“In mental prayer, adds St. Peter of Alcantara, the soul is purified of its sins, nourished with charity, confirmed in faith, and strengthened in hope; the mind expands, the affections dilate, the heart is purified, truth becomes evident; temptations are conquered, sadness dispelled, the senses are renovated, the drooping powers revive; tepidity ceases, the rust of vices disappears. Out of mental prayer issue forth, like living sparks, those desires of heaven which the soul conceives when inflamed with the fire of divine love. Sublime is the excellence of mental prayer, great are its privileges; to mental prayer heavenly secrets are manifested and the ear of God attentive.”

With these powerfully convincing words of one of the men who was instrumental in directing the great St. Teresa of Avila in the reform of the Carmelite Order, SAINT PETER OF ALCANTARA, we invite all to read, reflect and pray over these humble but hopefully helpful words to help you to grow in the “Art of all arts” (St. Alphonsus M. Liguori), the art of prayer!


1.    HOLY SPIRIT.  Constantly beg with fervor and faith to the Holy Spirit the gift of prayer.   The Holy Spirit is known as “The Interior Master” who indeed can teach us to pray and motivate us to carry it out.  St. Paul in the letter to the Romans emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit in prayer: “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit intercedes with ineffable groans so that we can say Abba, Father.” (Romans 8: 26).
2.     GIVE TIME AND EFFORT.   Make a proposal today that you will try to pray every day a little more and a little better. God cannot be outdone in generosity. St. Ignatius challenges us in Annotation #5 in the Spiritual Exercises to have MAGNANIMITY--- this means in simple English to be generous with God. Why not get up 10 minutes earlier to give the Lord an extra ten minutes in prayer?

3.    PURITY OF HEART.   A common obstacle that militates against prayer is sin; sin dirties or sullies the window pane of the soul thereby blocking the penetration of divine light. CONFESSION!  Making a good confession can cleanse the interior window of the soul so as to contemplate the Face of God with ever greater clarity so that we can live out the Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God.” (Mt. 5:8)

4.    SPIRITUAL READING ON PRAYER.   St. Teresa of Avila is the Doctor of prayer.   To enter the Carmelite Order she would not allow women that were incapable of reading.   The reason?   She knew from experience about how much somebody could learn--- especially with respect to the topic of prayer--- by simply reading good books on the topic. Close to five hundred years have passed and now there is an infinite reservoir of good books on the topic of prayer.
5.    SPIRITUAL DIRECTION.   The great Mystical Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, said with tongue in cheek, “He who has himself as spiritual director has an idiot as a disciple.”   In other words we all have blind spots and need the experts to point them out to us.   Learners we all are; therefore we must have someone well-trained in the spiritual life to come to our aid to help us to overcome many obstacles in our prayer life and to persevere in our pursuit of surmounting the mountain of holiness!  Periodic spiritual direction and talking about one’s prayer life can be of incalculable value!
6.     STRUGGLE/SPIRITUAL COMBAT.   It would be ingenious and naïve to presume that prayer is always going to be a piece of cake!  As in the learning and perfecting of any talent or art, much time, effort, and struggle is needed.  Athletes put it this way, “No pain no gain!”    The Catechism of the Catholic Church presents as an example of prayer the struggle and combat in the person of Jacob.   One night Jacob had a visitor and it was an angel.   The two struggled the whole night and Jacob would not release the angel until he was given a blessing.  The blessing was given but his sciatic nerve was damaged and from that time on he walked with a limp.    The church takes this as a model for prayer as combat.  At times we have to struggle through our prayer life.  An elderly priest once told me that prayer can be like pushing a wheel-barrow full of cement up a steep hill!!!

7.    PERSEVERANCE.   Once again St Teresa of Avila can come to our rescue with an excellent suggestion: never give up prayer, under no condition! Her classical saying resounds so powerfully and true to those who take their spiritual life seriously. The woman doctor of the church asserts: “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.”  St. Alphonsus Liguori  went so far as to say: “He who prays well will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned.”   St. Augustine chimes in with this poetic expression on prayer: “He who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; he who dies well all is well.”  Excellent!  Let us listen to and follow the teachings of the saints; they were the masters of prayer and are now contemplating the Lord Jesus face to face in the Beatific vision that we are all called to one day!
8.    TEXTS TO PRAY FROM.   Once again St. Teresa of Avila teaches saying that as beginners as well as the proficient in prayer books are indispensable to set the fire aflame in prayer. Of course the best book to be used in prayer is the Bible, the Word of God.  And in the Bible the Gospels---Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--- have the primary place of importance! However of great importance are the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament.  In this masterpiece, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we have the major sentiments that should come into play in a well-rounded and mature prayer-life. Praise, thanksgiving, supplication, petition, contrition, wonder, fears and worries, hopes and dreams, and above all love--- all of these are sentiments present in the Psalms and we can make these sentiments our own sentiments!
9.    HOLY MASS.  Never should we ever forget that of all the prayers existent underneath the heavens that unites heaven and earth, past, present and future is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  If possible we should aim for daily Mass and Holy Communion. If we are already in the habit of attending daily Mass and Holy Communion then we should make a concerted effort to upgrade our participation and improve in our interior disposition in the reception of the Eucharistic Lord.  The greatest gesture that the human person can do in this world is to receive Jesus with a proper disposition in Holy Communion.   Saint Faustina stated that the angels experience a holy envy for us because not one of the angels can receive Holy Communion, not even the Cherubim or the Seraphim!
10. MARY AND PRAYER.   We should never exclude the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary from our prayer life.   The first point we made was to invoke the Person of the Holy Spirit to teach us to pray.   The first novena of the Church terminated in Pentecost--- a powerful wind and fire and the coming of the Holy Spirit.   Mary’s presence for nine days and nine nights in prayer and fasting facilitated the down pouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and their radical transformation. (Acts 2).   When Mary appeared at Fatima and Lourdes she insisted on prayer for world peace, and for the conversion of sinners.   Why not turn to Mary and beg her to pray for you that you cultivate a deeper and deeper prayer life!  “Come Holy Spirit, come through the heart of Mary.”