Tackling this question of prayer, as we have been, these last few weeks, in our journey through the Catechism, we must acknowledge, as the Church does, that prayer is not always easy. We get distracted; we get discouraged; we can be lazy and find all sorts of things to do instead of praying. All of us, I am sure, will struggle with this at times; in fact, most of us will struggle with this always, I dare say. The saints, too, struggled with prayer, and had times of darkness when they felt the Lord was distant from them, and it was hard for them to pray. The writings even of great giants of prayer such as Thérèse of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila, or Mother Teresa in our own day, state clearly that they had their times of dryness in prayer. So, when we struggle with prayer, we are not alone.
We must first acknowledge it would be the devil’s very wish to discourage us from prayer. Satan tries to stop us praying … this is true … He doesn’t want us to spend time with God. He is jealous and disruptive; he wants us to forget to talk to God. He wants us to despair of prayer, so as to distance us from God. Prayer is our relationship with God; if we feed that relationship with precious time spent in prayer with God, then we can grow in holiness; if we grow lazy, allowing our distractions to grow into despair in prayer, and putting regular prayer out of our life, then Satan has had his way, and our life will suffer as our living relationship with God withers.
But it can be hard, both fighting the distractions and the dryness, conquering our laziness, our temptation to fit in something else instead of prayer: often, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Yet, we need to recover our sense of what is important in life, and rate our prayer life as a key constituent of our daily life. We need to pay attention to the reality of our life: that God is the author of our life, and the One to whom we owe thanksgiving and devotion. We can’t deprive our lives of prayer without depriving our lives of the very water of spiritual life. It is important that we make a reflection on where our prayer life is, at this time. Is it a prayer life at all, is it static, is it slipping back? Do I pray each day? If not, why not? What is my excuse? No time? No place? No inclination? Most of us, I am sure, are conscious of those times when we fully intend to put some time for prayer, but then let it get swallowed up by other things, often far less important! So, the key ingredient is to persevere! To be there! To place ourselves in the way for prayer: to put ourselves in a place of no distraction, for some quiet, and even if it not for very long, to have that protected space for time with Our Lord. Above, all, we must persevere! Faithfulness to prayer is faithfulness to God!
Often, of course, it is hard to do so at home, though we can help create such opportunities by deciding when could be good in our daily routine to set aside some time, even if it’s 10 mins, for prayer. Far easier, often, is the opportunity created by popping in to the church when we are passing. If I were you, I would make it a rule: if you come and park your car here, whatever time or day of the week, if the church is open, pop in for a visit to Our Lord. You can simply sit and be quiet and pray in your own words; prayer does not have to be a recitation of formal prayers, though there is an important place also for the Rosary and other formal prayers. Be creative: make a prayer space at home, a ‘holy corner’ where there may be a crucifix, a statue of Our Lady, an icon perhaps … use such things to prompt you to prayer. And of course, also, the Scriptures are a great way to begin one’s prayer. Taking just a few verses of the Gospel, or of the psalms, or a few lines of St Paul … and then spending a few minutes reflecting on them, this can be an ideal way to lead into prayer. Only you can make the decision as to when’s the best time to pray. I hope that last weekend’s diocesan handout got you thinking about prayer. Next week, I’ll hope to provide another helpful (parish) handout on prayer which I will produce just for you!
Finally, to put in to practice some of what I have outlined, I am starting a new little prayer group, Fri evenings (monthly) at 7.30pm in Lady Chapel, for those who can get to nothing in daytime weekdays. A simple hour of prayerful reading of Scripture and opening our heart to the Lord for Him to speak to us in the day-to-day of our life. No need to bring anything, just yourselves. Won’t be overly formal, nor heavy … and will hopefully give some of you the chance to set aside some time for prayer that you might well not otherwise do. So, please think of coming and helping get your prayer life revitalized. Friday, 7.30, in the Lady Chapel.