Prayer is like breathing for the soul. Did you ever try to stop breathing for a few days? What would happen to your body in that case happens to your Christian life when you stop praying.
Imagine trying to build and deepen a friendship without communicating or spending time with your friend. In the same way, how can we let God fill our life with joy, light, strength, and purpose if we don't spend time with him, get to know him, enter into a dynamic, personal relationship with him in prayer?
St Paul urges us: "Pray without ceasing." (1Thessalonians 5:17). Christ himself admonishes us: "Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." (Mark 14:38). St Theresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, makes it potently clear: "He who neglects mental prayer needs not a devil to carry him to hell, but he brings himself there with his own hands." (Quoted by St Alphonsus Liguori in The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection.)
Here's how the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it in number 2558:
"Great is the mystery of the faith!" The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles' Creed and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy, so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer. (emphasis added)
Types of Prayer
The Church recognizes many different kinds of prayer, which can be grouped together under three general categories: vocal prayer, mental prayer, and contemplative prayer.
Vocal prayer consists in reciting, either out loud or to oneself, the words of previously composed prayers, and aligning one's thoughts and desires to their meanings.
Mental prayer combines personal reflection on a text from the Bible or from some other spiritual work with words of one's own, spoken to God in a heart-to-heart conversation. Mental prayer is also commonly known as Christian meditation.
Contemplative prayer brings the soul into more direct contact with God, often without words or ideas; it is the prayer of being in the presence of God, loving him and knowing you are loved by him.
Prayer has as its ultimate goal to praise God and to receive his grace, to deepen our personal communion with God and strengthen the Church. The time we spend in prayer should awaken in our hearts attitudes of adoration, wonder, gratitude, petition, and contrition.
How to Pray
We learn to pray by praying. The single most important factor in our life of prayer is our decision to make prayer an integral part of our life. If God matters to me, I will make time for prayer. If he doesn't, I won't.
Prayer, conversation with God, should accompany us throughout our entire day. We should invite God to be a part of all our joys and sorrows, our struggles and concerns, our projects and decisions. He is a loving Father who longs to be "let in" to his children's lives.
Nevertheless, the hectic pace of life requires us to set aside some time to be alone with God. We need to "tune in" to him frequently each day, so that our activities don't end up crowding him out, so that we recognize his action in our daily lives, and so we never impede the grace that he wants to give others through us.
To maintain a healthy prayer life, and therefore a healthy relationship with God, experience has shown the following prayer commitments to be helpful:
- Starting the day with a morning offering
- Ending the day with a brief prayerful reflection on how the day went
- Dedicating 10-15 minutes each day to mental prayer
- Praying the Angelus
- Praying a decade of the rosary sometime during the day
- Regular confession (every month or every two weeks)
- Going to Mass during the week in addition to Sundays
- Praying before meals
- Visiting Christ in the Eucharist
No prayer book, however, can pray for you. God will never force his way into our lives; what kind of friend would? Each one of us has to decide, every day, how much God matters to us, and pray accordingly.