Tips on Prayer and Meditation "The modern world cannot do without God. This is the root of its ills. The great truth is that we have an absolute need of God…He normally bestows His grace only in response to prayer. Since our need exists at all times....“We ought always to pray and not to faint” (Lk. 18:1)....The true nature of Christian prayer is perfectly expressed in the following definition given by St. John Damascene and St. Thomas Aquinas: prayer is “a raising of the mind and heart towards God” to offer Him our homage and to ask Him for all those things of which we stand in need" (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ—The Ideal of the Priest, chap. 15).
Attention in Prayer People often pray without realizing what it is that they are doing, or Whom they are addressing! God so rightly complains in Scripture saying: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Mt. 15:7).
“It happens to some souls that, when they have recited many formulas, they realize that they have said nothing to God from the bottom of their hearts. Our mind may be far distant from the words that fall from our lips....In our prayer, we must give up to God our whole heart and our whole mind....Just as the sanctuary light burns itself up without reserving anything, so our soul, in its conversation with God, must be entirely dedicated to the Almighty. We must free ourselves from preoccupations and from vain thoughts, which tie the soul down to earth and prevent it from being entirely given over to the Lord” (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ—The Ideal of the Priest, chap. 15).
Prayer Means Effort Many find prayer difficult. That is only natural, since we are trying to communicate with the supernatural world.
“Prayer always requires a certain effort, even from those who find in it their delight, because a certain strain is involved in the concentration necessary to speak to God; it is always more or less difficult to maintain the soul in an atmosphere which is above its usual level. That is why prayer can serve as a sacramental penance. We must not be surprised at this difficulty in applying ourselves to prayer: for to raise ourselves towards God, even in the smallest degree, is to exceed our natural powers” (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ—The Ideal of the Priest, chap. 15).
Is There Room For God? Too many people limit prayer to an isolated part of the day—first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Yet God should be part of our whole day, not just a mere ten minutes.
“Prayer in our life, must not be limited to a number of isolated, passing incidents. We must cultivate a spirit of prayer. What must we understand by this? A spirit of prayer is an habitual disposition of soul whereby, in our troubles and discouragements, as well as in our joys and successes, our hearts turn towards Our Lady and Our Lord, as to our best friends and most intimate confidants of our feelings. And it is not only in the morning and in the evening that the soul should be raised heavenwards, but always: ‘My eyes are ever towards the Lord’ (Ps. 24:15)” (Dom Marmion, Abbot of Maredsous, Christ—The Ideal of the Priest, chap. 15).
Prayer of Petition “Do we believe in the power of prayer? We know the common teaching of theologians: that true prayer—by which we ask something for ourselves with humility, confidence and perseverance, the graces necessary for salvation—is infallibly efficacious (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, IIa IIae, Q.83, A.15, ad 2). We know this doctrine, and yet it seems to us, at times, that we have truly prayed without being heard. We believe in, or rather we see, the power of a machine, of an army, of money and of knowledge; but we do not believe strongly enough in the efficacy of prayer. At times, we seem to think that prayer is a force, by which we would try bend the will of God by persuasion. Yet God’s will has been made up from all eternity—nothing can change it” (Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, chap.23).
Prayer is actually a bending of our will towards the will of God. He wishes the salvation of all, but all will not be saved—and one of the contributory causes is a lack of prayer; a lack of prayer by those who will be damned and a lack of prayer on the part of others for the conversion of those unfortunate souls.
“For material harvests, God prepared the seed, the rain that must help it germinate, the sun that will ripen the fruits of the earth. Likewise, for spiritual harvest, He has prepared spiritual seeds, the divine graces necessary for sanctification and salvation. Prayer is one of the causes meant to produce that sanctification and salvation” (Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, chap.23).
“St. Gregory the Great says: ‘Men ought, by prayer, to dispose themselves to receive what Almighty God, from eternity, has decided to give them’ (Dialogues, Bk.1, chap.8). Thus, Christ, wishing to convert the Samaritan woman, led her to pray by saying to her: “If thou didst know the gift of God!” In the same way, He granted Mary Magdalen a strong and gentle actual grace, which inclined her to repentance and to prayer. He acted in the same way to Zacheus and the Good Thief. It is, therefore, as necessary to pray in order to obtain the help of God, as it is necessary to sow seed in order to have wheat. To those who say that, what was to happen would happen, whether they prayed or not, is as foolish as to maintain that, whether or not we sowed seed, wheat would still appear once summer came! Therefore, prayer is necessary to obtain the help of God, as seed is necessary for the harvest” (Rev. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, chap. 23)
The problems we face, arise from the fact that God is prepared to give far more than we are prepared to ask for—we are so lazy and negligent, lacking in confidence and perseverance, that we receive only a fraction of what God is prepared to give. The efficacy of prayer, correctly made, is infallibly assured by Christ:
“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you....And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he give him a serpent?...If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Lk.11:9-13). The problem does not lie with the Giver, but with us.
Getting Our Prayers Answered Many of us become discouraged with prayer because our prayers are rarely, if ever heard. Yet, there are ways in which we can, almost infallibly, get our prayers answered. The spiritual writers list the following cardinal points as “infallible” means of having our prayers favorably heard and answered:
1. Pray for what is good and not sinful or harmful to our salvation—We should always remember that what we want is not always what we need. At times, adversity is a better route to heaven than prosperity. St. Augustine says: “We ought to be persuaded that what God refuses to our prayer, He grants to our salvation.”
2. Our prayer must be humble—Remember the prayer of the Pharisee and the Publican. Remember, too, Our Lady’s prayer, the Magnificat, wherein she says that God has “regarded the humility of His handmaid…He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble.” The Old Testament says: “...nor from the beginning have the proud been acceptable to Thee: but the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee” (Jud. 9:16). “May the Lord destroy all deceitful lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things” (Ps. 11:4). “Thou hast rebuked the proud” (Ps.118:21). “Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 16:5).
3. Our prayer must be fervent—Too often our prayers are said listlessly, routinely, mechanically; our heart is not in them. Of such Our Lord said: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mt. 15:7). Our prayers should be like grains of incense, placed on the hot coals of our hearts.
4. We should amend our life — If we persist in leading a life of sin, then we greatly handicap the chances of having our prayers heard. “He who turns his ears from hearing the law, his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9).
5. We should forgive those who have injured us — This was the example of Christ dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them...”“If, therefore, thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee—Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then, coming, thou shalt offer thy gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7). “Forgive thy neighbor if he hath hurt thee, and then shall thy sins be forgiven to thee, when thou prayest” (Ecclus. 28:2).
6. Our prayer should be united to good works or sacrifices — “Prayer is good with fasting and alms” (Tob. 12:8).
7. We should pray with confidence — Our Lord praised the faith and confidence of persons on many occasions, saying: “Go, thy faith has made thee whole…” (Mt. 9:22; Mk. 5:34; 10:52; Lk. 17:19; 18:42). He also told us that “all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive” (Mt. 21:22). Do we have that confidence in prayer?
8. We should pray with perseverance — “He defers the granting to increase our desire and appreciation” says St. Augustine. Our Lord Himself said: “Yet if he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him because he is his friend; yet, because of his importunity, he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say to you: Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Lk. 11:8-9).
If we would only pray in the above manner, we would be amazed at the response our prayers would bring from heaven! Keep in mind the words of St. Augustine: “The man who knows how to pray well, is the one who knows how to live well.”