(By ‘The Seeker’, a lay person in the parish)
We are all familiar with the phenomenal success of the “for Dummies” series of books. This success is surprising. You might expect pride and embarrassment to inhibit us from carrying one of these books from it’s shelf, across a crowded bookstore – and with it’s bright canary yellow and black covers there is no way of doing this surreptitiously – before presenting it to the assistant at the pay counter, clearly announcing an utter and shameful ignorance of the crucial subject in question. Nevertheless we do it when we are sufficiently desperate, and judge it to be important enough to become familiar with a new area of knowledge. (Friends tell me that the quality of these books are high and they deliver the goods).
Initially computer based, the “Dummies” series now covers a large and growing range of topics. However I was surprised when a quick internet search turned up one entitled “Christian Prayer for Dummies”. The chapter titles shown on the accompanying advert were intriguing. However I have not read the book, and I must tell you now that this article has nothing whatsoever to do with it – I chose the title because I thought it might be a good way to attract someone, like myself, who feels he/she ought to think more about prayer and wanted to start off in a simple way. (However if you follow me to the end of this article, there’s a free download booklet in it for you)
Too easily we can create a busy life for ourselves – so focused on doing good as we see it, that we are reluctant to be interrupted by time out for prayer. But without prayer we may easily end up doing our will not God’s, and despite our efforts, find that the happiness we seek eludes us. On the other hand, through frequent prayer, we can discover not only energy, but also direction to guide our lives to lasting peace and joy.
Are you convinced of this? Often, because of what we perceive as a lack of direct response, it can be difficult to accept that prayer isn’t a waste of time. The dilemma here is that until we pray i.e. establish a relationship with God, we don’t begin to understand its immense value. This may sound like an unsatisfactory circular argument, but it seems to me that we simply have, in trust, to make a first step of faith and accept that God, for our benefit, wishes us to establish a personal relationship with each of us through prayer. Then, through prayer, let Him guide us and enlighten us from there on. It is the testimony of truly spiritual friends of mine that God speaks to us when we pray (if we listen well enough) and touches us with His love. Their witness continues to help me on my faltering journey in prayer.
God communicates with us on two channels – the heart and the mind. The most important is the former, and we therefore need to focus on developing its sensitivity to reception of God’s messages. Through our mind God communicates an understanding of His Will, which, as St Faustina reminds us, is love and mercy itself. This can be of great comfort, especially when we are suffering.
Viewed in this light we see that prayer is our most important activity. Through prayer we receive God’s grace – spiritual food for our soul which allows us to grow in understanding of God’s love and his purpose for us. Is it logical that we try to set about carrying out His will before we have taken time to understand from Him what it is? The very act of prayer will bring us peace. If we pray regularly, how can we fail to reconcile ourselves, first with God, and then our family and our fellow men and women? Conversely, if we fail to pray we are in danger of entering a state of spiritual hibernation or worse, and our life can easily come to seem pointless and depressing.
Prayer can be a simple intercession or at its most intense it becomes a mystical union with Christ – but always a “raising up of our hearts and minds to God”. Where better to start than with the Lord’s Prayer. If familiarity has diminished its impact then think it through in reverse – from our deliverance from evil leading us to Our Father in heaven – if you have not done this before, go on give it a try.
What next? Outside of Mass, there are a number of popular “communal” Catholic prayers. Having been “away from home” religion-wise for much of my adult life I had forgotten these prayers, and after I “came back” and began to attend prayer groups and other “extra-curricula” activities I found myself reduced to opening and closing my lips in pretence of joining in these traditional prayers. Around that time I was told by a priest after confession to go away and learn the “act of contrition” properly. While I maintain that an act of contrition from the heart is better than an official one recited by rote, I agree that a garbled and mangled attempt can be improved upon. To help me through that period I put together a little booklet of these popular prayers . While not “Prayers for Dummies”, I call it “Much Loved Catholic Prayers”. Revisiting these prayers afresh was a very good restart to my prayer life.
This has all been very basic. Maybe in a future article we can delve more deeply e.g. into prayer from the heart. For now I’ll end by sharing my booklet with you.
You can make your own copy of the Prayer booklet (approx 7cm x 10cm) by downloading, and printing this Prayer Booklet file [Right click on link and choose “Save Target as…”]
Instructions to assemble booklet:
1. Print the first page of the document only
2. Put the page back in the printer so that the next page will be printed on the reverse side
3. Print the second page
4. Trim the margins of page 1 and then cut along guidelines to make 4 equal rectangles
5. Carefully fold each piece of paper in half and place inside each other to give the right page order
6. Print page 3 and trim to produce a cover for the booklet
7. Staple the centre line of the booklet