How do I Pray?
'Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.' St. Teresa of Avila
Prayer seems to be a part of all major religions, it appears that every human heart that is spiritually seeking wants to communicate with its creator. This is fundamentally what prayer is - turning the heart towards God. So it’s no small thing. The idea of a personal relationship with God, however, is perhaps more of a uniquely Christian emphasis. Thankfully, Jesus' disciples asked him directly, ‘Lord, teach us how to pray’ (Luke 11:1). This is what he said:
‘He said this to them,
‘Say this when you pray:
“Father, may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come;
give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive each one
who is in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test.”’
Jesus invites us to call God father, and in this conversational way, prayer becomes a relationship rather than a ritual. When we pray, it is not to some distant, removed force, it is to our father. In fact, the Catechism says that our prayer is often God’s idea first.
‘God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer.’ (CC: 2567)
And even in practical ways, Jesus shows us how to pray. He often retreated to mountaintops to pray alone. He tells us, ‘when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your father who is in that secret place’ (Matthew 6:6). This was in part a response to the practice of praying overtly on street corners in the day of Jesus, so of course we can pray outside our room, but the idea that it is a personal practice remains.
But what is the purpose of prayer? Importantly, it is not to force God to do the things we want him to do for us. It is true, Jesus does say, ‘ask and it will be given to you’ (Matthew 7:7), but equally, God has a will for our lives, and sometimes this is not what we would want.
‘“For my thoughts
are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways
declares the Lord’’
So, in fact, in our search for happiness, prayer is more about his will than ours. As John’s gospel puts it, ‘He must grow greater, I must grow smaller’ (John 3:30).
There are many methods of praying within the Catholic Church, the most notable outside of personal prayer are probably the rosary, adoration, meditation, reading scripture, musical worship – prayer can take many forms and can be done at all times. In fact, St. Paul challenges us to, ‘be happy at all times; pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
'You can pray while you work. Work doesn't stop prayer and prayer doesn't stop work. It requires only the small raising of the mind to him.' St. Teresa of Calcutta