer is one’s greatest earthly happiness”. Take part in this happiness often.
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“Is it not a great joy that prayer is our greatest defence against the power of anxiety?” Søren Kierkegaard Anxiety is a great plague of our age. Many people suffer from it. One who has anxiety is harming his or her physical and emotional health. Although not a hindrance to the spiritual life or holiness in itself, it can interfere with the calmness spirituality is able to give. People seek help for anxiety from medical doctors, psychologists and books. These can be helpful; so can prayer, which is available to all and at all times. Prayer is our “greatest defence” against anxiety. Knowing this should be a source of joy, not only as regards your own anxiety, if you have some, but also because you can pray for those who are suffering (and many people are suffering very much from severe anxiety) and because you can help them greatly by prayer. Yes, this should give you joy. This quotation calls anxiety a power and it surely is that! It is a negative power that can disturb and ruin lives, jobs and marriages. But, if you have anxiety, you also have a defence against this power. The quotation does not promise necessarily an immediate cure or instant freedom from anxiety, but a defence. Prayer is not only a defence against anxiety but it is your greatest one: because when you pray to God to help you with anxiety, he will. Also, the very act of praying especially in silence and solitude - can calm, restore, relax
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and make you tranquil. All of this will help to lessen your anxiety if you have any. So prayer is “our great defence against the power of anxiety”; and if you suffer from anxiety, have recourse to prayer often. “Making a space in life for God and prayer radically changes the whole of that life, if it is lived out seriously.” Fr Michael Hollings When I was in London in 1984 1 wrote to this well-known priest and author and he wrote me a note and agreed to let me visit him. He was very kind to receive me and the visit was interesting. When a person makes “a space in life for God and prayer” - that is, faithfully gives time to pray to God each day - what happens is after some time a radical change takes place in his or her life. Only God satisfies them. Very simply, as your love of prayer and your time praying increases, you will lose interest in things you were interested in before. Good things, good interests but not related to holiness will gently (or suddenly) fall away. Not because they are wrong, but because now God has become your all. But this will not just happen. It will not happen just because you pray. It will happen if you live out your prayer seriously. Then it will “radically change” your life.
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“When we are linked by the power of prayer, we hold each other’s hand, as it were, while we walk along the slippery path, and so by the generous bounty of charity it comes about that the harder each one leans on the other, the more firmly we are bonded together in brotherly love.” St Gregory the Great When friends pray often for each other they are connected by a special love, a special bond. They are “linked by the power of prayer”. They figuratively hold hands. The friends may be miles apart but prayer knows no distance. It was quite common years ago for pious friends to end their letters with, “in union of prayer”. Life is not easy. I think that is true for everyone; or, at least, each life has times of difficulty. That is a contemporary way of stating what St Gregory the Great taught when he wrote that we, “walk along the slippery path”. Then he goes on to teach that the more, the harder, one friend leans on the other the more firmly are these friends bonded together in love. But it all begins with prayer, linked by its power. It is not common interests or being members of the same club or group; rather, it is the link of “the power of prayer”. So among the other great things prayer can do for you, it can bond you more closely with a friend. Perhaps with more than one; perhaps with a few close friends you can form a “prayer circle”. This does not mean you need actually to pray together (although you may), but rather that together,
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