Lenten Practices: Prayer
There are more than three weeks in Lent, but there are traditionally three things that Christians commit to during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If I tried to do a series of posts that stretched the entire duration of Lent, you’d only have a few days to do the last thing I mention, so instead we can touch on the three traditional practices during the first three weeks, and then let you, well, practice the practices during the remainder.
I’m probably the least qualified T&C blogger to comment on prayer or improving your prayer life, so instead of giving you my insights I’ll point you to resources that have been helpful for me in at least realizing what my prayer life should be like. So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts/resources for prayer:
- Teresa of Avila/St. John of the Cross: I’ve gushed about these two in many of my posts, so I won’t do so again here. Fr. Dubay’s recorded shows on EWTN are a good introduction to their spiritualities. I had tended to compartmentalize prayer, thinking that it had its own life and power separate from other aspects of my life. Their emphasis on detachment
revealed how our everyday life, with its sometimes petty passions and wants, can intrude on the efficacy of our prayer life. Just being introduced to the concepts of meditative and contemplative prayer, as distinct from discursive prayer, was revolutionary. Having “graduated” from faith at confirmation, I didn’t consider prayer to be much more than “Bless us O Lord…” Meditation and contemplation orient you to the reality that prayer is dialogue and relationship with God, not just talking to (or at) Him.
- Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God: it’s not really more complicated than St. Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” The benefit of his insight, though, is that you realize prayer can be done anywhere, at any time, in any situation. If you have the time, quiet, and peace of mind to engage in meditation, contemplation, lectio divina, or what have you, then great; but prayer isn’t limited to those ideal conditions.
- Learn about your faith: the common perception seems to be that, as far as faith goes, you are either a “head” person or a “heart” person. If you enjoy reading theological works or keeping up with Vatican news, you probably don’t have a deep prayer life. Likewise, if you sit in the field all day contemplating the birds and the lilies of said field, then you probably couldn’t give a reasoned defense of the Real Presence. Of course, the reality is both/and. Our love of God, our closeness to Him in prayer, is not diminished by learning more about Him and the faith and Church He wanted us to have. Understanding the fine points about the Real Presence, how it is transubstantiation and not consubstantiation; how it is the living body of Christ and not His dead flesh; how the doctrine rests on Scriptural sources like John 6, the miracles of the loaves, the manna in the desert, and the Passover lamb; all serve to elevate, not detract from, the lived experience of receiving Him in Holy Communion. Ignorance is not bliss.
- Daily prayer: I have to practice some manner of rote or guided prayer throughout the day, just to keep me focused. The Liturgy of the Hours and Rosary, though they seem rote, help keep me centered. The Liturgy of the Hours is varied enough to offer fresh insights every day, but repetitive enough to provide a daily rhythm. Likewise, the Rosary, even when praying the same mysteries twice a week, can be prayed with different intentions or reflections upon different aspects of the life of Jesus.
So, after writing all this I’m tempted to say “Physician, heal thyself!” Instead of wasting more of my time writing and your time reading, let us both stop now and spend time with Our Lord.