Knights of Columbus - Council 9210
Our Lady of the Pillar ~ Nuestra Señora del Pilar 

Part IV: Prayer

INTRODUCTION
 

Prayer is one of the most basic activities of all Christians, not just Catholics, and yet it is also one of the least understood. While Christians should pray daily, many find that they do not know what to pray for. Once we understand that prayer is not simply asking God for something, but engaging in conversation with God and with His saints, however, prayer can become as natural as talking to our family and friends.

God invites us into a relationship with Him that is both personal and communal. He speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh. Prayer is our response to God who is already speaking or, better yet, revealing Himself to us. Therefore, prayer is not merely an exchange of words, but it engages the whole person in a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

Why Pray?

 


What is meditation?
Meditation is a Christian practice of prayer dating back to the early Church. As the Catechism states: “Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking.” By meditating on the Gospels, holy icons, liturgical texts, spiritual writings, or “the great book of creation,” we come to make our own that which is God’s. “To the extent that we are humble and faithful, we discover in meditation the movements that stir the heart and we are able to discern them. It is a question of acting truthfully in order to come into the light: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (CCC 2705-2706).

Meditation is an essential form of Christian prayer, especially for those who are seeking to answer the vocational question, “Lord, what do you want me to do?


FORMS OF PRAYER
We are all familiar with prayers of petition-- of asking God for something, however, that are other forms of prayer and a healthy prayer life will use all of the forms each day. The various forms of prayer are presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2623-2649). These various forms include prayer of bless or adoration, prayer of petition, prayer of intercession, prayer of thanksgiving, and prayer of praise. 

 

IN THE AGE OF THE CHURCH
On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of the Promise was poured out on the disciples, gathered "together in one place." While awaiting the Spirit, "all these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer." The Spirit who teaches the Church and recalls for her everything that Jesus said was also to form her in the life of prayer.

In the first community of Jerusalem, believers "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers." This sequence is characteristic of the Church's prayer: founded on the apostolic faith; authenticated by charity; nourished in the Eucharist.

In the first place these are prayers that the faithful hear and read in the Scriptures, but also that they make their own - especially those of the Psalms, in view of their fulfillment in Christ. The Holy Spirit, who thus keeps the memory of Christ alive in his Church at prayer, also leads her toward the fullness of truth and inspires new formulations expressing the unfathomable mystery of Christ at work in his Church's life, sacraments, and mission. These formulations are developed in the great liturgical and spiritual traditions. The forms of prayer revealed in the apostolic and canonical Scriptures remain normative for Christian prayer. (CCC, 2623-2625)

I. BLESSING AND ADORATION
Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer: it is an encounter between God and man. In blessing, God's gift and man's acceptance of it are united in dialogue with each other. The prayer of blessing is man's response to God's gifts: because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing.

Two fundamental forms express this movement: our prayer ascends in the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father - we bless him for having blessed us; it implores the grace of the Holy Spirit that descends through Christ from the Father - he blesses us.

Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil. Adoration is homage of the spirit to the "King of Glory," respectful silence in the presence of the "ever greater" God. Adoration of the thrice-holy and sovereign God of love blends with humility and gives assurance to our supplications. (CCC, 2626-2628)

II. PRAYER OF PETITION
The vocabulary of supplication in the New Testament is rich in shades of meaning: ask, beseech, plead, invoke, entreat, cry out, even "struggle in prayer." Its most usual form, because the most spontaneous, is petition: by prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end. We are sinners who as Christians know that we have turned away from our Father. Our petition is already a turning back to him.

The New Testament contains scarcely any prayers of lamentation, so frequent in the Old Testament. In the risen Christ the Church's petition is buoyed by hope, even if we still wait in a state of expectation and must be converted anew every day. Christian petition, what St. Paul calls {"groaning," arises from another depth, that of creation "in labor pains" and that of ourselves "as we wait for the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." In the end, however, "with sighs too deep for words" the Holy Spirit "helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."

The first movement of the prayer of petition is asking forgiveness, like the tax collector in the parable: "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" It is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer. A trusting humility brings us back into the light of communion between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and with one another, so that "we receive from him whatever we ask." Asking forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer.

Christian petition is centered on the desire and search for the Kingdom to come, in keeping with the teaching of Christ. There is a hierarchy in these petitions: we pray first for the Kingdom, then for what is necessary to welcome it and cooperate with its coming. This collaboration with the mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit, which is now that of the Church, is the object of the prayer of the apostolic community. It is the prayer of Paul, the apostle par excellence, which reveals to us how the divine solicitude for all the churches ought to inspire Christian prayer. By prayer every baptized person works for the coming of the Kingdom.

