We are all called to be saints. And a sanctifying spiritual life, which can help us get to heaven, is upheld by prayer. But it’s not uncommon for a Catholic to be a little unsure of just how to pray or to not realize the many different ways one can pray.
If we hope to be saints ourselves, it’s helpful to consider what the saints have said about prayer and look to them as holy examples.
What is prayer?
But first of all, what is prayer? Alongside the sacraments, it is how we encounter and respond to God and His grace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Teresa of Avila in that prayer is “taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us” (CCC 2709).
Venerable Fulton Sheen got even more specific:
“Often in prayer we do not have a deep sense of God’s presence… but we know He is there… Prayer is an interaction between the created spirit and uncreated Spirit, which is God. It is a communion, a conversation, adoration, a penance, happiness, a work, a rest, an asking, a submission” (Your Life is Worth Living).
Prayer, then, is communing with the one who created us and knows us better than anyone else. It is opening ourselves up to listen and receive grace so that we may hear and respond. But how do we do this? There are, in fact, many ways to pray!
Silence gives God a chance to speak, and us to listen. Saints, for ages, have written and spoken on the value of silence. Think about it: our lives are full of noise with TV, radio, apps, social media, texting… we’re constantly pulled in multiple directions at once. Slowing down, hitting mute, and being present in moments of intentional silence help us to refocus on God.
You can find silence in an Adoration chapel before the Blessed Sacrament or even in your own home -- prayer in silence can be as simple as sitting before a crucifix or icon in a corner of your room. Fill the silence not with noise but with prayer. If you’re unsure of what to say, St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us a few good tips:
“We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favor, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel.”
The best prayer is the completely honest prayer, scooping out the depths of our souls along with all our anxieties and worries, gratitude and thankfulness, and placing them before the Lord.
For some, it’s understandably hard to sit still for very long to focus on silent prayer. But there are lots of ways to pray that don’t involve sitting in silence if that doesn’t seem fruitful for you, or if you prefer a more active method of finding closeness with God. Saint Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Jacob did not cease to be a Saint because he had to attend to his flocks.” Because you are active throughout the day doesn’t mean you can’t still be prayerful at the same time!
On the one hand, any work offered for the Lord can be a prayer: doing the laundry, cooking for a family member, taking out the trash for a spouse. But active prayer can also look like praying a rosary while walking, running, or hiking. Combine silence and active prayer and read Scripture in the quiet of a chapel -- listen to which verses stand out to you and meditate on them.
In addition, the Stations of the Cross can be found in every Catholic Church, and praying the stations with a guide or on your own can be a great way to enter into the Lord’s passion in an active way.
Enjoying nature can inspire us to prayer, as well. Have you ever stood at the edge of an ocean, feeling so small as you considered just how large that body of water is -- and then even smaller when you contemplate that God is so much bigger?
Or have you ever looked upon a stunning mountain range and considered whose hand it was that guided it’s formation? Throughout history, many saints have loved being in nature for how it can lead to acknowledging the Creator. St. John of the Cross, for example, was known to pray in the mountains of Spain with his friars because he so greatly enjoyed the peace of the environment.
You don’t have to plan a trip to the mountains or the ocean, though -- a hike in the woods, sitting along a quiet stream or lake, or simply enjoying a sunset from your back porch can allow you to recognize the beauty of creation, and in turn, contemplate the Creator.
There are many ways that we can employ silent and active prayer in our lives to make our relationship with God a priority. For us at Wanderer Catholic, though, contemplating nature is a way of being led to prayer that is particularly meaningful. The next time you see a beautiful sunset, an impressive mountain scene, or even the peaceful chirp of a bird from your back porch, appreciate it’s beauty and let that appreciation of creation lead you to a greater love and contemplation of the Creator, remembering the words of Fulton Sheen, “If the spark is so bright, oh, what must be the flame!”