In our pursuit of the call to holiness one of the most efficacious tools to attain holiness of life is by striving on a constant and daily basis to grow in one’s personal prayer life. Following are ten short suggestions on how to grow in one’s prayer life.
1. DESIRE AND DETERMINATION. If we desire to attain any important goal whatsoever in life, an indispensable condition is a firm purpose and determination. This must be applied to prayer! One of the four women doctors of the Church, “The Doctor of prayer”, Saint Teresa of Avila, asserted: “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.”
Jesus always forgives: Mercy!
2. PURIFICATION. The Word of God calls God a “Burning or consuming fire”. In the temple Isaiah felt the need for purification because he was in the presence of a three times holy God. An angel came and with a burning coal touched his lips purifying the great Prophet of his iniquity. A good confession can purify our minds, memories, wills of the dross of sin so that we can contemplate the face of God. “Blessed are the pure of heart, they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8) The most efficacious means of purification is through the Precious Blood of Jesus that washes us clean every time we frequent the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus I trust in your mercy!
3. TIME AND PLACE. Man is a creature of habit. Interesting to note is that we all have certain habits—bathing, getting up in the morning, exercise rhythms. However, the greatest and most important habit we can form is the habit of prayer. This being said, we should find a set time and set place every day and not be blown to and fro by the whims of our feelings! The best of places to pray is in front of the Blessed Sacrament where Jesus is truly present. If impossible, find some quiet place where you will not be interrupted by noise! If possible, pray as early as possible. The Gospel of St. Mark chapter one presents Jesus as rising way before dawn and He was absorbed in prayer---- “way before dawn….’’--- meaning, very early in the morning!
We are all beggars before God!
4. BEGGARS BEFORE GOD! Beg help at the very start of your prayer period. Ask the Blessed Mother to help you through her powerful prayers. Her prayers penetrate the heavens and can touch the very Heart of God. Then implore the Holy Spirit for His intercession. St. Paul reminds us, “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit with ineffable groans intercedes for us so that we can say ‘Abba’, Father”. (Romans 8). Begging help from Mary and the Holy Spirit, the Interior Master of Prayer, we cannot go wrong!
5. BIBLE. Without doubt, the best text to ignite a fervent prayer life is the Word of God, the Bible. St. Jerome exhorts us with these words: “Ignorance of Sacred Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The Council Fathers and the saints have constantly reminded us to dive in to the riches of the Word of God.
Jesus is the center of our prayer life!
6. JESUS. The very heart of the Bible are the four Gospels--- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. St. Teresa of Avila says that contemplating the Humanity of Christ is one of the best means to plumb the depths of prayer. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola the saint insists that when we contemplate the Life of Jesus that we beg for this very special grace: “Intimate knowledge of Jesus, that we love Him more ardently and follow Him more closely.”
7. READING ON PRAYER. As a supplementary help, it is highly recommended that we read on the topic of prayer. Times are tough, but never have we lived in an age with so many opportunities for good spiritual reading. Books on prayer are countless, but first on the list should be the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part IV—numbers 2558—2865. This last section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a masterpiece on prayer. Anybody who takes their prayer life seriously should become familiar with this excellent literary jewel!
St. John of the Cross-- patron of Spiritual Directors
8. SPIRITUAL DIRECTION. In any professional field there is an imperious and constant need for formation, orientation, encouragement, alteration as well as correction. Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, Musicians, Writers, Professional Athletes are all keenly aware of their need for improvement and constant growth. There is a universal law: no growth, stagnation sets in! A rower in the midst of the rapids must make a concerted effort to row against the current; if not, the currents drag him down-stream. Growth in prayer demands much effort, even more, the grace of God. However the additional assistance of a competent Spiritual Director can prove of incalculable help! St. John of the Cross expressed it ironically: “He who has himself as Spiritual Director has an idiot as a disciple.” We all have blind spots in our spiritual life and need the guide to help us to see them!
Our Lady of Fatima asked for prayer and penance
9. PENANCE. Jesus stated that some devils can only be expelled by prayer and fasting. On one occasion, while taking a walk, I was quickly approaching a Black-bird (A CROW!). Interestingly something did not happen: the bird did not take to flight! At first, I thought maybe I had a latent or dormant Franciscan charism! Not true! The bird did not fly due to a broken wing! My reflection led me to this conclusion: to fly high in the spiritual life we need two wings! Prayer must be fervent and constant, but also, we must find ways that we can practice penance, and to carry out sacrifices. Our Lady of Fatima told the world to pray--- especially the Holy Rosary. In addition to prayer, Our Lady insisted on the importance of offering sacrifices to console the Heart of Jesus and for the conversion of poor sinners.
St. Ignatius-- patron of retreats!
10. SPIRITUAL RETREATS. Highly to be encouraged as a sure means to grow in one’s prayer life is to get away for a while---eight days, a weekend, or even a day to dedicate oneself totally to one’s spiritual life and have large blocks of time to pray. When Jesus saw the Apostles absorbed in work to the point of exhaustion, He told them to come apart and rest for a time. This can be interpreted for us in terms of leaving our overly busy and active lives and finding a time and place for a retreat. In the modern world, many of us tend to be more “Martha” then “Mary”, more “Actives” then “Contemplatives”, to focus more on the “Horizontal” over the “Vertical”. Jesus invites us with these tender but encouraging words: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11: 28-30)
Our Lady and the Holy Spirit