Father Chet, 1979
To deepen our prayer life, our prayer should be, more or less, continuous throughout the day, in the sense that the thought of God is never far from our mind and our whole being is centered in him. He should be our first thought in the morning and the last thought as we drop off to sleep at night.
An Hour a Day
If our relationship with God is to keep growing, we should set aside at least an hour each day which we give exclusively to God. We may call this our Sacred Hour; it is set aside for God alone and is not to be used for secular, worldly, or bodily concerns.
We should feel free to do whatever we wish during this hour, as long as it concerns God directly. We may want to read Sacred Scripture, write in our spiritual journal, do some spiritual reading, and pray alone or with others. However, a sizable part, sometimes the whole, should be given to meditative prayer.
HOW HOLY PEOPLE PRAY
The Sacred Scriptures are rich food and not to be absorbed indiscriminately or hurriedly but with time to select carefully those lines which seem to speak.
We need to study them, pray over them, meditate on them, and let their meaning sink slowly into our unconscious and conscious minds, hearts, and memories.
Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with examples of how holy people prayed to God.
The book of Psalms is a distillation of the finest prayers of pious Israelites over a period of nearly a thousand years before the coming of Christ. These prayers have been spoken by pious Jews through the centuries, and the very early the Christian Church adopted the psalter as the basic prayer book for all public and private Christian prayers.
The Divine Office, introduced by St. Benedict in the fifth century and used ever since, consists predominately of prayer selections from the Psalms.
Just about every possible petition or mood of prayer can be found in the Psalms, but the main themes alternate between praise and trust. These two themes are long the favorite subjects of God-fearing and God-loving souls when turning to God in prayer.
Throughout the Old Testament there a number of canticles which give excellent models for prayer that can be used today. Those who desire to pray better will find it useful to transpose them for use in personal prayer.
- Prayer of Abraham for the people of Sodom (Genesis 18:22-32)
- Canticle of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18 and Deuteronomy 32:1-43)
- Canticle of Deborah, which is considered one of the most ancient prayers (Judges 1:31)
- Canticle of Annah, mother of Samuel (I Samuel 2:2-10) (Cf. Magnificat of Mary)
- David’s Song of Thanksgiving (II Samuel 22:2-51 and I Chronicles 16:7-36)
- Solomon’s Prayer (I Kings 8:22-53 and II Chronicles 6:14-42)
- Ezra’s Prayer (Nehemiah 9:6-37)
- Tobit’s and Sarah’s Prayers (Tobit 3:2-6, 11-15; 8:5-8, 15-17; 13:1-18)
- Judith’s Prayer (Judith 9:1-14; 16:1-17)
- Prayers of Esther and Mordecai (Esther 4:1-30)
- Job’s Prayer (Job 3:2-26)
The writings of the Prophets also contain numerous prayers which can be used as models for prayer.
St. Paul’s Prayers
The Epistles of St. Paul are filled with short snatches of prayer of praise, gratitude, and petition. Some of the longer Pauline prayers are:
- Ephesians 3:14-21, 1:15-18, 6:23-24
- Philippines 1:3-10
- Rom 8:26-27, 11:33-36, 15:30-33, 16:25-27
- Col 1:9-14
- I Thessalonians 3:9-13, 5:23-24
- II Thessalonians 1:11-12, 3:1-5
Put Yourself In
Any one of these can be rather easily transposed for our situation. For example, by transposing all the second person “you” pronouns to “I”/ “me” or “we”/ “us,” we can personalize these prayers.
The same thing can be done with Paul’s prayer for the Philippians in 1:3-10. Something similar can be accomplished with many of the Psalm prayers, for example Ps. 91:14-16. Here, the third person singular can be changed to the second person, and it becomes a beautiful reassurance from God.
And this is my prayer: that MY love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help ME to determine what is best. ~Phil 1:9
Again, the Magnificat Canticle of Mary (Lk 1:46-55) or Zechariah’s Canticle (Lk 1:68-79) can be easily adapted to fit our own situation and prayer needs.
The canticles of praise found in the Book of Revelation do not need any transposition. They can be used exactly as they are found to express praise and worship of God.
PRAYERS OF REMEMBRANCE
Another method to add to one’s prayer life is the simple remembrance of all the good things that happen throughout our lives. And after recalling each event, we should pause and return thanks and praise to God.
We might call this our litany of thanksgiving. It is an exercise that should be carried out every day, at any time, and in any place: for instance, while driving a car, while waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office, while waiting in line at the supermarket check-out counter, etc.
Take Time to Give Thanks
St. Luke describes an event which illustrates very graphically how God expects us to take time to remember all that God has done for us.
Jesus met 10 lepers on the road and sent them to report to the Jewish priests. On their way they found themselves cured.
