More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
People have said to me, “Bishop, I want to pray but I don’t know how to start.” Of course the desire to pray is a prayer itself, but I believe that most of the time people who ask me this question are referring to spontaneous prayer. Most of us Catholics were taught to memorize prayers; the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Memorare, Acts of Faith, Hope and Love and Grace before Meals. Spontaneous prayer seemed alien to us and made most Catholics uncomfortable.
The best guide might be the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave the Apostles when they asked to be taught how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to the Father and begins with praise. “hallowed be thy name,” and pray for the coming of his kingdom, “thy kingdom come,” and that his will be fulfilled, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that praise and glory of God are essential elements and that prayer should ultimately be for God’s will to be accomplished.
In the second part of the Lord’s Prayer we come to prayer of petition, where we are asking for something, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Scholars tell us that in its original form this request was not just for daily bread but for supernatural sustenance. Then we seek pardon and forgiveness, “Forgive us our trespasses” which is followed by a promise to do the same in our relations with others, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And finally, we ask for the strength to persevere in our good intentions, “lead us not into temptation,” and to be protected from falling into evil, “but deliver us from evil.”
We take from Jesus’s teaching that there are prayers of praise, prayers of petition, prayers for forgiveness, and prayers for perseverance. Of course the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer “par excellence,” but there are many other forms of prayer. Many like the Jesus Prayer, which is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me a sinner.” Many simply repeat the name of Jesus, or “My Jesus, mercy.”
Some find comfort in writing a letter to God. This might be an easy and effective way to learn to pray spontaneously. Put the concerns in your heart into words on paper.
Keep constantly in mind that God saves us as a people, and that community prayer, the highest form of which is the celebration of the Eucharist, must be an important part of our prayer life.
Image Source: Leland Francisco on Flickr
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