Ushering in the new school, catechetical year

August 13, 2016

During the month of August, all around the Archdiocese Catholic schools and parishes are preparing for the new catechetical year. It is also during this time each year that the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis announces a new catechetical theme. This year’s theme is “Prayer: The Faith Prayed.”

What a befitting theme since, as Catholics, we are a people of prayer. Whether it is in the form of a communal prayer like the Mass or if it is when we kneel down in the privacy of our homes, for us prayer is essential in our relationship with God and each other. 

There is a universal call to pray as mankind searches for God. “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you” (St. Augustine). From the time God creates us, He calls for us to respond and our response to that call is prayer. It is through prayer that we encounter God and the more we pray the closer we grow to God, deepening our relationship with Him. 

There is a popular phrase that you may be familiar with, it reads “Know Prayer, Know God…No Prayer, no God.” There is a profound truth to that statement. Can you imagine what would happen if you never had conversation with your spouse or best friend? Eventually, there would only be a memory in place of a relationship. The purpose of prayer is to have relationship with God. 

True prayer also transforms us. Constant and intentional prayer rewards its participants with such gifts as wonder, gratitude, peace and humility. Additionally, our conversations with God produce love: His love for us and our love in response to His. In today’s time of constant noise, electronic devices and interruptions, prayer teaches us about the necessity of silence in our lives. For prayer not only requires silence, it creates silence. 

We hear it in Scriptures, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Ps. 46:10). Stillness and silence which are needed for authentic and intimate prayer are also a rare commodity. In today’s hectic world we should remember that. “...the Lord did not reveal Himself in the great wind, nor the earthquake or the fire, but in the tiny whisper.” (1 Kings 19) 

As mentioned above, not only does prayer occur in the solitude of our hearts but also in our community. For Catholics, it is not only about “me and God” but also very importantly about “we and God.” Whether it is being with a community of friends, family, the Church or standing among strangers at St. Peter’s Square, prayer connects us. Praying together as one voice lifted to heaven can unite us as nothing else can. 
Celebrating Mass is one of our best ways to pray together in community. St. Augustine believed that both prayer in solitude and communal prayer is necessary evidenced by his statement: “No one ought to be so entirely contemplative as not to consider his neighbor’s benefit, nor so active as to neglect the contemplation of God.”

If you look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you would see that the Church dedicates an entire section to this important topic of prayer (CCC Part Four: Christian Prayer). 

It contains a lot of good information and teaching on prayer. Knowing about prayer is important, but I have found that with regard to actually praying it is good to remember the old adage “KISS” (Keep it simple sweetie). Even Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Matthew that “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases...” 

Many times a simple word or two will do. Remember true prayer comes from the heart. This is your Abba or father you are praying to and He knows what is in your heart. Prayer without heart is no more than a recitation of empty words. The Catechism makes mention that the word “heart” is used more than one thousand times in Scriptures. The heart is where conversion takes place. It is the place where we encounter God. 
I believe St. Therese of Lisieux said it best when she defined prayer this way: “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.”

So, as we usher in our new catechetical and school year, let us keep prayer in the forefront. Here are a few suggestions to help you with your journey to encounter God: 

• Thoughtfully read a few paragraphs on prayer from Part Four of Catechism each week during this year of prayer;
• Pray the Divine Office: try one of the online versions for your smart phone;
• Dedicate yourself to praying the Rosary daily;
• Commit to reading the Gospels, one chapter a day, using the Lectio Divina as a method of prayer; or
• Simply start your day with the Our Father and end it with an Act of Contrition. 
Whatever you choose, bring prayer into your daily life and build your relationship with God. †

Deborah Jones is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.