Posts in prayer
Wisdom from St. Paul on Prayer
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The conversation goes like this:


  • If you could have a daily time of prayer, what would that look like?
  • I would get up before the kids, have a glass of water, find a comfortable space and read something inspiring. Then, I would let it sink in and then talk to God.


That doesn’t sound too difficult does it?


Nonetheless, the space between answering the question and then doing it is vast for many people. It’s as if we instinctively know what we want our daily prayer time to look like but can’t seem to put it into practice.


Can you relate?


Could it be that we are experiencing a St. Paul moment? Remember Romans 7:15-20 which says,


I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”


St. Paul knew the human experience. Was he talking about prayer? Service? Evangelization? Morality? We may never know.


I do think that one could apply his reflection to prayer.  My own life of prayer is somewhat similar- some days, I want to pray but just seem to forget. Other days, I have more motivation. It’s as if I’m going one step forward and another two steps backwards.


Most people I talk with share this experience. Their lives are too hectic and filled with commitments to let prayer seep in.


Two things were as true for St. Paul as they are for you and me:


  1. We cannot underestimate the tension that comes with the human existence.
  2. We cannot build a life of prayer without momentum.


Let me explain a bit further. First, we know that a prayerful life is hard. Most of us don’t have the one we desire because we let the urgent get in the way of the important. Errands, schedules and bills quickly crowd out a heartfelt desire to pray. Sometimes I want to throw up my hands and say to God, “why can’t this be easier?”


It can be “easier” but only with spiritual momentum. By spiritual momentum I mean a habit of prayer. Day in and day out, a prayerful person builds the muscle of prayer. This is not a physical muscle but a disposition and a set of actions that eventually becomes like muscle memory. Like any habit, daily prayer can become rooted in your subconscious.


With practice, it’s just what you do.


This momentum is built on a daily habit of spending time alone with God. This is the singular habit that will change a person’s life. It doesn’t exclude other habits that are just as central to the Christian life (i.e. serving the poor, living a sacramental life, practicing virtuous habits).


Prayer, unique in its own way, is the one habit that can be practiced 365 days a year. No church needed. No other people needed. Just you and God, day in and day out.


If the tension of being prayerful was modeled by St. Paul, we should pay attention to his example. His struggle ended up being good enough to propel him as the greatest evangelizer in Christian history.

 

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The Jesus Prayer: What is it and How do you Pray It?

A few years ago, a friend of mine recommended that I pray “the Jesus prayer”. I had shared my struggle with a lot of negative self talk and she thought that the Jesus Prayer would be a helpful antidote.

To my surprise, it worked.

Before I go any further though, let me share some details about the Jesus Prayer. It’s quite powerful and could be a powerful asset in your prayer toolbox.

What is it?

It’s very simple and you can pray it anywhere, anytime. Some people use prayer beads but they are not mandatory. The prayer is this:

"Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

It’s been called “essential” to spiritual growth by a number of the Church Fathers. The Jesus Prayer is considered a means of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Since one names Christ as Lord at the very start of the prayer, it is thought to be quite Biblical.

A Biblical Prayer

One can reference Acts 4:12, “. . . for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved”, Luke 1:31, or Matthew 16:16-18 to name a few. The New Testament is rich with examples of people who call out to Jesus in need of healing or simply seeking answers to life’s difficult problems.

By praying the Jesus Prayer, we return to this tradition in a direct way. It humbles us and reminds us of our complete need of Him. As a prayer it is so beloved by Eastern Christians that it is said to be the most recited prayer after the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Is it Just Another Mantra?

While some prayers are a means of reducing our stress, the Jesus Prayer is much more. It does not seek to empty the mind but to fill it with the merciful presence of Jesus.

Helpful Articles

If you’re not convinced yet that the Jesus Prayer is effective, here are some wonderful resources that I can recommend:

Helpful Videos

The Impact of the Prayer

In my life, the Jesus Prayer has been a great gift. I use it regularly as a way to focus my mind and heart. I will pray it to start the day, to calm me down in the middle of the day and even at random times while running errands. I find that it’s “pure”- I didn’t come up with it and each word is charged with a heart turned towards God. I can put myself second and God first when I pray the prayer.

Do you have to pray it out loud? Not necessarily. I typically do not. Try it out and see if it can be another component of your prayer life. If you’re like me, you might also become an advocate of the Jesus Prayer.


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What a Baseball Player Taught me About Prayer
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Craig Kimbrel is the closer for the Boston Red Sox. If you’re not a baseball fan, that means that he is the last pitcher to face the other team. At the end of the game, Kimbrel is the final stop before victory. Translation: the guy is a stud with ice in his veins. Nothing faces the closer.


What makes Kimbrel so fascinating to even the casual fan?


