The Letter of Saint James expresses the power of prayer when offered by a holy man. Our prayer can even determine weather conditions. The example in the Letter of Saint James is taken from the person of the great Prophet Elijah. His prayer stopped the rain from coming down and then opened up the skies so that it would rain again:
Elijah was a human being like us; yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain upon the land. Then he prayed again, this time for rain, and the sky gave rain and the earth produced its fruit. (Saint James 5: 17-18)
This short passage taken from the Letter of Saint James should be a powerful motivation for all of us to examine our own prayer life, admit that there is much improvement needed, and take the necessary measures to add power to our prayers. As the Gospel reminds us: Prayer can indeed move mountains!
This being said, we would like to offer a series of suggestions so that our prayer life will not be insipid, lukewarm, mediocre, stagnant and lifeless! May God help us to inject power into our prayer life. Our personal sanctification and the sanctification of many others depends upon our own personal prayer life!
Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate—challenges all of us to become saints and in the fourth chapter highlights five signposts of those who are on the highway to holiness. The last of the five is that a saint strives to pray constantly!!! Therefore, let us dive into the infinite abyss of the ocean of prayer!
COUNSELS AND ADVICE TO SKYROCKET IN PRAYER!!!1. CONVICTION!!! We will never carry out any worthwhile initiative if we are not motivated by a firm and determined conviction of the importance of this enterprise. In the pursuit of money, power, pleasure, success in the natural world—we see men and women who make heroic sacrifices! Take for example those chosen to be in the Olympic Games. Training, discipline, fasting, and much more is undertaken, even years before the Olympic Games take place. This is simply for a Medal that will rust and disappear one day. We must be convinced that our prayer life is a matter of life and death for the salvation of our soul and the souls of those entrusted to us! An analogy might serve to hammer this idea home: As air is to our lungs, so prayer is to the health and salvation of our souls!!!
2. PURIFICATION!!! Jesus taught us in the Beatitudes: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. (Mt. 5:8) Our mystical life, our contemplative life demands purity of heart, mind, soul, and body! Making a good sacramental Confession is not only of incalculable value in giving us great peace of mind, heart, and soul, but also Confession, through the Precious Blood of Jesus, purifies the window of our soul so that we can contemplate the beauty of the Face of Jesus in prayer. Frequent confession can bolster your drooping prayer life!
3. COME HOLY SPIRIT, COME!!! Some of the many titles that are given to the Holy Spirit are the following: The Interior Master, Sweet Guest of the soul, Gift of Gifts… In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul expressed a struggle in prayer, saying: We do not know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit can intercede for us so that we can say Abba, Father. In other words, we need teachers, and most important, in the art of prayer. It is the Holy Spirit, the Interior Master, who can come to our aid and help us grow quickly and efficaciously in our prayer journey. The powerful Pentecost experience is one of the most compelling examples. After nine days of silence, prayer, and fasting with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, setting their hearts on fire with the love of God, and teaching them to pray so that they could be Masters of prayer in the whole world. (Read Acts 2!!!)
4. GIVE GENEROUSLY OF YOUR TIME!!! As in any activity that we deem of importance, we must give time to that activity. A professional baseball player, a professional musician, a professional Doctor, a professional writer, a professional singer—all have one point in common: they have exerted blood, sweat, and tears to perfect themselves in their art, in their profession. So much the more should we be willing to expend time and exert effort to learn the art of all arts, the art of Prayer! The athletes express it concisely: No pain, no gain!!!
5. HAVE YOUR PRAYER PLACE!!! Very important also is setting aside some place where you can pray well. We must add here, the importance of having a prayer time, preferably as early in the day as possible. Otherwise, it’s like going into battle without your armor! Related to time and place must be added the indispensable condition of silence. Elijah in his experience on the mountain did not encounter God in the noise, but in the gentle, silent breeze. Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening!!! If at all possible, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen suggests that we make our Holy Hour, the Hour of Power, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, in front of the Real Presence—Jesus the Eucharistic Lord!!!
6. INVITE MARY INTO YOUR PRAYER!!! Another enormous help to pray more and to improve our prayer life, is to invite the Blessed Virgin Mary to be with you in your prayer period. Beg Mary, who had a true contemplative heart, to pray with you and to pray for you. Beg Our Lady through her powerful intercession to turn your water into wine. (Jn. 2:1-12) That is to say, to turn your mediocre and insipid prayer into fire!!!
7. A PRAYER METHOD… Utilizing a Prayer method can be of immense value to take flight into the spiritual atmosphere and heights of our prayer experience! Methods are used for learning many things, for sports, for language skills, even for learning how to drive. This is also true with respect to prayer. Among the many suggestions possible, we would like to refer you to a suggestion made by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical on the Bible, the Word of God, Verbum Domine. In this superb document the Holy Father offers a classical method of the past which is titled Lectio Divina! Behold the steps:
a) LECTIO—Meaning to read with an open heart: Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening.
b) MEDITATIO—Ponder and think about the meaning of this passage. Take the Blessed Mother as your example. She pondered the Word of God in her Immaculate Heart.
c) CONTEMPLATIO—Saint Ignatius calls this Composition of Place. Meaning: Try to imagine that you are really in the scene with Jesus and Mary. Be present in the scene and active in it! You are not a passive spectator but an active participant.
d) ORACIO—The heart of prayer is what touches and moves your heart. Now talk to the Lord from the depths of your heart. The Lord is attentive to your supplications.
e) ACCIO—After you have completed your formal prayer period, now in imitation of Mary who moves from the Annunciation to the Visitation, move to put into practice what you have experienced in the depths of your heart in prayer.
