In recent Pastoral Letters, I have been encouraging everyone in the Diocese to adopt The Six Holy Habits: (1) Sunday Mass; (2) daily prayer; (3) Friday penance and works of charity; (4) fortnightly visit to the Blessed Sacrament; (5) monthly Confession; and (6) to join a small support-group. This week we look at the second Holy Habit.
There can be a lot of mystery about prayer. In fact, it is really very simple. St. Therese of Lisieux puts it well: ‘For me, prayer is a surge of the heart, a simple look toward heaven .. a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy.’ It is the recognition that I am merely a creature and that I need God’s help. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites a line from St. John Damascene: ‘Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God’ (2559). In truth, of course, there is only one prayer: the prayer of Jesus to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our own prayers are like tuning in a radio. This is why we should always begin a time of prayer by asking the Holy Spirit to unite and align us with Christ. There are different categories or types of prayer. At school, I remember being taught: A-C-T-S – Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication (petition). Each of us prays in the best way we can and in a way we find most effective. Yet this is where the Church’s tradition of vocal prayer and prayer books can be a help, especially when we are plagued with distractions.
I have called the second of the six Holy Habits for short “Daily Prayer.” It means resolving to find time each day, at least five minutes of quiet and solitude, to pray, at whatever time you find best, using the Scriptures, maybe the Gospel of the day. The use of the Bible is important as it unites us with the Word of God and gives us much spiritual nourishment. The time of prayer should also enable us to be aware of the Church’s liturgical calendar and help us to get to know the saints better. True, St. Paul says we should ‘pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication’ (Eph 6: 18). But we cannot pray at all times if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it. When I was young, my father taught me to say prayers on going to bed. This was the main time of prayer. He also said I should pray first thing in the morning on waking up. I always found morning prayers a bit hit and miss. Nowadays, I find the opposite is true: for me, the best time to pray, serious prayer, is first thing in the morning – after a good cup of coffee! Then my mind is clear and less distracted than later in the day with all its affairs.
So this second Holy Habit of daily prayer is all about deepening our personal-passionate relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It’s about living too with the Blessed Mother, with our patron saints and Guardian Angel in the communion of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, now and in the world to come. Prayer is about deepening our spiritual life and growing in holiness, that is, as people configured more closely to Jesus Christ. Prayer is full of grace but it is not unnatural. It is a natural human activity and it contributes to our psychological and emotional well-being, even if for many the only time they pray is in a moment of desperation. One day, we must ask the Lord about the wonder of prayer and how it all works, how He hears our prayers and even more mysteriously how He answers them.