When we share in God's saving love, we understand that every need can become the object of petition. Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in his name. It is with this confidence that St. James and St. Paul exhort us to pray at all times. (CCC, 2629-2633)

III. PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did. He is the one intercessor with the Father on behalf of all men, especially sinners. He is "able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." The Holy Spirit "himself intercedes for us . . . and intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

Since Abraham, intercession - asking on behalf of another has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God's mercy. In the age of the Church, Christian intercession participates in Christ's, as an expression of the communion of saints. In intercession, he who prays looks "not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others," even to the point of praying for those who do him harm.

The first Christian communities lived this form of fellowship intensely.116 Thus the Apostle Paul gives them a share in his ministry of preaching the Gospel but also intercedes for them. The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: "for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions," for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.119 (CCC, 2634-2636)

IV. PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is. Indeed, in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for his glory. The thanksgiving of the members of the Body participates in that of their Head.

As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"; "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." (CCC, 2637-2638)

V. PRAYER OF PRAISE
Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory. By praise, the Spirit is joined to our spirits to bear witness that we are children of God, testifying to the only Son in whom we are adopted and by whom we glorify the Father. Praise embraces the other forms of prayer and carries them toward him who is its source and goal: the "one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist."

St. Luke in his gospel often expresses wonder and praise at the marvels of Christ and in his Acts of the Apostles stresses them as actions of the Holy Spirit: the community of Jerusalem, the invalid healed by Peter and John, the crowd that gives glory to God for that, and the pagans of Pisidia who "were glad and glorified the word of God."

"[Address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart." Like the inspired writers of the New Testament, the first Christian communities read the Book of Psalms in a new way, singing in it the mystery of Christ. In the newness of the Spirit, they also composed hymns and canticles in the light of the unheard-of event that God accomplished in his Son: his Incarnation, his death which conquered death, his Resurrection, and Ascension to the right hand of the Father. Doxology, the praise of God, arises from this "marvelous work" of the whole economy of salvation.

The Revelation of "what must soon take place," the Apocalypse, is borne along by the songs of the heavenly liturgy but also by the intercession of the "witnesses" (martyrs). The prophets and the saints, all those who were slain on earth for their witness to Jesus, the vast throng of those who, having come through the great tribulation, have gone before us into the Kingdom, all sing the praise and glory of him who sits on the throne, and of the Lamb. In communion with them, the Church on earth also sings these songs with faith in the midst of trial. By means of petition and intercession, faith hopes against all hope and gives thanks to the "Father of lights," from whom "every perfect gift" comes down. Thus faith is pure praise.

The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is "the pure offering" of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God's name and, according to the traditions of East and West, it is the "sacrifice of praise." (CCC, 2639-2643)

IN BRIEF
The Holy Spirit who teaches the Church and recalls to her all that Jesus said also instructs her in the life of prayer, inspiring new expressions of the same basic forms of prayer: blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise.

Because God blesses the human heart, it can in return bless him who is the source of every blessing.

Forgiveness, the quest for the Kingdom, and every true need are objects of the prayer of petition.

Prayer of intercession consists in asking on behalf of another. It knows no boundaries and extends to one's enemies.

Every joy and suffering, every event and need can become the matter for thanksgiving which, sharing in that of Christ, should fill one's whole life: "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess 5:18).

Prayer of praise is entirely disinterested and rises to God, lauds him, and gives him glory for his own sake, quite beyond what he has done, but simply because HE IS. (CCC, 2644-2649)


PERSONAL PRAYER

 

 





PRAYING WITH THE SCRIPTURES


Meditating on Sacred Scripture
Spiritual reading of Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, is an important form of meditation. This spiritual reading is traditionally called lectio divina or divine reading. Lectio divina is prayer over the Scriptures.

How do we pray over the Sacred Scriptures?
The first element of this type of prayer is reading (lectio): you take a short passage from the Bible, preferably a Gospel passage and read it carefully, perhaps three or more times. Let it really soak-in.
 
The second element is mediation (meditatio). By using your imagination enter into the Biblical scene in order to “see” the setting, the people, and the unfolding action. It is through this mediation that you encounter the text and discover its meaning for your life.

The next element is prayer (oratio) or your personal response to the text: asking for graces, offering praise or thanksgiving, seeking healing or forgiveness. In this prayerful engagement with the text, you open yourself up to the possibility of contemplation.
 
