Each person prays in a very individual way. But there is common ground when we speak of prayer, and this helps us not only understand one another, but enable people of vastly different faith walks, religious persuasions (or none), ages, and life circumstances to unite in prayer around disasters, causes, individuals who are suffering, and other crisis-fraught situations.
One common element of prayer is that when we pray, we get out of our own way and focus on talking with God—and listening attentively to his response. The practice of prayer also takes us to different and more profound levels the longer we do it. We all start, perhaps, as I did, with pre-established prayers. We reflect on the words, taking them one by one, and let the meaning sink in. As we do this, we think beyond the prayer to more—more about angels, God, life, death, help, and grace.
As we deepen our prayer lives, spending more time in quiet contemplation, we recognize the hidden treasures within ourselves and face our frailty and faults. This is similar to having a long conversation with a trusted friend and, after the superficial phase, finding out exactly what he or she finds that is wonderful about us and what might be improved upon.
In this candid level of prayer, we realize that we possess more riches than we previously recognized, but we also cannot avoid our failings, times, and ways in which we could have done better. We trip across our burdens of anger, resentment, and things we hold against others, God, or even ourselves. We realize that we should resolve them so that we can move ahead more closely with God, our friend.
Enjoy this sampling of five books on prayer…
by Albert Haase, OFM
Excerpt: A beloved and treasured prayer for a century, the Peace Prayer has been ascribed to Saint Francis of Assisi though, in fact, it was probably written seven centuries after his death. In fourteen simple verses, it captures the essence of soul training. Soul training is our response to the gratuity of grace that never expires and is never exhausted.
The initial training can be tedious and difficult since we are born selfish and self-centered. The centripetal force of the ego makes us not only cling to personality props that we lean on for our self-worth but also promotes fears, attachments, control issues, and a sense of entitlement that hinder our surrender to grace.
As we allow grace to shape us into instruments of God, we are challenged to practice the kenotic selflessness of Jesus by living lives of selfless surrender, self-denying sacrifice, and solicitous service. This selflessness is also expressed in practical ways by sowing faith, hope, love, forgiveness, and joy while consoling, understanding, and enriching the lives of others.
These practices activate the centrifugal force of the Spirit that invites us to a daily death of letting go and surrendering as we walk in the footsteps of the Lord and Divine Master. As this first death becomes second nature, we prepare ourselves for the second death that leads to the imperishable crown of eternal life.
by Murray Bodo, OFM
Excerpt: A mystic that we must understand is Thérèse the doctor of the church, Thérèse the missionary saint, Thérèse of the Little Way, Thérèse the younger sister writing to her abbess, who is her “mother” in religious life, Thérèse the mystic who lives for and in the love of Jesus, whose absence has left her in the dark night of the soul, which is the most excruciating trial the mystic has to confront and embrace.
What does St. Thérèse, the doctor of the Church, teach us? Mainly, it is this: Christian mysticism is not an esoteric branch of theology or something separate from the gospel life. It is the gospel life lived more intensely because of an intimate experience of God that has transformed the believer into open ground for the seed of God, a receptive womb for the impregnation of the Holy Spirit. The believer conceives and brings forth Christ anew in his or her own life.
One does not flee the daily humanness of life to ascend to some rarefied spiritual stratosphere or world of ideas or ecstasy. One waits like Mary, God’s mother, for the impregnation of the Holy Spirit, one receives and responds and brings forth in one’s life the God who is conceived in prayer, who grows in the womb of the soul, and is born into the world through one’s acts of virtue that derive from the self that has been transformed by conceiving, bearing and giving birth to God.
by Ilia Delio, OSF
Excerpt: The Franciscan path “to God” is an inversion of monastic values. Rather than fleeing the world to find God, God is to be found in the world. The idea that “the world is our cloister” finds its root in Francis of Assisi. Disillusioned as a valiant knight after being wounded in battle, Francis had a profound experience of God in the broken-down church of San Damiano where he wandered in one day.
Face to face with the wounded and glorified Christ on the cross, Francis met the God of compassionate love, a God “bent over” in love in the wounds of the crucified Christ. Bonaventure describes this encounter in his Major Legend where he writes, “While he was praying and all of his fervor was totally absorbed in God, Christ Jesus appeared to him as fastened to a cross.”28 Bonaventure indicates that there was no exchange of words. Rather, “[Francis’] soul melted at the light, and the memory of Christ’s passion was impressed on the innermost recesses of his heart.”
This encounter with the other, crucified God, changed Francis in the very core of his being.
As St. Bonaventure states, “From then on he clothed himself with a spirit of poverty, a sense of humility, an eagerness for intimate piety.”30 The expression of God’s self-giving love in the cross impressed Francis in such a way that he began to change. This event marked the beginning of Francis’ spiritual journey.
by Edward Sri
Excerpt: A good Catholic friend of mine summed up what I think is the sentiment of many: “If you could help a simple, ordinary guy like me understand what the rosary is all about and inspire me to find time to pray it, that would go a long way. I just need to figure out how to pray it in a way that will be meaningful to me.”
That’s what this book aims to do: inspire ordinary Catholics to turn to their beads more often and help them pray the rosary in a way that is meaningful for their lives—in a way that is truly life-giving. And in the process, I hope they’ll discover what many great saints and ordinary folk throughout the centuries have experienced: a deeper peace, joy, and encouragement that comes from the subtle but profound encounter one can have with Jesus and Mary in this prayer.
Indeed, when prayed with the wisdom of its tradition, the rosary is anything but rote prayer. Thee Church offers practical insights to enable us to enter more profoundly, and from the depths of our hearts, into what St. John Paul II called the “wonder of heaven and earth” over the mystery of Christ that every Hail Mary in the rosary is meant to express. This book also seeks to provide a variety of practical ways to pray the rosary—suggestions that come from the rosary’s tradition. These are helpful tips that we can incorporate in the different seasons, moments, and challenges we face in our lives.
These tips can benefit beginners, serving as easy on-ramps for those who don’t pray the rosary regularly. And they can motivate avid devotees of the rosary to go deeper with the Lord in this devotion.
by Richard Rohr
Excerpt: Prayer is not about changing God, but being willing to let God change us, or as Step 11 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says: “Praying only for the knowledge of his will.” Jesus goes so far as to say that true prayer is always answered (Matthew 7:7–11).
Now we all know that this is not factually true—unless he is talking about prayer in the sense that I will try to describe it. If you are able to switch minds to the mind of Christ, your prayer has already been answered! The new mind knows, understands, accepts, and sees correctly, widely, and wisely. Its prayers are always answered because they are, in fact, the prayers of God, as well.
True prayer is always about getting the “who” right. Who is doing the praying, you or God-in-you, little old you or the Eternal Christ Consciousness? Basically prayer is an exercise in divine participation—you opting in and God always being there!
With deep prayer, you allow yourself to stand before one true mirror for your identity—you surrender to the naked now of true prayer and full presence. You become a Thou before the great I AM. Henceforward, as St. Teresa of Avila said, “You find God in yourself and yourself in God.”