Prayer is an act by which we beg for gifts or graces from God. In a more general sense, it is the application of the mind to Divine things, not merely to acquire the knowledge of them but to make use of such knowledge as a means of union with God. In prayer, we call up, intercede, mediate, consult, beseech and, very commonly, cry out to Him. The Fathers speak of it as the elevation of the mind to God with a view to communing, conversing and asking proper things. It is, therefore, the expression of our desires to God whether for ourselves or others. This expression is not intended to instruct or direct God what to do, but to appeal to His goodness for the things we need; and the appeal is necessary, not because He is ignorant of our needs or sentiments, but to give definite form to our desires, to concentrate our whole attention on what we have to ask Him, to help us. The expression need not be external
or vocal; internal or mental is sufficient.
By prayer, we acknowledge God’s power and goodness, our own need and dependence. It is, therefore, an act implying the deepest reverence for God and habituating us to look to Him for everything, not merely because the thing asked be good in itself, or advantageous to us, but chiefly because we wish it as a gift of God, and not otherwise, no matter how good or desirable it may seem to us. Prayer presupposes faith in God and hope in His goodness. By both, God, to whom we pray, moves us to prayer.
Why do we pray for?
Like every act that makes for salvation, grace is required not only to pray, but also to aid us in determining what to pray for. For certain objects we are always sure we should pray, such as our salvation, resistance to temptation, but constantly we need guidance to know the special means that will most help us in any particular need. That there may be no possibility of misjudgment on our part in such an essential obligation, we must adjudge what we should ask for in prayer and also in what order we should ask it. We should ask for nothing unless it be strictly in accordance with Divine Providence in our regard. We ask also for temporal things, our daily bread, and all that it implies, health, strength, and other worldly or temporal goods, not material or corporal only, but mental and moral, every accomplishment that may be a means of serving God and our fellow- men. Finally, there are the evils which we should pray to escape, the penalty of our sins, the dangers of temptation, and every manner of physical or spiritual affliction, so far as these might impede us in God’s service.
To whom may we pray?
Although God is mentioned in our prayer as the one to whom we are to pray, it is not out of place to address our prayers to the other Divine persons. The special appeal to one does not exclude the others. It is the individual choice of the person making prayer.
Who can pray?
There is no classification whether who is entitled to pray or who is not entitled to do so. The just can pray, and sinners also. Though there is no supernatural merit in the sinner’s prayer, it may be heard, and indeed he is obliged to make it just as before he sinned. No matter how hardened he may become in sin, he needs and is bound to pray to be delivered from it and from the temptations which beset him. His prayer could offend God only if it were hypocritical, or presumptuous.
Effects of prayer
In hearing our prayer God does not change His will or action in our regard, but simply puts into effect what He had eternally decreed in view of our prayer. This He may do directly without the intervention of any secondary cause as when He imparts to us some supernatural gift, such as actual grace, or indirectly, when He bestows some natural gift. In this latter case He directs by His Providence the natural causes which contribute to the effect desired, whether they be moral or free agents, such as men; or some moral and others not, but physical and not free; or, again, when none of them is free. Finally, by miraculous intervention, and without employing any of these causes, He can produce the effect prayed for.
The use or habit of prayer redounds to our advantage in many ways. Besides obtaining the gifts and graces we need, the very process elevates our mind and heart to a knowledge and love of Divine things, greater confidence in God, and other precious sentiments. Indeed, so numerous and so helpful are these effects of prayer that they compensate us, even when the special object of our prayer is not granted. Often they are of far greater benefit than what we ask for. Nothing that we might obtain in answer to our prayer could exceed in value the familiar converse with God in which prayer consists. In addition to these effects of prayer, we may merit by it restoration to grace, if we are in sin; new inspirations of grace, increase of sanctifying grace, and satisfy for the temporal punishment due to sin.
