IX. The Fire of His Love: Prayer and the Life of the Spirit

This volume examines the meaning of prayer and offers insights into the life of prayer through the life experiences of three Catholic mystics: Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. The author voices his understanding of how prayer works in our lives and how we can live the contemplative life in our own modern times.
Average Time to Read: 3 minutes

1. What is prayer?

a. One way of defining prayer is that it is a deep encounter with God and therefore saying or reciting prayers and praying are not always the same thing. Prayer is not simply the act of completing the recitation of a rote prayer especially not if it has been done thoughtlessly. St. Teresa says that when we try to pray without proper thought or reflection, without considering fully who we are talking to, who is asking and what is being asked for, she does not call that “prayer” no matter how much the lips move. Prayer generates from the heart and not from the lips. It is the raising of the mind and heart to God.

b. Prayer can also be thought of as that moment when the human desire for God meets God’s even greater desire for us. It is a kind of falling deeper and deeper into love.

c. The catechism speaks of prayer as gift since we do not know how to pray as we ought but the Holy Spirit instructs us. Prayer is also an expression of covenant and communion (2558-2565).

2. Insights from holy spiritual masters /saints.

a. The narrator examines some spiritual insights from Thomas Merton, a modern day Trappist monk, and St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, two medieval Carmelites who were declared doctors of the Church in the area of mystical theology (i.e. on prayer). These are just some basic examples of why the Church has always seen value in reading about the lives of the saints and studying their writings.

3. Specific techniques of prayer.

a. Achieving union with God can be accomplished through various different means; observing God’s creation, poetry, music, art, expressions of the body, thought/meditation, prayerful reading of scripture, adoration and liturgical worship, silence, etc. The approach to prayer that we adopt for ourselves should be a very practical one. What helps us to feel closer to God in our daily lives? Do that. That is prayer. The end is far more important than the means. Also, understand that we change and, therefore, our methods of praying may also necessarily need to change with us.

b. That being said, over the centuries the Church has endorsed certain forms of prayer as efficacious and helpful. Among them are the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, the Stations of the Cross, Iconography, Lectio Divina and various litanies and chaplets. Above all, the greatest single prayer of the Church is and has always been the Mass.

4. General types of prayer (2626-2649).

a. Blessing and Adoration – worship

b. Petition- asking for favors from God

c. Intercession – praying for the needs of others or asking others to pray for us (including the saints)

d. Thanksgiving – expressing gratitude for blessings

e. Praise – honoring God in words

5. What is the point of prayer?

a. Is it to inform God of our needs? – No. God already knows all. He knows what we need before we ask.

b. Is it to change God? To make a sales pitch? To bring God around to our way of thinking? – No. That which is perfect does not undergo change.

c. The correct answer, according to St. Augustine, is that we are the ones who are being changed. It is God who is working on us. And through the act of prayer, our desires are stretched and changed, being gradually conformed to God’s will so that we begin to desire what God wishes to give us.

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