What is Prayer?
Prayer is a conversation between one person or a community of people with God. As with any conversation, prayer involves talking and it involves listening. In prayer we can talk about anything, but particularly in prayer we look at God, his work in our lives and we receive his love. To do that we adore him, we praise him for who he is and all that he does, we implore him to help us in our lives, and we thank him.
But, let’s be real. Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful. Sometimes it's hard to receive and feel God’s love. In prayer, we bring all of it to God. He wants our gratitude and our confusion, he even wants to hear our anger. Most importantly, the Lord wants us to offer him our hearts and he wants to give us his. The best prayer is an honest sharing between us as children with our Father, the Creator, who knows and loves us.
Prayer is Necessary
In Mark 1:29-35, Jesus leaves the synagogue and the whole city gathers together about the door seeking him. Jesus heals many and casts out many demons. In the morning, a great deal before daybreak and despite a busy day and late night the day before, it says he awoke and went out to a lonely place to pray. Jesus, the master of prayer, teaches us the necessity of prayer no matter how busy we are.
How to Pray: A 10 step formula for prayer
In Luke, chapter 11 Jesus was praying and his disciple said, “Lord teach us to pray.” Jesus gives a formula for prayer. He teaches us the Our Father as a perfect prayer and guideline for our own prayers:
Name God as Father. In recognizing his role as father in your life, you also recognize your position as his child. You seek his guidance and he shares his love, wisdom and mercy.
Who art in Heaven
Get into God’s presence and speak with him face to face. When we stand before God who is in Heaven, we acknowledge that we enter a Heavenly reality and invite Heaven into our lives.
Hallowed be thy name
Acknowledge the reality of God - who he is in perfect grandeur and beauty.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
Unite our will to His perfect will.
On Earth as it is in Heaven
Give God authority where you are in your life - over your heart, your mind, your body. Over the room you are praying in. Over your family, your friends, your work, your victories and your struggles. When you invite Him in, you invite Heaven in.
Give us this day our daily bread
Ask God to meet your needs. Share your hopes and your dreams with him as a child does with their parents. Trust him as a Father to guide your path, to sustain and nourish you.
And forgive us our trespasses
Speak openly with God about your failures, ask him for forgiveness for any harm you may have intentionally or unintentionally caused. Ask him for help, for understanding of their root cause and the grace to improve.
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Recognizing that we need forgiveness, it's important to share with God those we have trouble forgiving. Name them in prayer and release your pain, your anger, your confusion to God. Tell him you forgive them and if you can’t that is ok. Tell him you want to but need his help.
And lead us not into temptation
United to God in this moment, ask him to walk with you and name your intention to walk with him. Trust that the path you walk will be free from temptation if you keep your eyes on him.
But deliver us from evil
Know with confidence that God is your protector. And with Him you are safe from all evil, no matter how close it may seem or how scared you become. You are now walking with the Lord.
This word means, “so be it.” When you say, ‘Amen,’ it's as if you are signing your name on the prayer. Amen is a commitment to follow through on your conversation with God and recognition that he does the same.
Most importantly, throughout the prayer and afterwards take some time to sit in silence and listen to the words in your heart and images that form in your mind.
Prayer changes things
A lot of people get frustrated when someone says they are praying for them or are keeping them in their thoughts and prayers. When this isn’t backed up with friendship and presence, the frustrations are understandable. But what these people fail to understand is prayer actually changes things.
In scripture, God entrusted his creation to us. When humanity isn’t in conversation with God, the earth moves away from its Creator and slides more rapidly into chaos. Left to our own devices and without grace from God, each person will corrupt, society will corrupt and the earth will corrupt - no matter how good our intentions are. Anyone who takes a close look at the world today (from the degradation of the environment, to the degradation of science, to the degradation of human relationships) can see this.
Imagine an athlete who never sought the advice of a coach, a child the guidance of their parents, or a student the knowledge of an instructor. Each of these people would stagnate and at worst slide into confusion, frustration, anger and ineptitude ultimately solidifying their sad state under a mask of pride.
The good news is that God wants us to discover him, to receive his grace and be elevated into his presence. Prayer invites God in and opens a new dimension into creation. It makes God imminent, not transcendent. Prayer opens a doorway through our hearts where God, in his love for us, perfects our worries, our dreams and our actions to bring order, beauty and peace.
When should we pray?
The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. The goal of the Christian life is to turn our experience of the world into a prayer - an offering to God our Father made in love and sacrifice. But, to get there, it's important to first start talking to him. Set a time each day to pray when you have a little time to reflect and listen. Many people do it first thing in the morning. As you commit to this, you will notice that throughout the day, God will start speaking to you in new and wonderful ways.
And we must never forget that God has chosen to give special grace to us through sacraments or physical signs of his abiding presence that bring us into the family of the Church. As much as we are able, we should lean into this sacramental grace to pray as a family of God at Holy Mass, in remembering and celebrating our baptism, at a parish in front of the blessed sacrament in the tabernacle, in confession, with our spouse through the sacrament of our marriages, or with a priest when we are in need of healing.
Can you pray to the saints?
In scripture, Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor at his transfiguration. We see Jesus in dialog with a supposedly dead patriarch and prophet of the Old Testament. Before witnessing the fullness of the resurrection, this had to be an overwhelming and confusing sight for Peter, James and John. But, because the Apostles were present with Jesus, they got a foretaste of the heavenly power of prayer. With Jesus, heaven was present including the holy individuals who had gone before. The transfiguration shows us that God wants us to enter into his family - a family that transcends time and includes the patriarchs and prophets of old and the saints of the Church. When we enter the presence of God, we can also talk with them in prayer. But it is important to remember they are not God but human beings who are alive in Heaven and part of our family through Jesus. We must not worship them or give them authority other than that which is given them from God in Heaven.
Types of Prayer
There are as many types of prayer as there are conversations to be had - from contemplative prayer, to communal worship, to prayers of petition, to liturgical prayers, to vocal prayers of the Church, the list goes on. What’s important is that you don't worry about the labels but instead start inviting God into conversation. To help, the Church has more than two thousand years of prayers it has collected for Catholics to recite and pray - from the Our Father to the Hail Mary, to the Rosary and more. Explore these great prayers of the Church, in our prayer section.
Growing in Prayer takes a Family
If you are committed to growing in prayer, we are here to help. Visit our search feature and find a Catholic community you can pray with and grow in a life of prayer.