Conditions of prayer
He listens to all without discrimination on the basis of caste, color, creed or anything, but we see certain conditions on which the efficacy of prayer depends. In the first place, its object must be worthy of God and good for the one who prays, spiritually or temporally. This condition is always implied in the prayer of one who is resigned to God’s will, ready to accept any spiritual favor God may be pleased to grant, and desirous of temporal ones only in so far as they may help to serve God. Next, faith is needed, not only the general belief that God is capable of answering prayer or that it is a powerful means of obtaining His favor, but also the implicit trust in God’s fidelity to His promise to hear a prayer in some particular instance. This trust implies a special act of faith and hope that if our request be for our good, God will grant it, or something else equivalent or better, which in His Wisdom He deems best for us. To be efficacious prayer should be humble. To ask as if one had a binding claim on God’s goodness, or title of whatever color to obtain some favor, would not be prayer but demand. We may and should try to be sure that our conscience is good, and that there is no defect in our conduct inconsistent with prayer; indeed, we may even appeal to our merits so far as they recommend us to God, provided always that the principal motives of one’s confidence are God’s goodness and the merits of Christ. Sincerity is another necessary quality of prayer. It would be idle to ask favor without doing all that may be in our power to obtain it; to beg for it without really wishing for it; or, at the same time that one prays, to do anything inconsistent with the prayer. Earnestness or fervor is another such quality, precluding all lukewarm or half-hearted petitions. To be resigned to God’s will in prayer does not imply that one should be indifferent in the sense that one does not care whether one be heard or not, or should receive; on the contrary, true resignation to God’s will is possible only after we have desired and earnestly expressed our desire in prayer for such things as seem needful to do God’s will.
Further, God does not wish that you should not work at all and just make prayers for getting your wishes accomplished. He asks you to work to your maximum capacity with full sincerity in heart towards your interests and without harming other interests ingenuinely Once a very poor person continued to make prayers, for getting a reward against some lottery, at whatever forum he got, repeatedly for a long period. When he was getting disappointed, he attempted to complain to Him that He did not listen to him so far. God was seeing all this. Being moved with his grievances, God asked him that He was pleased to see his devotion and considering him to reward him but at least he should have purchased a lottery ticket. For the purchase of ticket, the poor man would have to work, such prayers can not be granted.
Attention in prayer
Finally, attention is of the very essence of prayer. As an expression of sentiment emanating from our intellectual faculties prayer requires their application, i.e. attention. As soon as this attention ceases, prayer ceases. To begin praying and allow the mind to be wholly diverted or distracted to some other occupation or thought necessarily terminates the prayer, which is resumed only when the mind is withdrawn from the object of distraction. To admit distraction is wrong when one is obliged to apply oneself to prayer; when there is no such obligation, one is at liberty to pass from the subject of prayer, provided it be done without irreverence, to any other proper subject. This is all very simple when applied to mental prayer; but does vocal prayer require the same attention as mental,-in other words, when praying vocally must one attend to the meaning of words, and if one should cease to do so, would one by that very fact cease to pray? Vocal prayer differs from mental precisely in this that mental prayer is not possible without attention to the thoughts that are conceived and expressed whether internally or externally. Neither is it possible to pray without attending to thought and words when we attempt to express our sentiment in our own words; whereas all that is needed for vocal prayer proper is the repetition of certain words, usually a set form with the intention of using them in prayer. So long as the intention lasts, i.e. so long as nothing is done to terminate it or wholly inconsistent with it, so long as one continues to repeat the form of prayer, with proper reverence in disposition and outward manner, with only this general purpose of praying according to the prescribed form, so long as one continues to pray and no thought or external act can be considered a distraction unless it terminate our intention, or by levity or irreverence be wholly inconsistent with the prayer. Thus one may pray in the crowded streets where it is impossible to avoid sights and sounds and consequent imaginations and thoughts.
Meditation is a form of mental prayer consisting in the application of the various faculties of the soul, memory, imagination, intellect, and will, to the consideration of some mystery, principle, truth, or fact, with a view to exciting proper spiritual emotions and resolving on some act or course of action regarded as God’s will and as a means of union with Him. In some degree or other it has always been practised by God-fearing souls.
