Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I have been surprised at how many people do not quite understand the nature of prayer. Too many see it as simply functional like brushing one’s teeth. “Well that chore is done. On with my life.”

My hunch is that readers here are not in this category. But in Lent we are more apt to be wondering about our prayer. Is it enough? Is it good? So I thought to try to come up with a tool that you might be able to gauge at least one aspect of your prayer.

Of course you know that there are four kinds of prayer, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and contrition. What we are looking for with God is a relationship and so our prayer (that is our conversation with Him) should be well rounded in all of these areas. (We would be annoyed with a friend that only spoke to us when he needed something.)

There is public prayer and private prayer, the two great lungs of the Church and each of us need to breath with both of lungs if we want to be healthy.

With this there is both formal private prayer and informal prayer just like in earthly life were we have formal and informal conversations with those who we love. For example we have the formalities we often go through, “Good morning. How are you doing?” or “We have some things that we need to talk about.” Formal prayer may be the rosary or an examination of conscience or an Our Father.

Of course we have informal conversations with our loved ones. “I just called to say I love you.” “Let me tell you what happened at work today.” There is a similar equivalent in prayer. “God, thank you for that beautiful sky! You are awesome.” “God be with me in this meeting today.” “God I am sorry I ignored that person.”

And as we have formal discussions with people public, we have formal public prayer with God. On the earthly side we might have “I pledge allegiance to the flag . . .” or “Please stand now for our Alma Mater.” Prayer wise these are matched with the sacraments, particularly mass. Praying a devotion with others could be included here. Interestingly praying the Liturgy of the Hours even by oneself is considered formal public prayer as you are uniting yourself in a privileged way with the greater Body of Christ in this great prayer of the Church.

And lastly there is there is informal public. This is the equivalent of sitting around the campfire. Being with others, sharing and listening. This is perhaps the most difficult for most people to do. I try to ask couples that are about to be married to do this and they sometimes panic. It is just to be with the one(s) you love, call on God and freely share what you want to pray about; what you are thankful for, what your fears are, what you hope for, or expressing your joy in God.

All that being said, here is a tool for evaluating at least in part your prayer life. If you were in God’s shoes looking back at your prayer life, your conversation with Him over the past couple of months, would you think, “Ah! Here is a good friend! We communicate well. We are always together and I am invited into all aspects of the other’s life,” or “We are more distant friends. We don’t talk that much. You know, you never call . . .” Is your relationship a strong, healthy one?

That is a strong key to prayer.


Adoro said...

Great post! I often forget to thank God, although I do so more than I used to. And I came across something advising to pray an Act of Contrition prior to beginning any prayer, just to remind us to approach God with the proper humility, which tends to also remind us to thank Him for His love and mercy.

RC said...

what a wonderful post. i really appreciate your lung analogy and i think that the informal public prayer is an intersting challenge that many people have.

it's as if we're embarassed that our relationship with God is not as intimate as we wish to portray. It's interesting how pride can get in the way of some many aspects of our relationship with God.

This was an excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! I've been reading Spe Salve for a talk that I am giving... during lunch I was reading it and it was so appropo to what you have posted here. "A first essential setting for learning to hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God....When I have been plunged into complete solitude...; if I pray I am never totally alone."

St. Augustine defines prayer as "an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness -- for God Himself; he was created to be filled by God. But our hearts are too small for the greatness God wants to give us & they must be stretched through prayer."

Anonymous said...

I'd not have lived past 24, if not for the Jesuit view of the Lord: that -- by His own desire -- of being closer to me in love than even Mom or Dad. Until then, I had the terrifying obeisances down pat, and must've thought that those in the Bible and the holy folks around me could discern His love only because they were better people, not sinners like me. I can hardly speak of God, now, except that His tenderness is foremost in my mind. He is truly Hands-ON, at all times. Closer than Mom.. closer even than self.

Adrienne said...

Informal public prayer is almost impossible for me. I am way too fidgety and private to sit around with others and "share."

I'm even annoyed when someone wants to "share" with me. Sharing suggests I’m only going to get a part of whatever it is and, gosh darn, I want the whole thing. Now that’s my sharing for the day:)