It could be his diminutive stature- he’s only 6’ tall. It may be his long beard. One could easily point to his success- he’s been one of the best closers since entering the big leagues in 2010.


What stands out for me regarding Kimbrel is his unique posture as he prepares to deliver a pitch. He stares towards home plate and strikes a pose- it’s really more of a pose. His right arm sort of dangles and he enters the mysterious place where pitcher and catcher communicate through hand signals.


Then, in the blink of an eye- he delivers the pitch.


So what does all of this baseball talk have to do with prayer? Consider the various postures we use when we pray:


  • Kneeling: a gesture of surrender, repentance and obedience.
  • Standing: a sign of respect and praise.
  • Hands up: an act of praise.
  • Palms out: a sign of openness.
  • Hands folded: a sign of focus and concentration.


If the best athletes in the world use gestures and postures to execute their craft, we can learn something from them. They pay attention to the slightest detail and maybe it’s time that we do as well.


Watching Kimbrel this year in the playoffs caused me to ask: what is my ideal prayer posture?


The answer came quickly- it’s hands up, palms open, head slightly bowed. When I need to pray with all of my might, that’s the posture I use. It means openness and reminds me of my total need for God. I feel like I can talk with God in the most honest way possible- as if I’m not holding anything back.

 

This isn’t to say that other postures aren’t valuable. They are. It’s just that this particular posture seems to be most effective when I need to pray and pray hard. It’s good to pay attention to these things. 


How about for you? What’s your ideal prayer posture?


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Six Creative Ways to Pray the Rosary
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Pope Francis has invited all Catholics to pray the rosary during the month of October. This is an invitation to pray for the Church to be defended from evil as it is in another state of crisis. One church leader after another has faced scandal for actions related to sexual abuse. Now is a good time to pray for those who have been abused and those who have been lousy leaders.


If you’re not Catholic and are unfamiliar with the rosary, think beads. You’ve seen people hang beads from their rear-view mirror in the car, right? Those are likely to be a set of rosary beads.


The rosary is an ancient form of prayer, most often associated with Catholics but not limited to them. Martin Luther was known to have a strong devotion to Mary, even after he left the Catholic Church. The rosary is prayed in five groups of Hail Mary’s, with each group themed according to a moment in the life of Christ.  Each group is called a “decade”. You can pray the rosary in 10-15 minutes.


Many Christians know about the rosary but don’t actually pray it. This isn’t surprising. When we don’t know something or lack the confidence related to it, we don’t practice it. I run into people all of the time who admit that their prayer life is tepid. It bothers them but they’re not sure what to do about it.

 

Let’s consider the rosary as one part of your set of prayer-related tools. 


The rosary is a powerful form of prayer. Every holy person I know prays the rosary. Saints have sworn by it and martyrs have attested to its efficacy. St. Francis de Sales said this about the rosary, “The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.” Pretty strong words from an all-star saint.

 

I’d like to suggest five creative ways to “get into” a regular practice of praying the rosary:


  1. Purchase a rosary ring. You can find these on Amazon or at your local Catholic gift shop for under a few dollars. Keep it in your pocket and thumb it occasionally to get used to it. This will also remind you to pray.

  2. Start with one decade a day. Whether using a rosary ring or a full rosary, begin with just one decade a day. Don’t worry about “doing it right”. If you’re not sure which decades to pray, Google it.

  3. Walk and pray. Pick a time of the day- early morning, after lunch or at night and thumb the rosary. Gradually pray the prayers associated with each bead. The walking will make it easier. Plus, you’re getting some exercise.

  4. Pray in the car. There is no time more convenient than when you are driving to pray the rosary. Keep a set of rosary beads (or the ring) in your car and when you think of it, pray the rosary. If you don’t have a drive long enough for the entire rosary, pray what you can.

  5. Incorporate the rosary into your daily quiet time. My father does this and finds it to be a wonderful “primer” for deeper, more contemplative prayer. If you’re able to carve out a solid half hour, you’ll need 10-15 minutes of it for the rosary.

  6. Include the rosary in a once-a-week holy hour. To make your weekly prayer routine special, visit your local Catholic Church when they have adoration of the blessed Sacrament. After some time in adoration, pull out your rosary beads and pray.


I’m not an expert in the rosary. What I do know is that it’s an important Christian devotion and one that can be a powerful asset in your prayer toolbox. With some creativity, you can include it in your prayer life as wel

Devotions, Faith, prayerMike StPierre
The Right Time to Jumpstart Your Prayer Life
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Prayer is a lot like working out- the more you do it, the better you feel. Besides the emotional, confidence-building aspect of regular prayer, it also contributes to your intimacy with Christ.


