FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
There are different methods of prayer. Any method or kind of prayer is good as long as the result is good: an intimate union of love with the Blessed Trinity and increase in love of God and neighbor. St. Teresa of Avila tells us that the goodness of prayer stems not from thinking much, but from loving much (Interior Castle). St. John of the Cross adds that the value of good works does not come from the quantity and the quality of our prayers, but from the love of God (Ascent to Mount Carmel). Indeed, “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus).
Which is the best method of prayer? The one suited to each one of us. We know these useful methods: Pray with the Bible(read, reflect, and respond); Pray with Mary (the Rosary, the Angelus, etc); Zen-type silent prayer (with a mantra); pray like the Russian pilgrim (repeating over and over: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”), Lectio Divina, etc.
Lectio Divina is still very popular in many places throughout the world, and not only for monks, priests and religious men and women, but also for lay faithful. It continues to be today an attractive and fruitful method of prayer for many of our brothers and sisters. Its four parts make this prayer very enriching: Reading (attentive spiritual reading, especially the Holy Scriptures); Meditation (reflection) on the meaning of the text read – in its own original context and what it conveys intimately to the reader; prayer of the heart (dialogue with God: giving thanks and praising God, asking for forgiveness and for help), and contemplation (listening to the sound of God’s silence, affective love, and devout adoration), and consequent good deeds.
What is the best position for praying? The one that better disposes you to praying: standing, sitting, lying prostrate, and kneeling; the one that helps us concentrate on God’s actual presence in our souls.
Praying is an ascending ladder of life, as we go along from one kind of prayer to another. The classical process is this: from vocal prayer we grow into mental prayer, and from mental prayer into contemplative prayer. As we move up the ladder, we realize deeply that the main obstacle to prayer is our selfishness. Hence, the continuing need of “unselfing.” As we mature in prayer, we move from self-centered prayer to God-centered prayer, from petitionary prayer to prayer of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise. Usually, different kinds of prayer exist together in our lives, particularly vocal and mental prayers. All can be helpful and fruitful.
St. John of the Cross invites us to go back to our interior home, where the Beloved lives. Each one of us needs to cultivate our inner space and pray silently. How much time should an individual devote to prayer? In our fast-paced world, for many of us time is what we do not have. It is up to each one of us: ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes of silent, personal and private prayer are all most calming and joyful.
What is essential is to be faithful daily to our decision, and thus we may acquire the good habit of prayerfulness. One easy way is to sit comfortably, close your eyes, and feel your breath. Experience the presence of God through faith, listen to him, and repeat, perhaps, a mantra – “Jesus” – a wonderful word. Repeat “Jesus” slowly, time and again. “Breath” Jesus (the Jesus of Advent, of Christmas, of Lent, of Easter…; the Jesus that walked on the sea, the Crucified and Risen Lord).
Try hard to expel from your heart – a sort of “bracketing” them out – the thoughts of an always fertile imagination (“the crazy one of our inner house,” according to St. Teresa). We long for God: “My soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Ps 143:6). Do not force things: relax, keep quiet. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Say what comes to you: “Sorry, Lord,” “Help me, Lord,” “I love you, Lord,” “Thank you, Lord.” Above all, keep silent and meet God in the depths of your soul, of your being. Try, and if you fail, try again, and again. Never be discouraged. We must understand that our cooperating effort is God’s grace and prayer.
We need silence in our hurried lives, and we need to listen to “the sounds of silence” (cf. Lk 10:38-42). “I will be silent and let God speak within” (Meister Eckhart). I keep encouraging myself to make pauses of silence – besides a longer one – daily. These may help us experience God in a sunset, in the smile of a child, in the poor beggar, in the suffering patient, or in our co-pilgrims in the journey of life. Do not rush, smell the flowers on the way and contemplate the tenderness of God.
But we do not stop there. Ascend to God, One and Triune: to our loving Father, through Christ our Savior and friend, in the Holy Spirit, our sanctifier and advocate. Hence, we begin all our prayers and methods of prayer thus: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
What is the best method of prayer? St. Teresa of Avila answers: “If contemplating, and doing mental and vocal prayer, and healing the sick, and serving him in the house chores, and working in a low job; if everything is serving the guest [Jesus], does it matter doing one thing or another?” St. Teresa asks herself: “What must we do?”She answers: “Do what most awakens you to love” (Fourth Mansion).
In reality, what counts is not a concrete method. What matters most is that prayer, every kind of prayer, is good, if it helps us expel vices, practice virtues, take up the cross, and love all neighbors, particularly the poor and the marginalized.Prayer is a humanizing and divinizing process: a process to change the silky caterpillar of our soul into the white butterfly of God (cf. The Interior Castle).