I love prayer and consider it an important issue. In some ways, it is a lost art as people don’t really spend the time to become united in spirit with God.
Yet prayer has the power to transform the way you think, your whole nature and your journey towards Christian maturity.
As St Paul says, “It helps us discern the will of God”. Prayer is supposed to make us think and act differently. But does it?
I would like to share some reflections I have had on prayer based on my own prayer experience. Prayer is an act of self-transcendence.
For me, it is like gazing into the eyes of my Beloved, in order to somehow lose myself in God and become one with Him.
I find it is different from the way we fall in love with one another in only one way: the object of my desire transcends my grasp, frustrating me no end.
I think this is why St John of the Cross talks about the wounding effect of God’s love.
The lack of possession of our God leaves me wounded as the experience of God is at the same time delightful yet strangely painful.
Truly, I agonise over my love of God but then if prayer was always consoling there wouldn’t be much merit to it.
Jesus was the one who cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” In that darkest moment, He became life giving. In that moment, He was able to transform history and reconcile us to God.
That is Christian maturity – to surrender completely to our Father in heaven by joining the offering of our life to God in union with Jesus’ own offering of himself on the Cross.
When my conversion began, I had dreams of hell revealing my true state of being before God. I also had many extraordinary consolations from God.
In my darkest moments, my prayer was “Lord, help”. It was a whole cry from my being to God out of my misery. Those times of darkness were an experience of pure faith because I did not know where I was going though God was leading me.
Those times of darkness helped purify my heart as I had to walk by faith alone with the Lord.
The fact that I could not feel His presence was the beginning of my Christian maturity.
To receive the gift of contemplative prayer, I believe a person truly has to fall in love with Love itself and this Love is what we encounter through our prayer to Jesus, made present to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is easy to fall in love with God. Mostly this takes a commitment on our part. We have to spend time in prayer.
In my formative years, I spent up to five hours a day in prayer. Through meditation, verbal prayer, reading the Bible and the writings of the Saints and daily Mass, all in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I was able to fall in love with Love itself.
In the end, I didn’t want to think about God, I just wanted God. It is this simple, loving desire for God burning within us that is the fruit of contemplative prayer.
In reading St Paul, we can conclude this is the fruit of God’s own Spirit praying within us.
What I write on prayer is for catechism. Street kids have no parish or fixed address so I initially wrote this program to share with them and it’s still a work in progress.
I decided to focus on Christ because of the Year of Christ. My program is more influenced by St John of the Cross who, along with St Teresa of Avila, is in charge of my prayer life through our communion with the saints.
Through my own conversion I have found there are three stages of prayer: (i) Conversion to Christ (ii) Taking on the characteristics of Christ (iii) Living in the Spirit of Christ. Our conversion is ongoing as we practise virtue in imitation of Jesus and, ultimately, we are able to surrender ourselves spiritually to God in union with Jesus’ offering of himself to God on the Cross.
Roughly corresponding to the stages of prayer are the different ways of praying.
Our prayer life changes and matures as our faith develops and our relationship with Jesus deepens.
As we pray, Jesus reveals God to us personally through the power of the Holy Spirit. Meditation is prayer using our mind to think and reflect on the goodness of God.
This enkindles our love for God in our hearts. Those who persevere in mental prayer will experience a growing love and affection for God which we call ‘prayer of desire’ or the ‘prayer of the heart’.
Once desire and love for God grow, prayer becomes simple and natural.
A fire grows in one’s heart and the whole of our life becomes ‘a prayer’ because all things are done in the prayerful presence of God.
Once this stage is reached the heart rests in the loving presence of its spouse contemplating, or simply gazing on Him.
The mind is used only to rekindle this fire of love. Often, that prayerful person will not want to think about God; he or she will just want to be with God.
The union I have with Jesus through my prayer life produces a warm love that I can share with all people. If we are espoused in spirit with God, we are able to love one another with the very Love of God.
Excepting the Mass, I have found the best way to begin knowing God through prayer is by meditating on the Word of God and the mysteries of Jesus’ life (such as the Rosary – I say all 20 mysteries daily).
In the end, prayer is a gift God gives us if we generously commit time to God. After all, if you love someone, you spend time with them. That’s the bottom line.
If a person is prepared to make that sort of commitment I suggest three necessary helps for converting ourselves to Christ, for developing the character of Christ within ourselves and for living by the Spirit of Christ.
They are ongoing conversion through monthly Confession; daily prayer and reflection on the Word of God (including the Rosary) to aid us to live virtuous lives; and entering into the mystery of God’s Love by the complete offering of ourself with Christ when we participate in the Eucharist.