Walking with the Lord in prayer

April 12, 2011

HOUSTON — In his 2011 Lenten Message, Pope Benedict XVI said, “…through the personal encounter with our Redeemer and through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, the journey of conversion towards Easter leads us to rediscover our Baptism.” Prayer is one of many ways people are invited into a deeper relationship with God.
The rich tradition of the Catholic faith affords a seemingly endless volume and variety of prayers to assist us in developing a deep spiritual life and a habit of daily prayer. But where does one begin, when there are so many ways to pray? 

Recently, Sister Madeleine Grace, C.V.I., Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, shared with the Texas Catholic Herald a primer on prayer and answered a few questions to help Catholics get started or move forward in their spiritual life during Lent and beyond. 

Texas Catholic Herald: What are the types of Catholic prayer?

Sister Madeleine Grace, C.V.I.: St. Teresa of Avila writes of vocal and mental prayer. In vocal prayer, which we use so readily in sacramental Liturgy and often in devotional prayer, we are challenged to actively enter into the prayer, that is, to be fully present. Mental prayer encompasses meditation and contemplative prayer. Meditation normally engages the intellect through a prayerful reading of a segment of the scriptures of the day or some other holy book. It is hoped that the stirring of the heart follows which leads one in turn to ask for guidance: “Lord, what do you ask of me?” Contemplative prayer is a spontaneous sharing with the Lord. St. Teresa refers to it as a close sharing of friends. 

TCH: Can you explain the importance of prayer during Lent?

Sister Grace: Lent is often referred to as a spiritual springtime. In order to anticipate spiritual growth, I need [to] spend some time before the Lord to assess my response to grace and in particular my areas of vulnerability. This season provides that incentive in walking with the Lord to strengthen the will against those daily pitfalls. Time in prayer before the Lord reveals some areas in need of refashioning in one’s life. Hopefully, the redemptive journey of Christ provides the incentive. 

TCH: What are some of the forms of prayer that individuals can practice during the season?

Sister Grace: The Eucharist is the greatest and most fruitful of all prayer. During this season of Lent when we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, we can grow in appreciation of this great gift by attendance at Eucharist and likewise personal prayer time before the Eucharist. 
The Way of the Cross so appropriately typifies the journey of the season.
The daily Mass readings have been so carefully chosen in keeping with the season. A few moments in prayerful reading of them each day can be a very fruitful practice.

TCH: How can we carry these types of prayers over into our daily lives?

Sister Grace: Time at prayer enables us, through the watchful guardianship of the Holy Spirit, to maintain an ordered life, keep our priorities in order. If we are believers in the value of prayer, we will get to Mass more frequently, spend time before the Blessed Sacrament, rest with the scriptures.

TCH: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Sister Grace: Pope Benedict in his text on “The Virtues” points out that our hearts are too small for the greatness of the gift of God Himself. When the gift that we pray for is delayed, our desire is strengthened. Our capacity to receive, as seen in the human heart, is therefore enlarged. Augustine describes this process of the enlargement of the heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, needs be enlarged and then cleansed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and entails suffering, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined. It is hoped that through increased desire and filial trust, the heart is enlarged. 

St. Therese in her autobiography, as referenced by the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” describes prayer as ‘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.’ Therese truly loved the Lord for she realized His many gifts. This Lenten season provides that opportunity of recalling the generosity of God with each of us.