nature of prayer

Prayer is defined as the lifting up of the mind and heart to God. That is how the Baltimore Catechism describes it. We know prayers. The Our Father, the Hail Mary, The Glory be, the list goes on and on. They are all defined as prayers. Very often we think of prayer and automatically, we recite one of these prayers.

Is the recitation of the words of the Our Father really a prayer? If that recitation consists solely of saying memorized words, while distractions fill our heads, then I truly wonder if that qualifies as prayer. The lifting up of our mind and heart to God involves more than mere recitation.

Look closely at the Rosary. It is a good example of what prayer is and is not. It is not the mere recitation of Our Fathers and Hail Marys. If no thought, no feeling is involved, then we might as well recite “Row, row, row your boat, etc.” No disparagement is intended here. During the repetitive recitation of the prayers, we use our mind to recall different aspects (the mysteries) of the Christian religion and to allow our hearts and souls to embrace these wonders. In this embrace our hearts, our mind, our very being expands and rejoices with these events. This is the purpose of prayer, to become one with Christ.

We do, however, have to go to work. We have to cook, clean, mow the lawn, feed and bathe our children, work with people, in short, we must do other things, that prevent us from formally praying. Is it our lot in life then, to pray to our God, only at certain times? Times that are convenient for us or defined by others? Times that we can push back and delay until tomorrow?
Our whole day can and should be a prayer. We said earlier that the purpose of prayer is to become one with Christ. An act of love to a stranger, suppressing a biting word and replacing it with an act of gentleness, listening to that person we really don’t like, trying to love that person who we really don’t like, helping someone in your neighborhood, all of these can be our prayers. Why? Because Christ told us, He is in each and every person that we encounter. What better way to become one with Christ, then to show Him the love we have for others? His words, “What you do for the least of these, you do for Me”, must resound in our hearts and minds.

To make our day, our whole day, worthy of being called a prayer is not something we can say we will do, and it is then automatically done. If all we do is say we are going to do it, and then do nothing about it, we are back to reciting row, row, row your boat again. We must want to know and love Christ. This love for Him will be the driving force to make our lives a living prayer. This love will expand our hearts to want to help others. Not because we should, but because we seriously want to. Our journey through life is made up of steps, little steps. Sometimes the steps we take don’t move us forward towards Christ, at all. Sometimes these stumbling steps are our wake-up call that we must start anew. But, with each step that we take towards Christ we are that much closer to becoming one with Him.