It appears that often our prayer does not seem to be that helpful and does not make us better disciples of Jesus. Why so? Perhaps, we do not follow the recipe! Jesus tells us not to pray like the hypocrites who pray to be seen and applauded (cf. Mt 6:5); not to pray like those who are too talkative before God, who multiply words to be heard (cf. Mt 6:7). We pray as Jesus taught us: “Our Father who art in heaven…” (Mt 6:9-15).

The Fathers of the Church (from first to eighth centuries), pre-eminent representatives of Christian Tradition, speak powerfully of the three classical expressions of penance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. St. Peter Chrysologus writes: “Prayer, mercy and fasting constitute one thing only, and they fertilize reciprocally. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting… They cannot be separated. So, if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petitions to be heard, hear the petitions of others.” He adds that prayer, fasting and almsgiving area “threefold prayer.” We remember that integral almsgiving includes spiritual almsgiving, that is, forgiving others – always!

No time to pray? There is always the temptation to use this “argument” as an excuse not to pray. What matters here is not quantity  a long time praying  but quality, quality time with the Lord. Prayer time is restful time. We are to take seriously the words of Jesus to the Apostles: “Come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while” (Mk 6:31). We do not forget that God “needed” to rest: “He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done” (Gen 2:2).

We never leave prayer aside. Only in an emergency of love! Joseph Cardinal Bernardin: “Jesus’ work at times interfered with his sleep, but never with his prayer” (The Gift of Peace). St. Teresa of Avila advises us: “Never leave prayer; there is always remedy for those who pray”;“prayer is the royal road to heaven.” A life without prayer is a “lost” life, whilea persevering prayerful life is “lost” for the devil. We could say that prayer swings the soul between heaven (eternal life: forever and ever and ever) and earth (everything is nothing, earthly life is vanity, human life is brief, like a bad night in a bad inn). Prayer is the way leading to the love of God: the prayerful person is a “servant of love.”

We pray always. We are theological people: faith prays, hope prays, and charity prays. We are sinners: we ask for God’s forgiveness. Prayer leads to penance and the virtue of penance, to the sacrament of Penance. Prayer is the best way to purification, to change, to renewal, to fidelity to one’s vocation. Therefore, we persevere in prayer, even and especially when we go through the desert of life.

 Prayer leads to personal and community change. Many things are wrong in society. Also perhaps, in our own personal and community lives. We can ask others to change; but, unless we change, we cannot truly expect change in others. There is the story of a great Sufi mystic. As a young man, he prayed every night: “God make me a revolutionary to change the world.” But there was no change! As an adult: “Help me change my family and those around you.” But again, there was no perceptible change! As a mature person: “God, help me to change myself.” Only then, he began to change himself, his family and others, and the world.

This is how Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes his prayer life: “Naturally, I always pray first and foremost to our Lord, with whom I am united simply by old acquaintance, so to speak. But I also invoke the saints.  I am friends with Augustine, with Bonaventure, with Thomas Aquinas. Then one says to such saints also: Help me! And the Mother of God is, in any case, always a major point of reference. In this sense, I commend myself to the communion of saints. With them, strengthened by them, I then talk to the dear Lord also, begging, for the most part, but also in thanksgiving – or quite simply being joyful” (Light of the World).

Pope Francis, who is busier than any of us, sums up his preferred prayer life as follows: “I pray the breviary every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration. But I pray mentally even when I am waiting at the dentist or at other times of the day (Interview by Antonio Spadaro, SJ, Rome, August 2013).

A simple recipe for daily prayer is to start the day in God’s presence: “In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”Place the day in God’s hands: “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” Ask God’s help: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Feel God’s presence in your daily chores and work, in your pains and sufferings; realize that Christ is present in you in a very special way: “Remember, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28:20). Say a silent prayer here and there for your family, for your friends, for your colleagues, for your “enemies”: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be… Say “Hello” to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament when you can visit him.

At the end of the day tell the Lord:“Thank you, Lord,” “Sorry, Lord,” “I forgive all,” “Love you, Lord.” And ask God: “Give us a tranquil night and a good end.” “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”