The Gift of Teaching Others How to Pray

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For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.

—St. Therese of Lisieux

I just love the different people I encounter at adoration on any given day.

Just the other day, as I was praying the rosary, a woman in the row of seats next to me seemed restless. She kept getting up and going to the back of the chapel to get some books. She didn’t seem to comfortable just sitting there and looked like she needed something to read.

As I went on with my rosary, the woman asked, “Excuse me, but do you have the Our Father over there by you?”

I rummaged through my bag o’ books and had to laugh: Of all the prayer cards and books I have on me at any given time, how could I not have the Our Father, the most common prayer?!

I apologized for not having it handy but then informed her it was in the Bible. (Matthew 6 for future reference.)

She had no idea and was so grateful that I mentioned this to her.

I went back to my rosary but couldn’t help think: “How sad that this person didn’t  know the Our Father!”

And then I realized the hard truth: There’s no prayer in public schools anymore. There’s no prayer on tv. There’s no one praying out in the open for fear of being sued or ridiculed. So why should I be surprised that this middle aged woman didn’t know the most common prayer in history?

If I hadn’t been raised Catholic I may not know the Our Father, either. But I also didn’t start really praying from the heart until a couple years ago. I started seeing people sincerely speak words from their heart, as they would pray either over me or with me or even before a meal and I thought, “I gotta step up my prayer game. These people are professionals!”

There’s lots of books on contemplative prayer, and meditative prayer and repetitive prayers, novenas, chaplets, devotions, etc. It can seem overwhelming if your goal is just to learn how to pray everyday.

I’m no expert but I thought, if I were to try to help someone learn how to pray, here’s what I would suggest:

Books to Pray With

Two books by Jacques Philippe are great recommendations:

Time for God  And his follow-up book is called Thirsting for Prayer

Both books are under 150 pages, which is why I like them so much. Sometimes I think we say we don’t have time to read about how to pray, but we do. We just have to make the time. And these books can easily be read in a couple of days.

Meditation and Contemplation

There’s also a great way to pray with scripture called Lectio Divina. I’m not too great with this. My poor Spiritual Director had suggested it to me and I really struggle with this one. I can’t quite do this by myself but I have found it to be helpful in a group setting. It’s harder to become distracted with others around, for me at least.

Thomas Merton is probably one of the more widely known teachers of contemplative prayer. His book,  Contemplative Prayer is one of the most popular spiritual books out there. According to reviews, ”

Another great author is Richard Rohr. He has a book entitled, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.  Rohr also has a great website where you can sign up for his daily meditations. Richard Rohr, OFM – Center for Action and Contemplation

There’s an App for that

If books aren’t really your thing and you’d prefer to use an electronic device to pray, I have to mention two that are FREE and worthwhile.

The first is called Examen and it’s my favorite app to use.  Not only is it helpful with your prayer life, it gets you to take a look back at your day for some self-reflection. In our busy day-to-day hustle and bustle, it’s really key to take time to reflect on not only all the good that God provides for us, but the moments when maybe we weren’t really acting or thinking with the mind of Christ.

The second app is called iBreviary and it’s used to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This is what most priests use and religious as a way to pray for the Church and to mark each hour with prayer and song. I try to pray at least morning and evening prayer and lately I’ve been on a roll praying all 5 times throughout the day. It doesn’t take long and what I like about it is that this forces me to slow down and take a breather to focus on what’s really important. It’s amazing how SANE I feel and how any anxiety I have melts away after I pray this way.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:2

Recently, I shared with my 7th graders the 5 Finger Prayer. It was an easy way for them to understand a certain order to pray in because let’s be honest, sometimes we just don’t know where to begin after we make the sign of the cross.

Here’s an easy way to remember that even a kid can understand:

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“But when you pray, go in your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret.” Mt 6:6

I’m in awe of people who create and construct their own home altars. Whoa. That’s a bit advanced for me.

I would suggest trying to find your own “cell” or private space in which to pray everyday. If you tend to become easily distracted, like me, then praying in the middle of a house full of people/kids/blaring tv, etc just isn’t going to cut it. A table or a desk and maybe enough space for a couple of books (the Bible being most important of course) is really all you need!

Speaking of the Word, if there was just one book you need or require to get started praying, the Bible is really the only one you need. And while there are Bible apps, I would suggest an actual Bible. And perhaps a notebook to act as your prayer journal. Because chances are, once you start to really pray religiously (ooooh see what I did there?) you will no doubt want to jot down thoughts that the Spirit stirs in you. Plus it’s a neat way to look back after a few months to see how some of your prayers have been answered!

When all else fails, when you feel overwhelmed by all these methods of prayer, just go back to the beginning and think of the woman I spoke to during Adoration. The most basic prayer you can pray is the prayer Jesus taught us:

Our Father who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done

     On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses

    As we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

Amen.

 

Year In Review – A Yearly Examen

Catholic blogger Philip Kosloski wrote a cool little article about making a Yearly Examen. Most people are familiar with the Daily Examen which is a part of Ignatian Spirituality.  I try to make an effort to do a nightly examen but I admit, I fail a lot at this.

But a Yearly Examen – Brilliant and doable. As much as we are inclined to make New Years Resolutions, how often do we actually review the year that was in order to learn how we can improve ourselves for the coming year?

