Whenever I hear “You don’t know how to pray” or “You don’t pray well, it always rubs off the wrong way on me. I used to wonder how that concerned the other person since prayer is a personal communication between me and my God. As in – “Wettin concern you abeg?!” The way I communicate is not how you communicate, right? However, after hearing Father Ozele’s message on prayer, I gained a deeper insight which I feel led to share.
WHO TAUGHT YOU HOW TO PRAY
When Father Ozele asked us this, I was taken aback. As in, what did he mean who taught me? Memories flooded in of my mom teaching us how to start our prayers by making the sign of the cross and saying “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It was my mother. My mother taught me how to pray and I looked inwards. Did I teach my pre teens how to pray? Do I teach them?
He explained that prayer is the most sophisticated weapon we have to combat the forces of evil and darkness. He asked us HOW WE KNEW that we REALLY KNEW HOW TO PRAY. He stressed that we have to be formed right to be able to posit ourselves since formation may involve the need for our mind to be deconstructed since it is capable of being not only deformed and reformed, but also misformed and transformed. The pliability of the mind is something we all know about and it is from this battlefield that prayers emanate.
He enjoined us to search for serious books on prayers to reconstruct our Catholic sensibilities and urged us to study St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Now, when it comes to the Jesuits, we know that they are highly cerebral so when he mentioned St Ignatius of Loyola, the 6th-century Spanish priest, theologian, and founder of the Jesuits, I knew that I had some deep research lined up. I concluded that this would be a small price to pay in order to equip myself with the most sophisticated weapon we have – prayer.
FAITH OR FEAR IN PRAYER
The priest pointed out that most people live in fear and not in faith which is a setback since fear is an unhealthy emotion which undermines the power and authority that we have as Christians. He gave the example of someone sleeping at 2am in the morning when he is awoken by peculiar noises. He springs out of bed, gets Holy Water, anoints his bedroom and starts to pray fervently for hours. He pointed out that such a person is driven more out of fear that faith. A person of faith would simply say a prayer and go back to sleep trusting the angels to battle on his behalf.
As Christians, our faith is hinged on 3 central themes – the incarnation, which sees God abandon His glory, Calvary which shows the ultimate love of God and the resurrection which shows the ultimate power of God.
He stressed that as mature Christian believers, we should focus on knowing God if we are to grow. He referred to Philippians 3:7-10 which sees Paul pray that he “may know God and the power of His resurrection,” which is how God infuses our lives and transforms us into His likeness. He mentioned that prayer should involve us focusing on entering into the mystery of the Godhead and imbibing Galatians 2:20 which should be ever present on our mind- “Do I live? It is no longer me, Christ lives in me. My life in this body is life through faith in the Son of God…”
This denial of self and yearning to enter the Godhead reminds me of a message given by Our Lady of Medjugorje where she said “BE PRAYER.” It has never left me. Be prayer? Yes, we should be prayer. Everything about us should connect to God, be submissive to God and exist IN God.
The priest stated that majority of people think they are praying but they are just saying prayers. He enjoined us to pray according to our personalities which often breaks through the manner in which we pray. I was relieved to hear this confirmation because it buttressed my initial stance about prayer being a personal thing between me and my God. The fact that he made me and gave me this personality would no doubt influence the way I pray to him.
4 ATTITUDES OF PRAYER
1. INTELLECTUAL: everything is read from a prayer book
I could identify with this, being a Catholic. In fact, I remember Catechism classes when we would be given the popular Simple Prayer Book and asked to memorize the prayers like Act of Faith, Act of Hope and Act of Contrition. This attitude of prayer is commonly seen in the priests and nuns in the tradition of the breviary and stresses the routine and discipline which is built up over the years. It is also what may inform non-Catholics to say “You Catholics, don’t know how to pray.”
Thank goodness for the revival in the church which reminds us of the importance of the spirit of the prayer over the letter and form of it. Kudos must be given, however, to the wisdom of the Church which establishes routine prayers such as the Liturgy of Hours, the Angelus to be said every 12 and 6 o’clock and the Hour of Mercy Prayers. They really do keep one in check and focused into entering into the mystery of the Godhead and “being” prayer.
