The Practice Of Prayer

To become proficient in any skill requires training, practice, and perseverance. Each of us can think back to childhood and remember a sport we worked at or a musical instrument we practiced until we improved to the point when we became proficient. The cultivation of a healthy prayer life is done in the same way.

There are many books and resources dedicated to the topic of prayer. While reading about prayer is beneficial, putting prayer into practice on a regular basis is vital to developing the skill of prayer. Establishing a time of day to spend in daily prayer is a way of giving back to God a little of the day He has given to us. If the time we set aside is our gift to Him, then we will be less tempted to use that time for something other than prayer. The time of prayer can always be worked into the busiest of schedules if there is some flexibility in the time of day chosen.

At times, we can grow tired of the routine of prayer. Prayer is a discipline; a good habit which needs to be cultivated over time with consistency. Prayer requires perseverance, and it provides the means by which we can persevere in the difficult daily circumstances of the day. St Paul counsels us to “Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4.2). St. Teresa of Jesus, founder of the Discalced Carmelites, wrote: “Those who wish to travel on this road… should begin well by making an earnest and most determined resolve not to halt until they reach their goal, whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however hard they may have to labor, whoever may complain of them.” (The Way Of Perfection, 21.2)

There will be times when we fail to persevere in prayer. When we do fall, it is important to get back up, reassure ourselves of the importance of prayer, forgive ourselves, and continue in the practice of prayer. The Lord will provide us with the strength to continue. St Teresa of Jesus advises: “Keep your eyes fixed upon your [Lord]; it is for Him to sustain you… Leave these anxieties to Him Who can move everyone.” (The Way Of Perfection, 2.1,2.2)

The practice of meditation needs to be developed regularly as a discipline, in much the same way as vocal prayer. With time, practice, and the help of God’s grace, meditation will become more natural and a part of our daily routine. St. John of the Cross underscores the importance of regular meditation: “For it must be known that the end of reasoning and meditation on the things of God is the gaining of some knowledge and love of God, and each time that the soul gains this through meditation, it is an act; and just as many acts, of whatever kind, end by forming a habit in the soul, just so, many of these acts of loving knowledge which the soul has been making one after another from time to time come through repetition to be so continuous in it that they become habitual.” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, II.14.2)

The habitual practice of recollection enables us to dwell in God’s presence more fully and freely throughout our day. St. Teresa of Jesus provides this instruction: “We must cast aside everything else, they say, in order to approach God inwardly and we must retire within ourselves even during our ordinary occupations. If I can recall the companion-ship which I have within my soul for as much as a moment, that is of great utility.” (The Way Of Perfection, 29.5) Using succinct phrases from Scripture, such as “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (Mark 10.47) or “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelations 22.20) can aid us in recalling ourselves into God’s presence throughout the day.

This poem expresses the importance of establishing the habit of prayer and the importance of persevering.

Daily Prayer

A morning prayer greets the new dawn
With joyful praise and offering;
An evening prayer, when day is done,
Closes the day with thanksgiving.

Small acts of prayer throughout the day
Retain the soul in God’s presence;
In time that’s set aside to pray,
The soul’s restored with God’s essence.

Prayer can fill all the day’s white space
With presence, peace, and vigilance;
The heart is held firmly in place
As prayer sustains perseverance.

When the heart falls, prayer is the way:
To reconcile and return;
To reclaim what had gone astray;
To walk again – to live and learn.

To humble hearts that persevere,
The Lord’s mercy is always near.

Holy Spirit, grant us the grace
Of patience and perseverance;
And hold our hearts steadfast in place,
That we may dwell in Your presence. Amen.

References:

Sources:

St Teresa Of Jesus, The Way of Perfection

St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2697, 2742-2745, 2664, 2667-2668, 2728, 2731, 2733

(c) Paul Buis, 2005