Within the Catechism of the Catholic church we can discover much wisdom about prayer in Christian life: how to pray, the sources and ways of prayer, and why Jesus’ gift to us of The Lord’s Prayer is so powerful and central to our prayer life. In YouCat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read:
Prayer is turning the heart towards God …. it is the great gate leading into faith by which we no longer live alone or for ourselves or by our own strength. We pray because we are full of an infinite longing and [because] God has created us for himself: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. But we also pray because we need to; Mother Teresa says, “Because I cannot rely on myself, I rely on him, twenty-four hours a day.” ….Praying is as human as breathing, eating, and loving ….. Praying strengthens us in our weakness… [it]removes fear, increases energy…. Praying makes one happy.”
In the Catechism we read how people like Abraham, Moses, Mary and Jesus, himself, prayed; and we are reminded about the different kinds of prayer – blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise. We learn about why it is good to pray in all these ways – and about how to do so. The Catechism also teaches us how to pray from the Bible and about the relationship between our own personal prayer to the prayer of the Church. Whilst prayer is very personal it is not a private matter, “it is strengthened when it regularly flows into the prayer of the whole Church”. And we need the Holy Spirit when we pray, “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).
The Catholic Church’s rich heritage of prayer is very much alive within the households, parishes and communities of the Clifton Diocese. We hope that you will use this web page to find out about and try out some new ways to be, to pray and to develop your spiritual life – and thus move towards what Jesus wants for us – to live life to the full!
We are grateful for Ignatius Press’ permission to reproduce this superb section from their YOUCAT prayer book. You can buy a copy of the prayer book – which is a great resource not simply for the young, but for the young at heart – here
YOUCAT and PRAYER
You can pray. Maybe you have not prayed since you were a child. Maybe praying is still something completely unfamiliar to you. Or someone told you that it is difficult to pray or that it will do no good anyway. Perhaps you are afraid that God would not hear your prayer. Or you have heard about great feeling s that can be experienced during prayer and you are afraid of being disappointed. But all that must not prevent you from praying.
Take a small step!
You can pray. We can tell you that, although we do not know you personally at all. But the One to whom you can pray and who wants to speak to you knows you. He is quite close to you. He knows you better than you know yourself and is closer to you than you are to yourself. Jesus is God, who has become man. And already when he came into the world he decided to swell in your heart, too. He is waiting there for you. He wants to be sought and found there. He wants to speak to you there and to be heard by you. He knows you and loves you as no one else does. You can entrust your whole life to him, with all that is beautiful and difficult in it, with your joys and your sorrows, with what makes you happy, and with what is unsightly and makes you ashamed.
Praying means entrusting yourself to God with everything. Praying means being silent and listening. And it means letting him into your daily life, into your flesh and your memory, into everything that you say, think, and do. God has already taken the big step toward you. The path into prayer begins for you with only a small step. We invite you to take it.
LITTLE SCHOOL OF PRAYER
Make the decision. God willed and created us to be free human persons. Many times a day we deliberate, set priorities, make decisions. Without decisions nothing gets done. If you want to, make the decision to become a praying person and to shape your relationship to God. Decide deliberately ahead of time; I will pray at such and such a time. In the evening make the decision to pray the morning prayer and in the morning to pray the evening prayer.
Be faithful in little things. Many begin to pray with great resolutions. After a while they fail and think they cannot pray at all. Begin with definite short prayer times. And keep doing it faithfully. Then your longing and your prayer, too, can grow, as it is appropriate for you, your time, and the circumstances.
The most important part of praying correctly is doing it regularly. That means not only when your heart impels you. The soul lives on prayer. But all life requires regularity and repetition, a rhythm.
Take time to pray. Praying means being alert to the fact that God is interested in you. With him you do not have the schedule appointments. There are three criteria for the time of your prayer that can be helpful. Choose set times (habit helps), quiet times (this is often early morning and in the evening), and valuable time that you like but are willing to give away as a gift (no “spare moments”).
