Saint Augustine offers us these most encouraging words on the importance of prayer for our life and for the eternal salvation of our immortal souls: He who prays well, lives well; he who lives well, dies well; and he who dies well, all is well.” In a nutshell, the Doctor of Grace, Saint Augustine motivates us by this short, rhythmic sentence to value to the maximum, our prayer life as an indispensable tool to arrive at the goal and purpose of our life—Heaven! Another good analogy might be the following: What air is to the lungs; prayer is to the soul. If we do not inhale air constantly into our lungs, in a very short time the phantom of death steals our life!
Therefore, deeply convinced of the indispensable and paramount importance of prayer, in this short essay we will offer ten basic tools that we can utilize so as to construct a solid and robust spiritual edifice that will lift us up to heaven in this life and for all eternity. In other words, we must be firmly convinced that our conversion, our sanctification, our perseverance in grace, and our eternal salvation depend in large part on our intimate relationship and friendship with God, which is our prayer life.
TEN TOOLS TO BUILD A ROBUST PRAYER LIFE
1. A GOOD PRAYER BOOK. One of the greatest treasures of my early life as a child was the gift that I was given on the day of my First Holy Communion and that was a prayer book. It was indeed a treasure! Normally we start out in our prayer journey by learning vocal prayers, prayers that we pronounce with our lips but we also try to understand with our minds and assimilate in our hearts. A good prayer book offers the basic prayers, prayers before and after Holy Mass, prayers before and after Confession, novena prayers, prayers to the angels and saints, Litanies to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, prayers written by great saints, and many more. Therefore, a great gift to give a child for their first Holy Communion (but also for anybody) is a good Prayer Book. Purchase one today!
2. THE BIBLE: THE WORD OF GOD. The basic staple and substance of any Christian prayer-warrior should always be the Bible—the best definition: The Word of God. We should mediate daily on the Bible, the Word of God and give pride of place to the Gospels that teaches us the life, words, and Person of Jesus, the Word made flesh. (Jn. 1) A few steps to meditate well on the word of God: read attentively, think deeply, talk intimately from your heart to Jesus, and with your feet run to put into practice the Word of God that you have meditated in your heart; like the Blessed Virgin Mary who went in haste to visit her cousin Saint Elizabeth!
3. THE PSALMS. A real shortcut to learning to pray quickly and efficaciously is by praying the Psalms. The Psalms is the inspired prayer book of the Bible. In total 150 psalms, this book, inspired by the Holy Spirit and composed mostly by King David can enrich your prayer life immensely! Indeed, the Psalms are prayers inspired by the Holy Spirit that express all of the affections, feelings, and sentiments in the gamut of human experience. Praise, adoration, worship, thanksgiving, supplication and petition, contrition and sorrow, and awe at the majesty of God—are just a few of the rich panorama of delight that the Psalms freely offer you. Dive in!
4. LITURGY OF THE HOURS. Very much related to the praying of the Psalms is the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. Priests, Religious, and Sisters, pray this prayer of the Church actually five times a day: Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Vespers or Evening Prayer, Compline or Night Prayer, and the Office of Readings. The why or purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours? It is precisely so that we can sanctify the various hours in the course of the day. A model often taken would be the example of the Apostles who would go up to the Temple at various hours of the day to worship God. Learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours either alone or in community. You will never regret it!
5. THE 15 MINUTES WITH JESUS IN THE BLESSED SACRAMENT. Another precious gem to enhance your prayer life is the little booklet in Spanish Los 15 Minutos—in English, The 15 Minutes! The little booklet is designed in such a way that it draws you magnetically into an intimate conversation with Jesus truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the most Blessed Sacrament. The booklet invites you to perceive Jesus as your best Friend and to open up and talk to Him freely and totally! Purchase a few and give them away. Be a Prayer apostle!!!
6. STATIONS OF THE CROSS. For centuries a very highly recommended prayer is that of The Stations of the Cross. Jesus encouraged Saint Faustina Kowalska in the Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul to meditate upon the Stations of the Cross every day (if possible) at 3:00 p.m., which is also the mercy hour. This contemplative prayer brings us face to face with 14 Stations or scenes in the Lord’s Passion, leading to the death on the cross of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Stations can be done with a booklet as an aid (one of the best was written by Saint Alphonsus Liguori), or the Stations can be done in a spontaneous manner in which one contemplates each scene, and allows the Holy Spirit to elicit affective prayer from the wellspring of your heart. The net result? Great love and tenderness for Jesus who suffered all of this for all of humanity, but for each one of us individually. How great is the love of Jesus!
7. IMAGES: STATUES, PAINTINGS, STAINED GLASS WINDOWS! Often Catholics are accused of practicing idolatry by using images, statues, holy cards, or even stained glass windows of holy persons. This could not be further from the truth! Having an image of Jesus, Mary, Saint Joseph, an angel or saint, greatly helps the mind and the imagination to focus on whom we are offering our prayers to! We do not worship the image; rather, we love and admire what the image represents. For example, praying before a beautiful image of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus elicits from our hearts a knowledge of Jesus’ great love for us, and how we in turn should love Jesus, and love our brothers and sisters created in the image and likeness of God! Be surrounded by a cloud of witness—the saints and their images and replicas!
8. A GRAPHIC CRUCIFIX. Many saints, especially Saint Francis of Assisi, profited immensely in their prayer life by kneeling or sitting in contemplation before a graphic image of Jesus crucified, Jesus hanging on the cross. The most graphic depiction of love ever is Jesus hanging on the cross, dripping Blood, and slowly dying for us. No greater love has a man than to die for the ones he loves. Simply gazing intently on a crucifix with Jesus hanging from it can elicit the most noble of sentiments that flow from the human heart: sorrow for sin, conversion of life, true love for God, compassion for others, and many others that flow from the contemplation of Jesus on the cross!!!
9. THREE PRAYER BOOKS WE NEED TO LEARN TO READ: PRINTED WORD, NATURE, AND OUR EXPERIENCES! These are three primary sources that we can derive much profit from to enrich our prayer experience: the printed word—Prayer books and the Bible, Nature, and our own experiences. With respect to nature, God Himself is the author and Creator of all beauty. The brilliant rays of the sun, the gentle breeze at your back, the multicolored rainbow, the colorful foliage of the trees in the New England fall, the white-caps speckling the ocean, the puffy clouds arrayed in the sky, the immense and vast firmament at night resplendent with stars, the redolent fragrance of spring flowers, the immense expanse of the sea and all that is contained within it, the countless variety of birds, animals, and living creatures—all of the above mentioned can be sure stepping stones to lift our minds, hearts, and souls to the beauty of the Creator, God Himself!
10. THE MOST HOLY ROSARY. Of course, any serious prayer life must be imbued and blessed with the presence of the most Blessed Virgin Mary. The Memorare Prayer reminds us: Never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided… Numerous Popes, countless saints, and the Catholic Church as a whole strongly recommend thinking about Mary, talking to Mary, loving Mary, and consecrating our lives to Mary. The most Holy Rosary encapsulates various forms of prayer: vocal prayer, mental prayer or meditation, contemplative prayer, prayer of the heart. In a word, this beautiful prayer can lead us into the deepest of prayers. I would highly recommend my own book: Total Consecration Through The Mysteries of The Rosary. Meditations To Prepare For Total Consecration To Jesus Through Mary, Sophia Press May Mary, the great model of prayer and contemplation, help us to use all of these powerful tools so as to construct a strong and robust ladder of prayer that will lead us to heaven!
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.