Contemplation (contemplatio) is a gaze turned toward Christ and the things of God. By God's action of grace, you may be raised above meditation to a state of seeing or experiencing the text as mystery and reality. In contemplation, you come into an experiential contact with the One behind and beyond the text.

Expressions of Prayer
Many years ago a group of seminarians were gathered and their Novice Master instructed them, “Now remember,
you are not allowed to chew gum while you are praying.”

One of the seminarians asked, “But, Father, is it okay to pray while we’re chewing gum?”

“Of course,” the Novice Master replied, leaving them wondering just how to follow these contradictory instructions.

This story illustrates that prayer is both an activity on its own as well as a way of living out one’s entire life. Prayer can be formal or informal, verbal or nonverbal, active or contemplative. Prayer is communicating with God. Just as we talk and share with our best friends what is happening in our lives, so we talk and share with God. Just as we listen to our friends, so we listen to God.

As in human communication, our communication with God can be expressed in a variety of ways. We communicate with God using words and songs, in imagination and silence, and ritually or spontaneously. We can pray in church, our gardens, our cars, or while in the shower. We can also pray lying in bed, as the first thing we do when we awake, and as the last thing we do as we drift off to sleep. One of the characteristics of prayer we as Catholics believe is that with the right intention every moment of the day—all our hopes, works, joys, and sufferings—can become our prayer.

Catholics pray in different ways. The Catechism names three major expressions of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer.

Vocal Prayer
Vocal prayer is giving voice to what is stirring in our hearts and in our souls. Vocal prayer can be as simple and uplifting as “Thank you, God, for this beautiful morning.” It can be as formal as a Mass celebrating a very special occasion. It can be as intense and immediate as the prayer Jesus uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Most Catholics learn traditional prayers from the time they were young. These normally include the Sign of the Cross, the Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, and a mealtime blessing. They might also include prayers at waking and at bedtime. Over time many people learn other prayers, such as the Memorare, a prayer asking Mary, the mother of God, to pray for us in our time of need.

Catholics often pray in groups. When two or more people gather together to raise their minds and hearts to God in prayer, their prayer is called communal prayer. Examples of communal prayer are the Rosary, devotional prayers including novenas and litanies, classroom prayers, and, most importantly, the Mass.

Standing together at Mass reciting the Creed (“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . .”) is a powerful experience that both expresses and shapes our faith. Though we might say the same prayers over the course of our lives, their meaning grows and changes with our life experiences.

Surely, the Lord’s Prayer means something vastly different to a person who has just buried his or her father than it does to a child who still has only vague notions about God. Our vocal prayers are not just “going through the motions,” they are the expression of a living faith.

At Mass the presider invites each one of us to “Lift up your hearts.” When we honestly say “We lift them up to the Lord,” we know we are truly praying, for that is what prayer is—lifting our hearts to God.

Meditation
To meditate is to reflect on or think about God. When we meditate, we keep our attention and focus on God so that we can recognize his presence in our daily lives and respond to what God is asking of us. When we meditate, a variety of things can help us to concentrate and to spark our imaginations. We may use Scripture, particularly the Gospels; traditional prayers; writings of the spiritual fathers; religious images; or history—the page on which the “today” of God is written. Meditation, also known as reflective prayer, leads us to conversation with God. Remembering that we are in God’s presence, we can listen to him speak to us. We enter into God’s sacred time and space and know that he is with us at all times and in all places.

Contemplative Prayer
When we rest quietly in God’s presence, we engage in contemplation. In contemplation we spend time with God in wordless silence, aware that he is with us. To understand how contemplation occurs, we can compare it with thinking on—or contemplating—a beautiful sunset. We are conscious of its impact, but our reaction is wordless. When we experience God personally, we feel his love and wait for him to speak to us in his own way. The key is to make time to relax and listen in God’s presence, to seek union with the God who loves us.

THE LORD'S PRAYER
The Lord’s Prayer is “the summary of the whole gospel,” Tertullian said. And we dare to pray it regularly. The Catechism teaches us that “The Lord’s Prayer brings us into communion with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. At the same time it reveals us to ourselves. Praying to our Father should develop in us the will to become like him and foster in us a humble and trusting heart”. Essential to our Christian formation is the important fact: the Lord’s Prayer reveals us to ourselves. Indeed, Christ reveals us to ourselves.

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Sources: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: www.usccb.org
                 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition