I was continuing to interview the religious education students last night in preparation for their upcoming Confirmation. It is a chance for me to get to know more personally the students before they receive this sacrament.
During the course of our conversation, I inevitably ask the question: “How do you pray?” I can remember my spiritual director asking me that very same question when I first began seeing him in the seminary so long ago. It is obviously a very personal question. It’s no surprise that the students’ answers vary, based on their life experience and level of maturity.
This is a question that I ask myself regularly. How do I pray?
I try to make a distinction between simply saying or reciting prayers and talking to God from the heart. We learn formal prayers from our youngest days—the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Act of Contrition, etc. This is a good, important practice. To this day I pray these prayers daily.
I also am involved with so much ritual during my daily schedule. The Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), the Rosary, the Act of Contrition and formula of Absolution in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (Confession) are all examples of formally constructed and arranged prayers.
It seems to me, the ultimate difference comes in how we pray them. I can just go through the motions and simply recite these prayers. When I move my mouth words usually come out. Or I can make the effort to pray these prayers from the heart. I consciously think about what I am praying and, most importantly, to Whom I am praying it.
Prayer shouldn’t end there. Every day I try to make a conscious effort to realize that I live in the presence of God. God always thinks of me. Humanly speaking, however, I do not always think of God. I get distracted. Life is busy, often complicated. Sometimes I might even push God out of my mind. I have to make a conscious effort to remember that God is always with me—through everything that happens! When I get up, when showering and brushing my teeth, when eating, when sitting in a meeting or appointment, when driving, when on the computer, when shopping, when watching TV, when sleeping, God is there with me! Always!
I also need to talk to God regularly, in my own words, from my heart. I need to develop a personal relationship with God. I need to speak freely and spontaneously. Sometimes, in fact, there are simply no words. I just sit, listen and wait in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament realizing that I am with Jesus, the One who loves me, Whom I am trying to love in return.
Prayer can be an experience where we feel consoled and loved by God, or where we can feel so empty and alone. At times we can be inspired in our prayer, while at other times nothing at all seems to come to mind. In prayer there can be the widest range of emotions—from joy to sadness, even anger at God.
The more we pray, the more things can definitely happen to us there!
How, in fact, do you pray?
Fr. Ed Namiotka