On Prayer

Grace_Cathedral_-_Votive_Rack photo via Wikipedia

Our prayer life must be one undertaken through the instruction of the Holy Spirit and also by ordering our will toward God. The Catechism reads, “Through living transmission (Sacred Tradition) within “the believing and praying Church,” the Holy Spirit teaches the children of God how to pray.”(CCC 2650) If we’re moved to learn how to pray through the traditions of the Church, the initiation is by the grace of God. However, the Catechism does not contradict the Spirit, that one must also have the will to pray and so we must initially cooperate with God’s grace.

Nonetheless, the idea of a radical will, which would still be a creation of God, somehow acts radically on its own from our creator goes against the Thomistic understanding of God’s nature being existence. Our wills would cease to exist if there was no necessary being who sustains them by being pure actuality. So, in regards to prayer, as we can form poor habits or good habits, we must cooperate with grace and practice short bursts of prayer, practice the sacraments, and build the habits of virtue which is in the tradition of faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reiterates these points by asserting in paragraph CCC 2726, “Those who seek God by prayer are quickly discouraged because they do not know that prayer comes also from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves alone.” The desire to pray is stirred by God’s grace, and it is up to our cooperation with His grace whether we can order our wills to learn from the traditions of our Church.

So how can we pray? Of course, the two major types of prayer are could be categorized into personal and communal. One of the obvious, in most cases, differences between personal prayer and communal prayer is silence. Naturally, as creatures who primarily communicate our intellect through the spoken word when we’re together in a community, we often pray out loud so others can hear, but when we’re alone with God that when we can hear the call of God like a gentle breeze.

So how can we learn to persevere in our personal prayer? Fr. Michael Casey makes two points on this distinction in his book Toward God, “Prayer is not extrinsic. It is a conscious attempt to identify with our natural tendency toward God. It tries to release our innate buoyant impulse. If a person learning to swim doubts that the body will float naturally, much energy will be used to avoid disaster. Others, convinced of their natural buoyancy, will simply relax, feel supported by the water and enjoy the primal sense of beings borne up.” (p. 29)

The analogy of learning how to swim in connection to learning how to prayer really resonates with me. Sure, swimming can be a communal experience once someone knows how to swim properly; however, although friends can give tips on how to swim, it is often an experience that must be learned between the water and the swimmer. If anyone has ever jumped into a swimming pool and sunk to the bottom, it is one of the few places in the Western world where one can experience physical silence. And in that silence, if one relaxes and gives full trust to the water, their bodies will float naturally to the top just as Fr. Casey explains.

It is in the silence of individual prayer where we can hear the voice of God because as Fr. Casey explains, “We do not produce prayer. During prayer time we do not attempt to initiate a relationship with God; that relationship already exists.” (p.33)

Everything is a result of God’s grace.

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