Nine of the cleansed lepers hastened back to their homes without any thought of returning to thank Jesus. Only one, a stranger, a Samaritan, had the presence of mind to return to give thanks and praise.
Jesus then remarked: “Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner? Stand up and go your way, your faith has been your salvation” (Lk 17:17-19).
Pray Even in Sorrow
There are some people who experience many sorrows or burdens in their lives. So, how can these people find comfort or cause to give thanks to God?
Admittedly, at times gratitude may be difficult and require a lot of blind faith and trust in God; but at least we can find comfort in life itself, in God, in Jesus Christ, in the promise of everlasting happiness with God in his heavenly home.
If we are sufficiently filled with love for our others, we can always give thanks and praise to God for all those who, for one reason or another, fail to render proper thanks and praise. In the worst of situations, a person filled with faith and trust in God can find something for which to give thanks and praise.
AIDS FOR THE JOURNEY
Prayer at the Point of a Pen
Cardinal Newman once remarked that he could pray best at the point of a pen; in other words, we can pray by writing. There are several different techniques of this type of prayer form.
Journaling is widely publicized as an excellent method of meditation and prayer. Dr. Ira Progoff is a proponent of this method of prayer in his intensive journal workshops.
During a Marriage Encounter weekend, couples are encouraged to write a love letter to one another.
At a Cursillo weekend, the candidates are asked to write a letter to Jesus, their spiritual brother and friend.
Using a pen or pencil is a practice that could easily be extended into our own prayer relationship with God.
Many people have discovered over the years that this is by far the best way to avoid distractions and keep one’s mind on the subject matter of prayer. It is so simple; we need only a notebook of some kind.
The spiritual journal can be used both for listening and for speaking to God. It often helps one to set down on paper what we think God is trying to tell us, or what we think is the appropriate meaning of a particular Scripture passage.
Record the exact scriptural reference along with a few words of description of the content. Then we express in writing how we wish to respond to this message from God.
Later these Biblical references and notes might be organized into columns of texts for certain topics; for example, humility, charity, faith, hope, confidence, praise, gratitude, sorrow, etc.
At first our writing may seem to be artificial and contrived. This is true of any new habit that we try to learn. The first few times we are quite conscious of the mechanism we are using; but with a little practice it becomes quite natural and easy.
Some days the Lord will do most of the talking and we will just listen. Other days we will find ideas coming so fast that it will be difficult to get them all down on paper. They just seem to spill out all over the page.
And sometimes, we may not feel like writing at all, which is time to read over things we have previously written. Of course, we should never become a slave to the journal, but we can feel free to put it aside and speak or listen directly to the Lord.
The Directed Retreat
If we are truly sincere about deepening our prayer life, then we should be willing to spend one hour a day, one day a month, and one week a year in which that whole time will be devoted to God and the things of God.
The Directed Retreat of five to eight days is a modified version of the thirty-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
What is a directed retreat? The director meets with the retreatant once or twice a day and assigns certain brief passages of Sacred Scripture for the four or five periods of prayer each day, each of which may last up to an hour.
The retreatant takes one of these passages for each prayer period. The passage is slowly read, in a prayerful way, and reread to discern what message these words of God might have at this particular moment in life.
If it is a passage of the Gospels, the retreatant will try to imagine the scene described and project oneself into the scene. One tries to think of what the personages in the scene might be saying, what they look like, etc. All five senses are brought into use in this imaginary scene. The more vivid and personal the period becomes, the more meaningful it will be.
The retreatant reports the results of each period of prayer to the director who then assigns new passages of Scripture or perhaps suggests that the retreatant return to one of the scenes already visited in imagination.
To assist one’s memory, at the end of each prayer period the retreatant writes in a notebook a description of what happened during the period.
There is one more form of prayer I wish to mention: contemplative prayer. The Lord is leading us into the prayer of solitude, or contemplation, as we become more and more fascinated and intrigued by the Scriptures.
We become more alert to God’s presence and are drawn to contemplative prayer which is prayer of the heart and not of the mind. There are many meanings to the word contemplation; but one that is applicable to all of us is: to stand before God, our Source, our Origin, with our total being, absorbed in the total being of God.
We return our whole being to God as a gift.
Contemplation is dialogue at the deepest possible level of our being. It is more talking to God with mere words, but rather is being completely immersed in God.
ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
“It is no longer I that live but Christ Jesus lives in me.
I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me” ~ Gal. 2:20
To do this we must be totally open to the continuous creative power of God working within us, leading us ever higher, changing us more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
This growth into Christ-likeness begins on earth, but will continue for all eternity in heaven. Yet unless we begin the process on earth, it is apt not to happen after death.
At least that seems to be the teaching of the Bible: our heaven depends upon the degree of meditation and contemplation we attain on earth.
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of Father Chet’s practical guidance for deepening your prayer life; see the first installment here.