Here’s Kosloski’s adaptation for his Yearly Examen:

  1. First, give thanks to God for all the many blessings received over the past year. Go through each month, dwelling upon the good and thanking God for it.
  2. Second, ask for the grace to know your sins and failings and renounce them. Go through each month and do this. 
  3. Third, review your year again, month-by-month, and recognize your feelings, thoughts and movements of the heart. There will be certain people and events that strike a chord (for good or for ill). Bring those people or events to God and ask Him why they stand out. Ask God for the grace to see His providence in all things. Nothing happens by chance.
  4. Fourth, ask pardon of God for any sins. Also, do not only ask God for forgiveness, but also ask God for the grace to forgive yourself.
  5. Fifth, look forward to the next year and ask God for the grace to amend your life.

While 2015 is still fresh in your mind, you should make a point to do your own yearly examen. It looks a little daunting but it shouldn’t take you too long.  In the meantime, here are my own little thoughts on this exercise:

As for me, personally, Step number 1 is the easiest part. I made a point this past year to try and remain positive and always be grateful for the littlest things. Someone got me a “Grateful Journal”  where you write something every day that you’re thankful for/something good that happened to you. or an answered prayer for someone else. When you read that every day, it’s hard to remain bitter and depressed.

The second step – A little difficult, I mean who wants to face their sins and failings head on like that? But, I understand why it’s a necessary step. We aren’t perfect, as much as we try to be.

The third step – By far my favorite step. Certain events that “struck a chord” for good were plentiful this year. Pretty sure TOB is at the top of the list. But there were a few that still make me feel sick to my stomach every time I think about them (friendships ending, death of loved ones, betrayal of people I trusted).

The most difficult step though, for me, has to be the 4th. The grace to forgive yourself is far more difficult, I think, than asking God for forgiveness.  Pretty sure this has a lot to do with my self-deprecating humor I adopted a few years ago. It’s easier to make fun of yourself and downplay your successes than to actually believe you’re good at something or are a good person. And when that happens you tend to dwell on your faults a lot more than give yourself some credit for your improvements. Sigh…

The fifth step – Hallelujah!  I AM looking forward to a new year, especially since I have thing for even numbers. 2015 always sounded strange to me. Twenty-sixeteen has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? 😉

The Four Nonnegotiable Pillars of the Spiritual Life

Excerpt from The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality

Four essential pillars undergird any healthy Christian spirituality. These are universally prescribed spiritual challenges and are revealed by Christ as being nonnegotiable elements within Christian discipleship. What are they?

We see that Jesus was prescribing four things as an essential praxis for a healthy spiritual life: 

a) Private prayer and private morality

b) social justice

c) mellowness of heart and spirit

d) community as a constitutive element of true worship 

These are not elements we may choose or not choose to incorporate within our spiritual lives. They comprise the essence of the spiritual life. They also supply its balance. Only when all four of these are present in our lives are we healthy, as Christians and as human beings.

We can spend our whole life trying to live out all 4 of these pillars without 100% success. But the point of this section of the book is to understand that if we call ourselves Christians, THIS is what Jesus wants us to strive for. The Christian who has all 4 of these things present in their spirituality, they are the living the ideal Christian life. Chances are, though, that we are lacking in at least one of the 4 areas.  I know I certainly am, especially the part about social justice. But there’s hope! We can identify this absence and work on incorporating it into our lives.

For example, let’s say you’re like me and you do everything listed above except you do not have a passion for social justice. You aren’t the type to sign petitions or stand in front of a courthouse holding a sign or perhaps you don’t feel you are outgoing enough to take a stand. You can fix that by joining a group at your church that holds vigils outside abortion clinics or a group that helps the homeless by taking them meals at local shelters. You don’t have to be on the “front lines” to still take part in social justice. Personally, I was always pro-life in my mind but I never vocalized this opinion to too many people. Recently, and especially after reading Theology of the Body, I am very adamant and quite passionate about preventing abortions in society today. I also look at issues like human trafficking and capital punishment in a different light. Understanding that Jesus wants us to stand up for what He believed and what we as Christians believe has ignited a fire in me to take action.

You might recognize that you are passionate about social justice issues, you have mellowness of heart and spirit, and you pray everyday privately and you obey the commandments. However, you might be the kind of person that doesn’t actually go to church. (Letter D above). You might not “believe” in it. Some people think, “I don’t want to be among all those hypocrites,” or “I prefer to worship in private.”  Here are the authors thoughts on this:

The grounding, earthiness, and necessary pain that only real involvement within a concrete, parish-type family can give you [is what is missing from the life of a person who does not attend a church]. In parishes, we do not get to pick who we will be standing beside as we worship and celebrate various things together. A parish-type family is a hand of cards that is randomly dealt to us, and precisely to the extent that it is truly inclusive, will include persons of every temperament, ideology, virtue, and fault. Also, church involvement, when understood properly, does not leave us the option to walk away whenever something happens that we do not like. It is a covenant commitment, like a marriage, and binds us for better and worse. 

Fit in Your Faith Today: Examine these 4 Pillars  and ask yourself where you are lacking.  Pick up a copy of the book if this peaks your interest and you want to learn more! This exercise isn’t meant to make you feel inadequate or guilty. It’s meant to enhance your relationship with God and examine your spirituality as a Christian. It’s changing my life for the better; think about what it can do for you and for others!