We can pray at any time. I know that we can, but I fear that generally those who do not pray at set times seldom pray.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Prepare a place. The place where you pray has its effect on your praying. Therefore look for a place where you can pray well. For many people this will be at the bedside or the desk. Others find it helpful when they have a specially prepared place that reminds and invites them; a stool or a chair with a kneeler, a carpet, an icon or picture, a candle, the Bible, a prayer book.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.
Rituals give structure your prayer life. Getting over inertia every time so as to pray can be a great expense of energy. Give your prayer a fixed order (a ritual). This is not supposed to restrict you but to help you, so that you do not have to deliberate every day whether or how you want to pray. Before prayer place yourself consciously in the presence of God; after prayer take another moment to thank God for his blessing and then to place yourself under his protection.
The prayer that a person prays to the best of his ability has great power. It makes a bitter heart sweet, a sad heart glad, a poor heart rich, a foolish heart wise, a timid heart bold, a weak heart strong; it makes a blind heart see and a cold heart burn. It draws the great God into the little heart; it carries the hungry soul upward to God, the living source, and brings two lovers together, God and the soul.
St Gertrude the Great
Let the whole person pray. Praying is accomplished not only in thoughts and words. In prayer your whole person can be united with God: your body, your internal and external perception, your memory, your will, your thoughts and feelings or the dream from last night. Even distractions often give you important information about what really concerns and motivates you and what you can intentionally bring into God’s presence and leave with him. When things to be done that you do not want to forget occur to your while praying, you can just write them down and then go back to praying.
When your mind wanders or gives way to distractions, gently recall it and place it once more close to its divine Master. If you should do nothing else but repeat this during the whole time of prayer, your hour would be very well spent and you would perform a spiritual exercise most acceptable to God.
St Francis de Sales
Pray in a variety of ways. Discover and practise the many ways of praying, which can vary depending on the time, once frame of mind, and the situation at the moment; a prayer composed by someone else with which I join in; personal prayer about my own concerns; praying with a passage from Sacred Scripture (for example, the readings of the day); the prayer of the heart (or ‘Jesus Prayer’), in which a short prayer formula or just the name ‘Jesus’ is repeated with each breath; interior prayer, in which the whole person is silent and listens internally and externally.
Use the opportunities. You can also make use of the opportunities that arise to pray at in-between times (for example, short fervent prayers, a petition, a prayer of thanksgiving or praise): whilst waiting; while riding on the bus, the train, or in the car (instead of turning the music on right away); during free time; while visiting a chapel or church along your daily walk. Let the opportunities you have to pray become invitations to unite yourself again and again with God.
Let God speak. Praying also means listening to God’s voice. God speaks most explicitly in the words of Sacred Scripture, which the Church reads day after day. He speaks through the Tradition of the Church and the witness of the Saints. But he also speaks – often in a hidden way – in the heart of every man [and woman], for instance, in the judgement of your conscience or through an interior joy. God’s word in Scripture makes it possible to hear the word of God in the heart and lends a voice to it. Give God a chance to speak in your prayer. Become familiar with him, so that you can learn to tell his voice apart from the many other voices and come to know his will.
We complain that [God] does not makes Himself present to us for a few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and half hours during which God maybe knocking at our door and we answer ‘I am busy’…?
Pray with the Church on earth and in heaven. Anyone who prays – whether alone or with others – enters into the great community of those who pray. It extends from earth to heaven and includes those who are alive today and also the angels, the saints, and the unknown multitude of those who live with God. Praying also means praying for each other. Therefore it is good to pray not just by yourself but also, when possible, with others; with your family, with friends, with your congregation – and with the saints. You can ask them for their prayers. For in God’s sight, the community of those who pray does not cease with death.
Make space for prayer in your lives! To pray alone is good, although it is more beautiful and fruitful to pray together, because the Lord assured us that he would be present wherever two or three are gathered in his name (cf Rom 8:20).
Pope Benedict XVI, WYD 2009.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: Part 4 – Christian Prayer