St. Anthony Messenger

The Spirit and Practice of Prayer

Woman praying

“St. Francis became a living prayer.”
—Thomas of Celano, The Life of St. Francis

People who fall out of love—presuming they really were in love in the first place—are those who neglect to cultivate real intimacy. Husbands and wives may be very busy doing things that presumably express love—fixing up a home, getting kids to school or music lessons or soccer practice, repairing, saving, hurrying from task to task—but, if they do not stop in their hurried lives to simply sit down with each other in quiet but real communion of feelings, they are on a dead-end road.

So it is with our relationship with the God we cannot see. We can be very busy serving God, but if we do not work at a simple intimacy on a regular basis, we will also end up in a real or equivalent divorce from God.

We would like to say in our own defense, “But my whole life is a prayer! Why worry about some particular part of it?” That’s an attractive temptation. It can gain support from Francis’s famous phrase, “the spirit of prayer and devotion, to which all temporal things must be subservient.” But the analogy of marriage is still true; wives and husbands wear themselves out doing all sorts of busy things for each other and the family. But if this supposedly healthy exterior is not nourished regularly by personal communion, it may become a substitute—or a flight from—real love.

Prayer is praying and nothing else. Prayer is not offering up our dish-washing, grass-cutting, snow-shoveling, and tire-changing. Prayer is looking at God, listening to God, responding to God and to nothing else. This means that there must be portions of our day when there is prayer and nothing else.

Prayer is the response of the human person to the personal approach of God. It doesn’t treat God like some far-off potentate to whom we dutifully pay taxes in return for the benefits of citizenship. Prayer believes—perhaps with difficulty—that God wants a personal relationship with me that is unique, totally different from all the other relationships he has. My relationship with God depends on how I manage my relationships with others.

But at the heart of my life is the call to personal intimacy with God. I achieve that purpose by receiving God—not mechanically, but consciously, willingly, reverently, and joyfully. What, then, is prayer? It is two things. Prayer is our uniquely personal response to God’s constant offer of himself. Prayer is a response that is separated from the rest of our lives in order that it may be the soul of the rest of our lives. Prayer is praying and nothing else. Prayer is direct communion with God.

Once this is established, we have almost an infinite number of choices as to the details. This is not saying that all roads then lead to the center, but it’s saying that once the center is taken care of, all roads from the center lead to God.

The first word in prayer can be “I,” but a more polite beginning is “you.” The focus is placed on God. Francis gives us a perfect example of this in his Praises of God.

You are the holy Lord God Who does wonderful things.
You are strong. You are great. You are the most high.

You are love, charity; You are wisdom, you are humility,

You are beauty, You are meekness.…
Our happiness consists in praising the glory and goodness of God:
We give you thanks for your great glory.

The second word may be “I.” “I admit my sin, my weakness. I believe in your mercy. I open myself to your healing. I trust you. I am convinced that your presence and strength within me is the source of all holiness. I ask you confidently for all I need: for the health and welfare of my friends and enemies, for peace and justice, for your Church, for the salvation of the world.”

Connecting with Scripture

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father
will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will
your Father forgive your trespasses.
—Matthew 6:5–15

Live Like Saint Francis

4 thoughts on “The Spirit and Practice of Prayer”

  1. One of the best descriptions of how prayers are a reflection of our personal relationship with God Almighty and I especially like the analogy of a successful marriage in showing how each one of us can love the Lord God Almighty with all our hearts and minds and souls and with our entire being just like being head over heels in love ❤️ but there’s never a downside or human failure on God’s part, only on our lack of faith and trust in the best outcome beyond our wildest dreams is God’s love for me, and each and every one of us

  2. Even the best marriage–and mine is certainly that, (certainly better than ANYONE ELSE’S these past 55 years) takes work. We take intentional time together. We listen through our differences. And, stubborn though I am, I’ve finally learned I can’t survive alone. It’s more than okay to ask for Bruce’s–and for God’s–help. They both love being asked.

    1. Ndyahika Patrice

      Iam Ndyahika Patrice a middle aged Ugandan.Friends,pray for me I actually need Gods Spirit to overcome all the problems am in,namely-financial turmoil, spiritual unworthiness,a spirit of failure in whatever I do.

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