Prayer – What’s it all About? Part 2.

Prayer 3In the introduction to his book on Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s meditations on spiritual life for people of all faiths, “Everything Starts from Prayer,” Anthony Stern, M.D., speaks of her burning wish for all people to come closer to God.  He explains that it was her longing to reach as many souls as possible that she wrote, “I’ve always said that we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim to become a better Muslim, a Catholic to become a better Catholic.” And it was with a practical recognition of what works that she declared, “Everything starts from prayer.” 

Another way to look at prayer would be to consider the methods, or expressions of prayer.  For generations, a few traditional categories have been discussed: vocal prayer, meditation and mental prayer.

Vocal prayer is simply prayer that is “voiced,” usually aloud and with set formulas.  Jesus taught us words to use for prayer with the Father and an attitude of prayer in the prayer we traditionally call the Our Father.  Jews and Christians have always prayed the psalms of the Old Testament.  From scripture and the tradition of the church, we have learned the words of Christ and those that were used by great saints over the years.  When we pray traditional vocal prayers, we are using words that were once on the lips of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents.  These traditional vocal prayers remind us that we are not alone; we are members of a community, the body of Christ, the Church. 

We’ve all had moments in conversation where we struggle for the right words to express our feelings – it’s no different in our conversation with God.  While it is important for us to be able to speak to God in our own words, commonly called spontaneous prayer, our traditional prayers help us to express what is in our hearts when are tongues fall silent. 

 In meditation, instead of using our voice, we use our imagination – the thoughts that are in our minds.  Meditation in the Catholic tradition is a very active mental task, a kind of prayer where we are trying to reach the depth of God’s message to us.  Many writers suggest that the best time spent in meditation is when it is based on a scripture passage.  The four traditional elements of time spent in meditation are – placing yourself in God’s presence; asking God for help; then actively immersing yourself into the scene or the passage you are meditating on; and to conclude with a period of giving thanks to God. 

Mental prayer can be described as a form of prayer where one loves God through dialogue, meditating on God’s words, and contemplation of His face.   It is a time of silence focused on God. 

One of the foremost writers on mental prayer, St. Teresa of Avila, said: “Mental prayer is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”  Since the emphasis is on love rather than thought, modern authors recommend that it be called interior prayer.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, meditation and contemplative prayer which takes place in mental prayer are “major expressions of the life of prayer” in our Christian tradition.  The practice of mental prayer is necessary for reaching the goal of Christian perfection, said Blessed Mother Teresa. “Holiness is impossible without it.”

Next week we’ll look at some obstacles we all need to overcome in our prayer.

Question – What are some of your favorite prayers?  Who are the prayer “role models” that have helped you realize that “everything starts from prayer?”

February 12th, 2014 |