On the flip side, the less often you pray, the less confidence you have and, on your side at least, the farther you could be from God. I say “on your side” because God never leaves us. His love is constantly poured out on us, whether we have an active prayer life or not.


Romans 8:37-39 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


St. Paul is clear- God’s love is constant. It’s God’s very nature to love people.


As a father, I can relate at least one some level. When I look at my four children, I want for their good. I want them to succeed. I want them to have good friendships. I want them to know the Lord.


Any honest question for those who want to pray more often but are hesitant to do so is this, “when is the right time to jumpstart my prayer?”


Two thoughts in response to this:


The fact that someone is asking the question implies some desire to know God more fully. This is excellent. To use a simile, it’s similar to inquiring about when someone ought to eat more healthily.

The “right time” doesn’t exist unless you consider every moment of every day to be “right”. Since God is pouring out His love on us each and every moment, now is the right time. Five minutes from now is the right time. Two years from now is the right time.


This is both good news and overwhelming. Since every moment is charged with opportunity for intimacy with God, it’s hard to know when to start.


My advice is not so much about timing but about paying attention to the moments in front of you. Notice your own spontaneous desires to pray. Then, do it.


Here are some examples that may help:


  • You notice a car accident on the side of the road. Emergency vehicles tend to a person behind the wheel. Say a prayer for that person.
  • You drive by a church and are ever-so-briefly reminded that God is worshiped there. Say a prayer to thank God for spaces in which people can pray.
  • You think of your elderly parents when you are in the middle of your day and aren’t sure why. Say a prayer for them, asking God’s provision for their health.


It’s simple: pay attention to the spontaneous moments in your life. As a response, pray. Trust that God puts people in your way and thoughts into your head. His inspiration, His “nudgings” are wonderful opportunities to grow in intimacy with Him.


This spontaneous-pray nowness is not a replacement for a daily quiet time. That is the backbone of a momentum-building life of prayer. Still, the spontaneous moments help us to answer the question- “when is the right time to jump start my prayer life?”


Right now. Pay attention to God’s work in your day.

Why It’s Important to Pray for Others by Name
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The other day, I did something that I was hesitant to do: I prayed for Archbishop McCarrick, the disgraced former Cardinal and leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.


I didn’t want to do it- I’ve never met the man. It felt awkward. It put a scowl on my face. I made sure that it didn’t last long. He is an enemy of young people and I don’t like him- not even a little.


And then I prayed for others who have victimized young people. If I knew their names, I mentioned them. Again, I didn’t want to do it and certainly didn’t enjoy it.


And yet, somehow, it felt right. I’ve been so angry, of late, by the emerging news about the Catholic Church. We have a problem. We don’t form our leaders all that well. We don’t have enough accountability loops in place. We need a culture of servant leaders and instead have built a system of leader idolization. It’s sad.


Praying for others by name is like that- it will depress you. It will take you to a place that you rarely visit. I learned this years ago. Someone tried to harm me and it cut me to the core. It was only by praying for them, by name, out loud, that I found peace.


In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says that we must do this:


You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”


This sounds nice... until you have to do it. Then, it provides a hesitant submission, as if to say, “Ok God, you’re right...I’ll do it.”


We don’t like having enemies.

 

Most of us would rather just get along. I know that I would. Most of my Christian friends are people pleasers, another posture of getting along. That’s not a bad thing but it does make having enemies all the more difficult.


Enemies prop up time and again, like a rash that you can’t ignore. An enemy is someone who opposes you and seeks to do you harm. This is a dark realization and one that Jesus knew full well. He had plenty of individuals who opposed his every move. I imagine that his enemies frustrated him, knowing that they were slowing down his ministry.


Imagine just for a second if Jesus’ enemies spent more time listening and less time ruining his reputation... how things would have been different.


All leaders understand this.

 

No matter what you do, some will oppose you. They may be awful human beings or stellar individuals with good character. But prepare yourself- you will be opposed at some point.


For a follow up, I suggest you spend 60 seconds thinking of your enemies. You won’t need more than that because they will come to your mind immediately. Plus, it’s likely that your enemies can be counted on one hand.


If you have more than that, you’re likely the President. That’s another conversation altogether.


Once you have those individuals in mind, it’s important to take them to prayer. Mention them, by name, to God. Ask for His mercy and provision for them. Pray for reconciliation with them. Ask for a gentle heart towards them, knowing that they are going through something in their own lives that produces resistance towards you.


Praying for others by name humanizes them. This reminds you that they too are loved by God and in need of mercy. This shortens the distance between you and them. It also reminds you of your own need for mercy and God’s love.


It’s the right thing to do.


This exercise is one of the most powerful in all of the Christian life. We are all sinners and more in need of God’s mercy than we realize at any one moment. Praying for your enemies by name is one outflow of this truth.