Rev. José Mario O. Mandía
“Prayer is a gift of grace but it always presupposes a determined response on our part because those who pray ‘battle’ against themselves, their surroundings, and especially the Tempter who does all he can to turn them away from prayer. The battle of prayer is inseparable from progress in the spiritual life. We pray as we live because we live as we pray” (CCCC 572).
The Compendium points out three fronts in our battle: our own selves, our surroundings, and the devil.
(1) Our own weaknesses, particularly the seven capital sins, hinder us from praying properly. Pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth (also called “acedia”) are all obstacles to prayer. The CCCC (574) points out three specific difficulties: distractions, dryness and acedia.
(1.1) Distraction “takes our attention away from God and can also reveal what we are attached to” (CCCC 574). Our thoughts go where our hearts and affections are, so when we get distracted, we should take note of what it is that distracts us, because it reveals an attachment that we should try to get rid of.
St Josemaría says that when we place ourselves in God’s presence, we are “like a small dog that lies down at its master’s feet” (Forge 73). The dog may be imagining chasing cats, but what matters is that it stays at the foot of its master.
St Thérèse of Lisieux admitted: “I have many distractions, but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people, the thought of whom is diverting my attention.”
(1.2) Like all the saints, we will also experience dryness in our prayer. These dry spells are good for us. “Overcoming this difficulty allows us to cling to the Lord in faith, even without any feeling of consolation” (CCCC 574). Some people pray to experience good feelings and easily give up when they don’t obtain them. Praying despite the feeling of dryness is a good sign that we are praying well. Prayer in those circumstances is pleasing to the Lord. We, thus, show our Lord that we are there for Him, not for ourselves.
(1.3) “Acedia is a form of spiritual laziness due to relaxed vigilance and a lack of custody of the heart” (CCCC 574). Aside from fighting our laziness, we should find ways to help us recollect our senses, our mind and our will. Books are a great help for doing meditation. Images can help us when we are reciting the Rosary. There are now a good number of phone applications that provide us with guidance for our prayer.
(2) Our prayer can also be threatened by our surroundings, particularly if they draw our attention away from the Lord by enticing us with earthly pleasure, possession or power. But if we learn how to keep a custody over our heart, external distractions can be managed properly.
(3) Prayer is a battle with the devil. At every moment of each day, he is finding ways to dissuade us from praying. Or at least he suggests that we do it later. He knows that we draw our strength from prayer and thus wants us to disconnect from God. He makes us forget what Jesus said: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Ceasing to pray is like unplugging a lamp – we are left in darkness. When we give up praying, the devil wins.
When we pray, we become aware of the presence of the Blessed Trinity in our soul. We learn to live through each day knowing that God our Father is constantly watching over us; that Jesus, our friend and brother, is accompanying us and showing us the way; that the Holy Spirit is giving us light and strength, and producing in us His fruits of “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity” (Galatians 5:22).
When we pray, we become “sowers of peace and joy” (St Josemaría) at home, at work, among our friends and the rest of humanity.
When we pray, we obtain the good things that we ask for, especially happiness – forever and ever.