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A Beacon Of Light… Expressions Of Our Prayer

August 9, 2022 Frontpage No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + Welcome back to our discussion on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the role prayer has in our lives. This final section of the Catechism is broken down into two sections, each having various chapters. We are still in section one devoted to prayer in the life of the Christian. Today we will explore chapter three, dedicated to the life of prayer, which invites us to contemplate expressions of prayer, the battle of prayer, and the prayer of the hour of Jesus. This week we will focus on expressions of prayer.
    In discussing the life of prayer, it is important to remember that prayer is the life of the heart. Our prayers are meant to animate the heart and remind us of our relationship with God. We often fail in living our life of prayer. We place expectations both on ourselves and others that seem sometimes hard to attain. Living a life of prayer is not something we are called to do alone. In fact, the Church has a responsibility to assist us in praying.
    This is why the Church provides us with examples and rhythms of prayer. Some of these are simple and some are more involved. Remembering to pray in the morning and at night is a simple way to root ourselves in prayer. Taking the opportunity to offer grace before, and after, meals is another way to keep the Lord with us throughout the day.
    There are also more involved ways that we can pray, like praying the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Breviary, is the Church’s official daily prayer. It breaks up the day into several opportunities to pray in communion with fellow Catholics. It is broken down into Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer, and the Office of Readings.
    This way of prayer is connected to the liturgical life of the Church and allows us to enter more fully into the apostolic works around us. Sundays, however, have great significance in centering our life of prayer on the Eucharistic Celebration. Since the Eucharist is at the heart of who we are as Catholics, our participation in the Sunday Liturgy is what allows us to persevere and maintain our prayer.
    The Lord is always leading us along paths and in ways that are pleasing to Him. Each believer responds to his heart’s desire and personal expression of prayer. Each person develops within his life authentic expressions of prayer. One cannot expect to mirror the prayer life of another, because each life of prayer is unique and different.
    Tradition, however, maintains that there are three major expressions of prayer. These are essential to the life of the Christian and are called vocal, meditative, and contemplative.
    God’s revelation involved the spoken word. In fact, the creation story in the Book of Genesis shows how “the word” was spoken and then all was created. God has spoken to man, and so it is only right that man reciprocates in speaking to God. When we speak, it usually involves what’s in the heart. And so, it is important that vocal prayer should play an important part in our daily lives. We see this throughout the life of Jesus’ ministry. Every time Jesus invokes the Father’s name, it is through the spoken word.
    Is it any wonder why, considering Jesus is the “word made flesh,” that He speaks to the Father? Therefore, there is a need to involve the senses as part of interior prayer. Since we are composed of body and spirit, we must give our whole being to our prayer. There is a divine requirement to prayer. Worshippers must demonstrate spirit and truth, meaning that our prayer must arise from the depths of our souls. We revere God most in prayer when our supplications are accompanied by external actions demonstrating our internal realities. Because we are human beings, vocal prayer is most visibly seen as an external form of prayer.
    There is a second attribute, or expression, of prayer that involves a kind of journey. This we call meditation. In meditation we seek to understand the why and how of our Christian life. This is important because it helps us to discern what the Lord is asking and opens our souls to respond. There is a certain attentiveness needed in meditation, sometimes, however, this can be difficult. Today’s culture finds itself functioning at such high rates of acceleration that it’s hard for us to slow down long enough to catch our breath.
    And yet, our faith calls us to meditate on the relationship we have with the Lord. This requires discipline and the ability to manage our prayer time wisely. There are ways in which we can slow down and use the tools of the Church to assist us. There is an abundance of material available for us to use in meditation. These include things like Sacred Scripture, the Gospels, icons, readings, and prayers of the daily Mass, writings of the saints and writings of the Early Fathers of the Church. Reading these sources enables us to make them our own as we reflect on our life.
    In a sense, this opens the book of our lives, and we pass from what is merely thought, to understanding the realities of our soul. There must exist a certain level of humility that allows us to confront ourselves in areas where attention is needed. In the end, participation in meditation involves patience, thought, imagination, emotion, and a desire to know oneself better. Without these in place, meditation is fruitless, and it is difficult to have any conversion of heart. Meditation strengthens our will in following Christ.
    For some of the great saints, prayer involved what we call contemplative prayer. What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa of Avila, as a contemplative religious sister, explains it in this way: “Contemplative prayer [oracion mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life).
    This way of praying seeks the one whom our soul longs for, namely, God Himself! We seek the Lord because this is where we find the beginning of all love. So often questions arise to the time and duration of such contemplative prayer. There is no correct answer for this question because it depends on the individual person. The mistake here arises when we try to place a determined amount of time on this prayer. This involves emptying one’s heart to Jesus and, for some, it may be easy while for others very hard.
    Second, one does not make time for contemplative prayer; one always must take time with the Lord. Contemplative prayer is not a chore, it is a welcome guest. Here, we prepare ourselves with proximate preparation, like going to Mass, we ready ourselves to spend time with the Lord. For us, contemplative prayer is a prayer of a child of God. We, as His children, find rest and peace in being with the Lord.
    This has always been true in my own life as well. Each time I enter into this type of prayer, I feel everything just melt away. All the stress of my busy priestly life seems to seep into the ground, so that I may be filled again with the love of Christ. In the end, contemplative prayer is gazing at Christ. There is a story often said of St. Teresa of Calcutta, when she was interviewed by reporters on the life she lived. Of particular interest was the long time spent in the chapel praying each day. One reporter asked her what she did all that time. Her response, as always, reflected her great simplicity. She quietly said: “I look at Jesus, and Jesus looks at me and we are together.” Simple words, spoken with such profound wisdom.
    Contemplative prayer is silent, offering us the ability to gaze past the horizon out of this world, and get a glimpse into heaven. It is here we experience the communion of love that exists for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    Nest week we will look at the battle of prayer and prayer at the hour of Jesus.
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