Your prayer may be for any truth or fact whatever concerning God or the human soul, God’s existence, His attributes, such as justice, mercy, love, wisdom, His law, providence, revelation, creation and its purpose, sin and its penalties, death, creation and its purpose, sin and its penalties, death, judgment, hell, redemption, etc. The precise aspect of the subject should be determined very definitely, otherwise its consideration will be general or superficial and of no practical benefit. As far as possible its application to one’s spiritual needs should be foreseen, and to work up interest in it, as one retires and rises, one should recall it to mind so as to make it a sleeping and a waking thought. When ready for meditation, a few moments should be given to recollecting what we are about to do so as to begin with quiet of mind and deeply impressed with the sacredness of prayer. A brief act of adoration of God naturally follows, with a petition that our intention to honor Him in prayer may be sincere and persevering, and that every faculty and act, interior and exterior, may contribute to His service and praise. The subject of the meditation is then recalled to mind, and in order to fix the attention, the imagination is here employed to construct some scene appropriate to the subject, e.g. the Garden of Paradise, if the meditation be on Creation, or the Fall of Man; Hell, the bottomless and boundless pit of fire. This is called the composition of the place, and even when the subject of meditation has no apparent material associations, the imagination can always devise some scene or sensible image that will help to fix or recall one’s attention and appreciate the spiritual matter under consideration. Thus, when considering sin, especially carnal sin, as enslaving the soul, the similarity of the body to the prison house of the soul is imagined.
Quite often this initial step, or prelude as it is called, might occupy one profitably the entire time set apart for meditation; but ordinarily it should be made in a few minutes. A brief petition follows for the special grace one hopes to obtain and then the meditation proper begins. The memory recalls the subject as definitely as possible, one point at a time, repeating it over if necessary, always as a matter of intimate personal interest, and with a strong act of faith until the intellect naturally apprehends the truth or the import of the fact under consideration, and begins to conceive it as a matter for careful consideration, reasoning about it and studying what it implies for one’s welfare. Gradually an intense interest is aroused in these reflections, until, with faith quickening the natural intelligence one begins to perceive applications of the truth or fact to one’s condition and needs and to feel the advantage or necessity of acting upon the conclusions drawn from one’s reflections. This is the important moment of meditation. The conviction that we need or should do something in accordance with our consideration begets in us desires or resolutions which we long to accomplish. It we are serious we shall admit of no self-deception either as to the propriety or possibility of such resolutions on our part. No matter what it may cost us to be consistent, we shall adopt them, and the more we appreciate their difficulty and our own weakness or incapacity, the more we shall try to value the motives which prompt us to adopt them, and above all the more we shall pray for grace to be able to carry them out.
If we are in earnest we shall not be satisfied with a superficial process. In the light of the truth we are meditating, our past experience will come to mind and confront us perhaps with memory of failure in previous attempts similar to those we are considering now, or at least with a keen sense of the difficulty to be apprehended, making us more solicitous about the motives animating us and humble in petitioning God’s grace. These petitions, as well as all the various emotions that arise from our reflections, find expression in terms of prayer to God which are called colloquies, or conversations with Him. They may occur at any point in the process, whenever our thoughts inspire us to call upon God for our needs, or even for light to perceive and appreciate them and to know the means of obtaining them. This general process is subject to variations according to the character of the matter under consideration. The number of preludes and colloquies may vary, and the time spent in reasoning may be greater or less according to our familiarity with the subject. There is nothing mechanical in the process; indeed, if analyzed, it is clearly the natural operation of each faculty and of all in concert.
Meditation carefully followed forms habits of recalling and reasoning rapidly and with some ease about Divine things in such a manner as to excite pious affections, which become very ardent and which attach us very strongly to God’s will. When prayer is made up chiefly of such affections, it is called Effective prayer, to denote that instead of having to labor mentally to admit or grasp a truth, we have grown so familiar with it that almost the mere recollection of it fills us with sentiments of faith, hope, charity; moves us to practise more generously one or other of the moral virtues; inspires us to make some act of self-sacrifice or to attempt some work for the glory of God. When these affections become more simple, that is, less numerous, less varied, and less interrupted or impeded by reasoning or mental attempts to find expression either for considerations or affections, they constitute the prayer of simplicity, of simple attention to one dominant thought or Divine object without reasoning on it, but simply letting it recur at intervals to renew or strengthen the sentiments which keep the soul united to God.
Some time prayers work a lot when medicines fail to cure some ailment, even some doctors of modern age advise the relatives of a patient when they see that the patient has reached to incurable stage and medicines and other efforts are showing results. Whatever our individual faiths be, we do make prayers in distress. In happiness, if we do it for others’ welfare, I believe that God will be happier.
Be Happy – Prayer connects you with the Supreme.