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Prayer Part 2: How to Pray

A Practical Guide

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

The first step in learning how to do anything is to learn why we’re doing it. If you do not have a convicting and satisfying answer on why we should pray, check out Prayer Part 1: Why Pray

I think it is important for you, the reader, to know that I am not a spiritual master. I am not a hermit, a cloistered nun, a theologian, or even a diocesan priest.

My credibility does not come from expansive knowledge: but rather my natural weakness.

I am someone who couldn’t sit still if I were in a straitjacket and my legs were dangling over the Golden Gate Bridge.

But the advice I give here comes from those holier and wiser than me both living and dead, and through a combination of this advice and the Grace of God, I have maintained a consistent prayer life for around five years.

As mentioned in part 1, the definition of prayer most useful to our purposes is this: talking and listening to God.

Getting Started

The first step of prayer is to do it. At this point, you are likely ready to exit this article but let me explain.

You will never pray if you wait until you are ready to do so. You have to dive in and be willing to be uncomfortable or unprepared. There is simply no way to prepare yourself to speak to the King of the Universe, even if He is infinitely kind and merciful.

Saint Josemaria Escriva says “Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.” (The Way)

An easy start to prayer could even be to rant with the knowledge that God is listening. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).

And when you pray, be honest with God.

Years ago, I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that I did not love God. So I told Him. Afterward, my prayer, since there was nothing fake about it, actually began to change, and soon I was on the journey of falling in love with Him.

During his conversion, Saint Augustine had a similar moment of voicing his real desires to God with his famous prayer, “make me chaste, but not yet.”

Tell Jesus the truth, even if you do not think it’s what He wants to hear.

Decide how long you should Pray, and Stick to It

So far, prayer may sound dramatic, which it sometimes is. I have moments of weeping and laughter, inspiration and realization, anger and consolation.

But whether you’re trying to get to the orcs or the elves when reading The Lord of the Rings, you must get through a lot of walking first.

In our pursuit of a relationship with God, we must be willing to get through the periods of spiritual dryness, which for me, is most of the time. And this takes discipline.

Sticking to a set amount of time in prayer is the least popular advice I give, especially when I recommend even adding a timer. I am not saying this is a must, as our spiritual forefathers did not have timers, but the principle in which I am speaking holds.

“When you pray, let this be a firm resolution: Don’t prolong your prayer just because you find consolation in it, nor curtail it because you find it dry.” Saint Josemaria Escriva (The Way).

Saints Francis De Sales (Point 4) and Ignatius of Loyola (12th Annotation) express similar sentiments.

I think most people understand the idea of never contracting your time of prayer, but never expanding prayer makes prayer sound woefully unromantic.

In order to understand this, keep in mind, the point of having a set amount of time is to create a habit of prayer.

So many times, I have seen people return from a conference or a retreat committed to praying to God every day, and they end up fizzling out after a few days, their “Jesus High” reduced to a vague and confusing memory.

They had passion, but no discipline. It is through discipline and consistency that we avoid becoming like the seeds in Jesus’s parable that are sown on rocky ground, who sprang up quickly but were scorched under the sun because they had no roots. (Matthew 13:5–6, 20–21)

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the only time you should pray is that time set aside for prayer. Life will provide no shortage of opportunities for spontaneous prayer.

But be disciplined in the time you set aside.

So far as deciding how long your daily prayer should be, I normally recommend fifteen minutes a day if you do not already have a habit of daily prayer. If someone holy and close to you is recommending something else, then I’d defer to them. But whatever you decide, don’t go longer, don’t go shorter.

As to what time you should pray, most recommend doing so at the same time every day, in the morning, if possible. I will be honest, given my hectic and irregular line of work, I have never found that to be helpful. Perhaps it will be for you if you have more of a 9–5 kind of job.

I fall back on the Father Mike Schmitz advice of giving God the best time of your day, or the time you can be most focused on Him.

When it comes to where you should pray, I have a ranking of the best to worst places to do your daily prayer:

1. Adoration Chapel

2. Sanctuary

3. A quiet place outdoors (preferably with natural beauty)

4. Non-Adoration Chapel

5. A quiet room

7,548,939,546. Lying in bed ready to fall asleep

7,548,939,547. Hell

For years, I only prayed when I was in bed, and only after I had read or was on my phone until I could barely stay awake.

It is wonderful to fall asleep in prayer if you have already performed your duty of daily prayer. If you have not performed your duty, get out of bed, offer up the tiredness, and get to prayer.

What To Do in Prayer

Thus far, I have spoken generally about prayer on principles that I think can be applied to anyone.

But there is only one method of prayer that I recommend to everyone and that is the Mass.

Otherwise, prayer is not a method. God made each of us differently, and our relationship with Him will look different.

If you are a Catholic, I do have a caution. Father Mike Schmitz said in his March 5, 2023 Homily, that we are often not taught how to pray, but rather to repeat. I agree with this statement.

The rosary is a great and a powerful weapon against the Devil, but if rosaries become vain repetition, then you might want to consider doing something else for a while.

Part of the beauty of our Catholic faith is that no prayer, so long as it is directed to God with due reverence, is wrong.

If I get enough of a response to this article, I can go deeper into forms of prayer, but for now, here are just some ways to pray with a few notes attached. Note that the “right way” to pray is whatever you will actually do.

· Rosary (great for contemplation and joining with others in prayer)

· Praise and Worship/Hymns (especially great if praising God is awkward for you)

· Journaling (my personal favorite way to pray)

· Speaking out loud (only in appropriate surroundings)

· Silence (needed for listening to God)

· Scripture (the Word of God is alive and He speaks to us through it to this day)

· Lectio Divina (go deep into a single Scriptural passage).

· Bible in a Year podcast (a more manageable way of tackling the entire Bible)

· Angelus

· Liturgy of the Hours (if you wish to join in with all the priests of the world)

· Mental Prayer (if you have the gift of Mental Prayer, then Saint Francis De Sales says you should give it first place over all other forms of prayer you are not bound by duty to do)

· Homilies, sermons, and holy books

· The Jesus Prayer (popular among Eastern Catholics)

Final Things

There are going to be times of great difficulty and dryness. When we pray, we experience boredom much of the time.

Saint John of the Cross famously wrote about this in his book The Dark Night of the Soul.

Mother Theresa’s journals were found to be full of mourning for her inability to sense God.

Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote, “When I sing of heaven’s happiness of what it is to possess God forever, I feel no joy; I simply sing of what I want to believe.

When your prayer becomes difficult and you even find yourself doubting God, do not be discouraged. It is in these times of dryness that we learn to love our great Gift Giver, and not just the gifts He gives us.

In C.S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the demon, Wormwood, had just boasted that he thinks his human’s “religious phase is dying away.” The more cunning demon, Screwtape, admonishes him saying that their Enemy, God, makes great use out of this dryness.

Screwtape writes: “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon this universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

God makes His presence known to us at times for the joy it brings us. But when the last thing someone wants to do is pray, and they answer the call of holiness anyway, that is when we become saints.


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