2. ASCETIC: type of prayer seen in monks and mystics
We all know the calming effect of the chants in monasteries. We even buy them to create a serene atmosphere as if to invite the very Godhead into our midst to give us the peace that knows no bounds. I once heard a song that combined the Gregorian chants of the monks with rap music. Yes, you heard right – rap music. Nuff said.
No matter the use of this type of prayer, the contemplation and meditation that it involves is one where those that engage in this attitude of prayer are able to quiet their interior for God to reveal Himself to them. They are able to see God in nature and in everything around them. It is truly an application of God’s word in Psalm 46:11 “Be still and know that I am God.”
The priest explained that such people who have this ascetic attitude are able to look at a leaf or a blade of grass and marvel at it. They can start to bless and praise God or even apply the manner in which the blade sprouts to a situation where God awesomeness and power can be seen.
3. SENSUAL: prayer is said on the basis of the person’s senses
Father Ozele explained that the person is unable to connect to God if he or she can’t identify or rely on any of the senses. He gave examples of those in the Legion of Mary who need to count and feel the rosary beads to connect in prayer and also those who need to see images to connect. I fall into the latter, as I have a small photo of Divine Mercy and Mary on my phone or in my bag to connect when I feel like praying.
4. EMOTIVE: used by emotional people who need to verbalize and who cant pray quietly
When this attitude of prayer was mentioned, I couldn’t help but smile. At a bible study session, we had members of our parish talk about vocal and non-vocal prayer and which was more acceptable. It was quite heated because those that were more inclined to the ascetic attitude felt that the emotive attitude was unruly, disturbing and inconsiderate. Those that were emotive supported their attitude by saying that they needed to gesticulate and verbalize to move the spirit within and that often times, the spirit would blow as it wills.
Be that as it may, Father Ozele stressed that Christians need to have ALL FOUR ATTITUDES of prayer. He explained that Jesus had all 4 attitudes and so we should be balanced like our Master. Jesus displayed the intellectual and sensual attitude when he was in the temple. He displayed the ascetic attitude when he was in the wilderness praying and the emotive when he often exclaimed to His father in prayer as in John 12:28 “Father, glorify your name!”
He pointed out the dilemma a Christian would be in if he only had an emotive attitude towards prayer and later found himself unable to gesticulate or to speak due to sickness or handicap. Did that mean that he would no longer be able to pray? He likened this need to be a balanced and complete Christian, in his reference to the philosophy of Opus Dei which teaches us to infuse all of our day’s activities to God and be attentive to God in all that we do.
7 DIFFERENT KINDS OF PRAYERS
Father Ozele explained that just as there were varied attitudes of prayers, so were they different kinds of prayers which include:
He referred to Psalm 18 in his reference to the prayer of praise which he said brings you into God’s presence. He further explained that there is an order in the kinds of prayer. It starts with the prayer of praise which brings us into God’s presence, then this leads to the prayer of worship which gives way to us adoring Him and then we confess Him. Our prayer then turns to one of thanksgiving and only after this do we make supplication and then intercession. He stated that prayer flows from one type to another until it becomes like a symphony to the glory of the Triune God.
It was only when he explained this that I actually understood why I would often be led to just praise God before making my supplications. At the recently concluded Mid Year praise event at our parish, a message was given about how God absolutely delights in praises and how he cannot help but bestow His blessings upon us when we praise Him. In essence, God is attracted to praises and will surely attend to our needs and inhabit us whenever we make the prayer of praise.
This focus on praise is seen in God’s treatment of King David when contrasted with King Saul. David committed murder but was not rejected by God unlike Saul who simply disobeyed. This was because David knew the way to God’s heart by his constant praise of and to God.
HOLY MASS AS THE PRAYER PACKAGE
We are often told that attending the Holy Mass is the ultimate prayer but do we really understand what that means? Father Ozele explained that not only does the mass encapsulate all 4 attitudes of prayer, but also the different kinds of prayer.
The entrance hymn is always a song of praise as the congregation seeks to usher God into their presence at the start of mass. During this hymn, the church on earth is united with the angels and the redeemed in heaven in jointly praising God. There have been visionaries who have mentioned that we would be struck with awe if we could only see what happens when the congregation starts the mass with the entrance hymn.
