“I knew that this is where God was calling me,” concluded the speaker on the Campus Ministry Fall retreat I attended last semester. She went on to explain that from her time spent in prayer, she recognized where God was leading her. I was struck by the way she spoke about prayer; I could tell how important it was to her personal relationship with God. For me, prayer was not much more than repeating a list of intentions before I went to sleep at night and reciting lines at Mass. Now, however, I was motivated by the excitement of the speaker and my fellow retreat attendees to learn about personal prayer. Unsure of where to begin, I reached out to friends from Campus Ministry and the missionaries on campus. I joined a Bible Study this year, and once again, the idea of a prayer life came up. I could not help but feel that there was a reason for it. Was God pushing me to take this next step and dig deeper into my faith through prayer?
Throughout my twelve years of Catholic elementary and high school, I had learned that we pray to ask for the intercession of God, Mary, and the Saints. We also offer intentions and recite the fundamental prayers of our Faith such as the Hail Mary, Our Father, and the Glory Be. Jesus Himself is the one who showed us the importance of structured prayer. When His disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, He replied, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:2-4). Although I knew that I was following Jesus’s example to pray to our Heavenly Father, I never thought about why I was praying these prayers. As Catholics, it is important for us to discover why we pray and how we can become closer to God through prayer.
Discovering the meaning of prayer begins with recognizing that prayer consists of both speaking to God, but more importantly, listening. Prayer is how we communicate with the Lord; it is a constant relationship. In any relationship that we have with a family member or friend, we do not just speak at them; we take the time to be present and listen to them. We should take time to speak and listen to God throughout our day, just as we would stop to catch up with a friend. The first time I tried this, I was a bit hesitant; I asked myself, “why should I talk to God about my day if He already knows everything about it?” But sure enough, taking that moment to stop and think about my day and invite God in brought a calm over me. Even though He knows everything about me and my life, He still desires to have a personal relationship with me. It is up to me, however, to make the choice each day to pursue this relationship. God is constantly speaking to us, but all too often we are too busy to take the time and listen. God can speak to us through people, experiences, and interactions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines prayer as communion, a covenant, and God’s gift to us. The realization that God desires a living relationship with us explains the first part of The Catechism’s definition: communion (CCC,2558).
When we pray to God and work on developing our prayer life, we are taking the time to be in the presence of our loving Father. When we speak to God and focus our attention on Him, we are truly united with Him. The Catechism explains that “prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 2565). I was amazed when I took the time to think about this concept; God welcomes us into His presence and since our Baptism, we have been in communion with Him. This is something so beautiful that we cannot fathom. When I take the time to pray each day and talk to God, I have formed a habit of acknowledging that I am truly in His presence. This can be hard to do at times, but it is important to appreciate what a blessing this is. What amazes me even more is that despite our sins and brokenness, God still desires a deeper relationship with us, His children. He gave us prayer to further this relationship and call us back to Him. God desires communion with you and me so much that He died on the cross to make this possible. Despite our flaws and the mistakes we continuously make, God still reaches His hand out to us. Even while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
Furthermore, prayer is an illustration of God’s covenant: an unconditional promise made by the Lord to humanity. Throughout the Old Testament, we see many covenants that God made with His children such as Abraham. Although Abraham was about 100 years old, God promised him and his wife Sarah a son and to bless them with as many descendants as there are stars in the sky (Genesis 26:4). However, the relationship that comes from covenant cannot be just one-sided. As the Catechism explains, it is the action of God and of man (2564). Every day, a choice is made; God continually chooses us, and His Spirit can fathom the human heart and know it fully. But now, we must also choose to acknowledge this covenant in our hearts and bring God in. Putting in this effort each day lays a foundation for a prayer life with God. This can be very difficult at times; humans are not perfect, and we can sometimes doubt whether we can trust God’s plan. Even Abraham doubted God’s ability to bring him a son at such an old age and tried to control what he could not. Sure enough, God provided for Abraham, and He will for us too. Abraham’s story illustrates that God works through everyone, even those who are broken and doubt Him.
Finally, prayer is God’s sacred gift to humanity, which calls us to raise our hearts and minds to make our requests known to Him. However, prayer is not a gift that calls us to gloat nor one that we should take for granted. It is important to ask ourselves: are we praying from a place of pride or do we approach God with a humble heart? Matthew 23:12 explains that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” When I began incorporating daily prayer into my life, I quickly realized that I had and still have a lot to learn. I have truly seen that humility is the foundation of prayer (CCC, 2559) and that God does not expect me to be perfect and He is patient. I am truly blessed to develop this relationship with God. Prayer is not all about me, rather, about my relationship with the One who died for me and desires to know me.
At this point you might be asking yourself: “Now that I know more about prayer, well, where do I start? What am even I supposed to say to God?” I found myself feeling this way when I began my personal prayer. Start by taking a deep breath and thanking God for what He has blessed you with. Developing a prayer life takes time, but also dedication and intentionality. I suggest setting aside a certain time each day, a place, choosing what type of prayer you will pray, but most importantly, identifying why are you praying. Prayer is not all about finding answers or hoping to get what you want. To make yourself available to God and to desire a personal relationship with Him is so much more valuable. I also encourage you to incorporate reading the Bible into your prayer routine. The Bible App and the Bible in a Year podcast with Father Mike Schmitz are two incredible modern resources to incorporate scripture into your daily life. Over time, you will see that God speaks to us throughout Scripture and that He is present everywhere. My prayer life is far from perfect, but it has certainly grown throughout the past few months. When I set time aside in the day (specifically the morning) for prayer, I find my day starts on a positive note and I that I am more joyful. Now, I look forward to time spent in prayer and reading Scripture, something I thought was difficult to do in the past. God continually seeks me and you; His love for us is more than we could ever imagine. Now it’s your turn; will you open the door and let Him in?