Sunday hints for the spiritual life (prayer)
Happy Sunday and God bless you immensely! Last Sunday we talked about sensible devotions, their prevalence and influences on our spiritual life. Today we shall focus on what to pay attention to in order to equip and better our spiritual life instead of sensible devotions. This centres on prayer, mortification and the sacraments. Let us begin with prayer.
So intimate is the connection between God and each one of us. St. Augustine says it all; God is “More intimate to me than I am to myself.” Even so, we are encouraged to keep that bond alive through the virtue of prayer. To pray is to speak the language of God. It is to communicate freely with God and to keep our relationship with Him alive and active. Hence, the Pauline counsel, “pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thess 5:17 &18). Sometimes, we interpret this spiritual counsel as an impossible task. We imagine prayer as a herculean task and say, “I can’t be always praying.” Anyway, must we pray? We have this popular saying: “Behind every great man, there is a great woman”! In the context of the spiritual life and its progress, a spiritual person could as well say: “Behind a great spiritual life, there is a great deal of prayer.” Saints who are the doctrines and practices of the spiritual life and holiness made visible would never have been icons of our faith today if they had not persevered in the act of prayer. Jesus, who is Lord and God with all the powers of heaven and earth in His hands, worked assiduously during the day and prayed (Luke 11:1)! But interesting at night He withdrew to lonely places to pray, cf. Luke 6:12, 5:16, Mark 1:35.
What else are we to say? Prayer is sine qua non (prayer is essential) to the spiritual life and progress. Listen to the Weekday/Common preface 1V in Ordinary Time of the Church’s liturgical calendar, it goes thus: “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace.” It is reasonable to infer that prayer provides graces to cope with the challenges of the spiritual life; prayer itself is a transformative process (prayer takes away from us our woundedness, our bitterness, frustration, confusion and all negative energies). More so, it instills peace of mind because it offers hope and makes us calm as God’s promises are fulfilled when we pray. Prayer offers healings of all kind and it is the special key to the heart of God and heaven. It is not the case that it is impossible to lead a prayerful life but we can be motivated to become prayerful persons when we remember there are men and women of our age who are designated as men and women of prayer. Examples abound, Saint Pope John Paul 11, Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Vincent de Paul, Blessed Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi, Mother Angelica, Mahatma Gandhi etc. Let’s reflect on this statement of St. Vincent de Paul, he says:
A man of prayer is capable of everything; therefore, it is of great importance that… (spiritual persons) should give themselves to this exercise with particular earnestness; and as without it they will gain little or no fruit, so with its help they will become much more able to move hearts and convert souls to their Creator, than by learning and oratorical skill.
St. Vincent de Paul further avers that “there is certainly, nothing more useful than prayer. Therefore, we ought to entertain great esteem and love for it, and employ every effort to make it well.” Above all, prayer is a spiritual longing of the finite being to return to its origin, God. As important as prayer is, the easiest thing we could easily drop or abandon is prayer with the excuse that we are busy, we are not Priests or religious. So, we have to watch how we trivialize prayer.
Having demonstrated the indispensability of prayer in our spiritual life, then we may ask how are we to pray? Actually, this is a difficult question to answer. Nonetheless, we need to cultivate the virtue of prayer by praying for the grace to be prayerful. We need to cultivate and habituate the life of prayer by following the footsteps of the Lord and Master of prayer – Jesus Christ. He prayed according to what the Masters of prayer call the tripod of prayer. That is, to pray as an individual – “when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” (Mt 6:6). Secondly, is to pray as a group – He was praying in a certain place and His disciples said to Him, “Lord teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), His disciples imitated Him and also prayed as a group, “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus,…” (Acts 1:14). Examples of group prayer abound in the Church today – Pious society’s prayer meetings. Are you a member of one? We are talking about the prayer meetings of the Legion of Mary, the Charismatics, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Infant Jesus of Prague, and Mary Queen of All Hearts and so on. And for the third, it is to pray as a community – Holy Mass (Mt 26: 26-30). Luke 4: 16 – 18, Jesus was found in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. In John 2:13-20, Jesus cleansed the Temple because He was not comfortable with the attitude of the worshippers. A pointer to the essential of Liturgical precisions and appropriateness as expected by God.
It is my prayer that each of us aspiring to live and lead a spiritual life may find the essence of prayer real and beneficial. Prayers can move mountains and there are no obstacles in life that prayer cannot surmount. Therefore take time to pray and if you have not been praying, rediscover this special power ingrained in every baptized soul and learn how to pray your way in life through. God Bless you and Happy Sunday! Fr. John-Mary Atep.