When the priest says “the Lord be with you,” he is not only affirming God’s presence due to God inhabiting the praises of his people at the singing of the entrance hymn, but also affirming God’s presence where two or more are gathered which is clearly the case at mass.
When the Rites of Confession are read, the priest invites us to usher in the triple mercy of God in supplication.
When the Gloria is sung, the specific words of “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you , we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory,” are uttered which shows the different kinds of prayer all wrapped up in the Gloria.
The Liturgy of the Word which involves the reading of the bible culminates in the reading of the Gospel which is intended to equip the hearers of the Word as prayer is intended to do.
This is followed by the recital of the Creed which goes beyond a mere recital as the words, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, through Him all things were made” are pronounced in a prayer of confession of our Faith. This confession is then followed by supplication as the congregation is led to make intercessory prayers.
The acclamation of “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord” and “Hosanna in the Highest” begins the prayer of worship and adoration as the priest enters into the Consecration prayer where the bread and wine are turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus.
The recitation of the “Our Father” is an intellectual prayer which becomes supplication as we beckon to God to “give us this day our daily bread.” This turns into a prayer of adoration as we marvel and say with awe the Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
As the priest unraveled the richness of the Holy Mass, I understood clearly why it is said that the taking of Communion is the climax of the mass. Indeed, when we go through all these forms of prayer leading to the reception of the actual body of Christ in Holy Communion, the angels admire us because they are unable to receive God as we do. Visionaries have said that they see angels bow to us as we receive Jesus because we become tabernacles of the Most High God. Alleluia!!
It is no wonder why people yearn to attend mass daily, for not only are they exercising the most powerful weapon of prayer in all its forms, but there are also being prayer and becoming the tabernacle of the Most High God!
HOW TO DEAL WITH DISTRACTIONS IN PRAYER
Father Ozele explained that since prayer is the most powerful weapon against the kingdom of darkness, the devil is constantly seeking to prevent Christians from praying and connecting to God by distracting them. However, he stated that we are to turn this distraction into prayer. I sometimes find my mind straying on what to cook, or whether there is fuel in the car or what I am going to wear when I pray. Now, I have no idea why this would happen but turning these distractions into prayers as advised has helped.
When I find my mind straying on what to cook, I turn it into a prayer thanking God for the provision of food and praying that God provide for those who do not have food. When I find myself wondering whether there is fuel in the car, I turn it into a prayer of thanksgiving for God providing me with a car and adoring Him for giving man the wisdom to create a car. When I am distracted about what to wear, I turn it into a prayer of thanksgiving and praise for having the choice to decide and intercede for those who don’t have by resolving to donate some clothes. I have discovered that following this cue from the priest, distractions seldom come my way again because distractions provide me the ammunition to praise and pray to God and why would the devil want that?
NEEDS & PROBLEMS IN PRAYER
The priest pointed out the distinction between needs and problem. He explained that needs is something you don’t have that you want to bring into being. He cited the example of Jesus praying whenever he wants to meet a need just like in the Garden of Gethsemane when he needed strength.
Whereas, a problem is something that already exists which hinders progress and you want to get rid of promptly. He pointed out that Jesus did not pray when he was met with a problem. Jesus spoke to the situation just like when there was a demonic presence by Peter in Matthew 16:23 and Jesus spoke to the situation saying “Get behind me satan.”
He stated that Christians talk to God about their problems in prayer instead of speaking to the problem which Jesus tells us to do in Mark 11:23 – “Amen I say to you, that whosoever shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed and be cast into the sea, and shall not stagger in his heart, but believe, that whatsoever he saith shall be done; it shall be done unto him.”
He urged us as Christians with authority to speak to the situation since we will receive what we say and not necessarily what we pray. Indeed, the same expression Jesus used to cast out the storm is the same he used to cast out the demons which suggests that the storm was not natural but demonic. We too must use this authority and power we get from prayer most especially from the Holy Mass to solve our problems.
So, when someone tells me that Catholics don’t know how to pray or that I don’t pray well, I will not only take it upon myself to explain the varied attitudes and form of prayer, but also take them through the richness of the Holy Mass.
May we always stay connected in prayer to the Triune God as we yearn to be holy as He is holy and to be perfect as He is perfect in Jesus name we pray. For all glory and honour and power and majesty truly belongs to Him. Amen!