We concentrate in a special way during Lent on the issue of prayer. It is one of the three exhortations of the season of Lent, along with fasting and almsgiving.
When you say the word ‘prayer’ to most Catholics, they immediately think of recited prayers like the Our Father and the Hail Mary. And, of course, that is fine as far as it goes. But, after we get proficient in praying with set prayers, we arrive at a new world of prayer which begins with seeing prayer as a conversation with God and continues to the radical position that our life must be a continual prayer, as St. Paul suggests when he tells the early Christian community “Pray unceasingly” (1 Thess. 5:17) and “Give thanks always” (1 Thess. 5:18). This brings us to a completely different level in our prayer life which is so wonderful and so sweet that once we ‘get it’, we may never want to leave it!
It all comes down to what our major perspective on our lives is and how we want to be in communication with God. If we limit that communication to set days and times and forms of address (formal prayers like the Our Father), then divine communication becomes a ‘part’ of our lives. But if conversation with God is our very life, then it means that prayer is continual and involves all the people, places, things, and events of daily living. Prayer is the context, not an element, in a grander scheme.
The advantages of making prayer our very life are many.
Firstly, it engenders a unity to our day. We don’t ‘do’ prayers; we live in an ambience of prayer. We literally ‘live’ in prayer. It is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, or the food we eat. Everything is related to God through our prayerfulness. As the Scriptures put it, “we live and move and have our being” in prayer (Acts 17:28). This is a great cure for loneliness, since we are in a constant conversation with Christ. Whether we hit patches of joy or trouble, talking it over with Jesus is a marvelous way of enjoying ‘constant contact’ with our best friend and Lord!
However, it requires meekness and humility to live our life in the guidance and the direction of Another, as He is the Son of God. There will inevitably be periods of time that we have nothing to say to Him or ask Him. These are great times for the rhythmical Jesus Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
This has the wonderful result of keeping us tethered to the here-and-now, and its slow, calming beat has the added advantage in placing a deep peace in our hearts.
One of the other benefits of this concept of prayer is that it takes us away from all the vices that the devil uses to trip us up: worry, fear, anger, desires, etc. When these come up, there is nothing to fear since we can bring them to Our Lord.
In fact, if we are honest and sensitive, we will discover that there is very often a vast emptiness in our souls. Many preoccupations rummage around in that space making a lot of noise and frightening us. Sometimes we try to fill that emptiness with finite things: wealth, ambition, drugs, relationships; but that emptiness is too vast and nothing we can find will fill it. There is a reason for this: It is really an infinite space that only God, the Infinite One, can fill. Try as you might, everything will disappoint because everything else in life is finite.
Therefore, when we make prayer an intrinsic part of our life, it soon becomes our life, inviting the Trinity to abide in us. In a real sense, we become the Temple of God. This is very clearly taught in the Scriptures: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
When we become prayer, then we discover the true meaning our lives.
I have seen such prayerful people, not just in monasteries, but in the daily lives undertaken by us all. Often, though, I find it amongst grandparents and other seniors who stay at home a lot, and others who keep themselves at home. They have a very active prayer life, getting very close to this ideal of a life of prayer.
The most pleasing result of this continual communication with God is that we find joy even in the midst of pain. We can appreciate deeply a beautiful day and be in awe of a storm. We can touch the gentle hand of a child and at the same time we can praise God for the power of a tiger. We can rejoice at someone’s graduation and yet be prayerfully hopeful when a friend fails in life.
This joy is not dependent on good circumstances. It is at peace with good things and with things that we may otherwise regret.
You might ask: if a life of prayerful connection with God is so good, why don’t more people choose it? It’s simple: it takes time and perseverance. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).