8. TRANSFORMACIO!!! Recognize that prayer done with faith, love, fervor, and constancy, will result in a final quality: that of TRANSFORMATION!!! In the words of the fiery Apostle Saint Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” We are transformed into the one we love and the One who loves us—JESUS, OUR BEST FRIEND!!!
9. DISTRACTIONS. There is not a prayer warrior in the world who does not experience distractions, and who does not have to struggle to conquer them. However, this can be of great purpose and utility in our prayer journey; a comment from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on distractions! It is the following. Often distractions during our time of prayer are indications of a disordered attachment or affection that we might be clinging to! In other words, it could be the Holy Spirit challenging us to give up some attachment that is impeding our growth in prayer! Saint Ignatius challenges us to a state of Holy Indifference—meaning, we have to detach ourselves from any person, place, thing, or even mental conviction that can prevent us from loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength! Saint John of the Cross says that a bird cannot fly if it has a chain around its foot or a thread! Our God is a devouring fire. (Letter to the Hebrews) He wants all that we have and all that we are, and He gives all of Himself to us in return!
10. BIBLE AS THE FUNDAMENTAL SOURCE. There are many sources that we can employ in our prayer life: prayer books, various readings, etc. However, it must be stated unequivocally: THE BIBLE—THE WORD OF GOD, should be our primary sustenance in our prayer experience. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread… In the desert Jesus rebuked Satan with these words: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God! (Mt 4) Take the Bible in your hands, especially the Gospels, and nourish your mind, heart, and soul with the Word of God!!!
11. READING ON PRAYER. Saint Teresa of Avila, the Doctor of Prayer in the Catholic Church, would not allow a woman into the Carmelite Order if she did not know how to read. Why you might ask? The reason is clear! This great Saint and Doctor of the Church firmly believed that one could learn immensely on many topics, and especially that of prayer by diving into classics written on prayer. There is an infinite reservoir of sources, but we will give just a few: “Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer”, “Prayer Primer”, and “Fire Within”, all written by Father Thomas Dubay. “Introduction to the Devout Life” by Saint Francis de Sales. “The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila”, “The Way of Perfection”, and “Interior Castle”, all written by Saint Teresa of Avila. “Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul” by Saint Faustina Kowalska.
12. MORE READING: A MUST!!! All who take their prayer life seriously must find time to read slowly, sincerely, and methodically the CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. This is indeed a spiritual masterpiece that gives an excellent summary of prayer as found in the Old Testament figures, the Psalms, the prayer of Jesus, methods of prayer, struggles in prayer, and a concise explanation of the Our Father, the Lord’s prayer. No doubt a careful reading of one of the most authoritative texts ever written on prayer can give you a very solid foundation on which to construct your spiritual edifice of prayer. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” (Mt. 7:24-29)
13. SPIRITUAL DIRECTION. Another indispensable help in the sometimes difficult journey of our prayer experience is that of seeking out adequate, methodical, and systematic spiritual direction. We all have blind-spots in our life and this is very true in our spiritual life and that of prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila had several saints who helped her to arrive at the heights of her prayer experience. Among these were the following: Saint John of the Cross, Saint Peter of Alcantara, O.F.M., Saint Francis Borja, S.J., and Jerome Gracian, O.P. Maybe we cannot find three canonized saints to direct us, but we can pray to find some capable person to help us along the highway to holiness in our prayer journey! Beg the Holy Spirit for this great grace!
14. RETREAT EXPERIENCES. We would be remiss if we did not mention one of the most powerful means to arrive at a deeper prayer life and prayer experience—it is that of RETREATS!!! The retreat experience left to us by Saint Ignatius of Loyola has proved to be a real winner over the past 450 years. The Retreat can be a weekend, or eight days, or even a month-long encounter with the Lord Jesus. It can be a preached retreat or a silent retreat. However, once again related to spiritual direction, it is important during the course of the retreat that you seek out some form of spiritual direction. An annual retreat experience should be on our agenda!
15. COMMUNITY. We should not neglect the power of prayer in community. Jesus Himself said: Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst! As Christians we belong to the family/the community of the Church. We must learn the art of praying with others. How might this play out? The Rosary prayed in a group, as well as the Liturgy of the Hours (Breviary), Holy Hours made in community, and of course the most powerful prayer that exists, that of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving Jesus, the Bread of Life. As a signpost of holiness, Pope Francis insists on the building up of community, and what better way then by praying together!!!
In conclusion, may the words of the great mystic-ascetic Franciscan priest, Saint Peter of Alcantara, spur us on to strive for greater depth in our personal prayer life, with these most inspiring words, which highlight the numerous effects of prayer:
“In mental prayer the soul is purified of its sins, nourished with charity, confirmed in faith, and strengthened in hope; the mind expands, the affections dilate, the heart is purified, truth becomes evident, temptation is conquered, sadness dispelled, the senses are renovated, the drooping powers revive, tepidity ceases, the rust of vices disappears. Out of mental prayer, prayers issue forth like living sparks, those desires of heaven which the soul conceives when inflamed with the fire of divine love. Sublime is the excellence of mental prayer; great are its privileges; to mental prayer heaven is opened; to mental prayer heavenly secrets are manifested and the ear of God is attentive.” (The Ways of Mental Prayer, Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey, pages 26-27, Tan Publishers)
Father Ed Broom, OMV, is Associate Pastor of St. Peter Chanel Church in Hawaiian Gardens, California. He is a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and was ordained by Saint John Paul II on May 25, 1986. Fr. Ed teaches Catholic Ignatian Marian Spirituality through articles, podcasts, a radio show, retreats and spiritual direction.