I often tell the story of when I was a student for the priesthood, a group of us seminarians would spend the Christmas holidays, helping a community of nuns in a convent in the West Country with decorating and painting. During the sister’s recreation time we would meet with them. On one such occasion a sister asked me “How do you pray?” This completely floored me and I don’t remember how I answered. If you were asked that question today how would you answer? How would you describe or talk about your prayer? It is a very different question from “What is prayer? That question would be easier to answer. I could go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and summarise Part Four: “Christian Prayer” paragraphs 2558 -2856. On my bookshelves I have numerous books on different ways of praying. At the moment I am listening to an Audiobook of St Teresa of Avila’s “Way of Perfection” written by her for the Sisters in her convent. It is an easy read compared to some of her other works. It is straight forward and practical. She is writing from her experience.
I thought I would just write something about my prayer. It is best for me to talk about my own experience of prayer rather than give you theory. This is only to encourage you because I am not about to tell you what a great person of prayer I am. Because I am not. The first thing to say is that I pray every day. I know that what is important are not the words I say but that I give myself the time to listen to God. I have realised that I need to set aside time to be still. As a priest I have an obligation to pray the Psalms five times a day. This is called “the Prayer of the Church”. There are times when I have treated this as chore. I have rushed through these psalms to get them done. Yet there have been times when, if I take my time, the words of these ancient prayers, said by Jesus, inspired by God, have touched my heart. Just take a verse from psalm 30 that I recited on Thursday evening. “O Lord, I cried to you for help and you, my God, have healed me. O Lord, you have raised my soul from the dead, restored me to life from those who sink into the grace”. Reading this I know that God listens to me, heals me, and restores me. I give thanks for this. These are words of comfort when I am worried or anxious about what is happening around me. The celebration of Mass is prayer. I come as one who listens and I open my heart to hear God speaking in the prayers and in Scripture. I am present to Jesus who is present to me. It is not just me and Jesus but I join with my brothers and sisters and we give praise together as well as listen. I am strengthened and nourished as part of the body of Christ. This Sunday we have St Paul in the second reading calling us to be united in my love, with a common purpose and a common mind. These are words that I will take way with me and read over during the week.
This coming Thursday, 1st October, is the feast of St Thérèse of Lisieux. There is a great quote from her at the beginning of the section on prayer in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”