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By Patrick Madrid Publisher of Envoy Magazine -- www.envoymagazine.com

I'M PRETTY SURE I shouldn't be writing this article. I definitely shouldn't be writing it if you're reading it in hopes of learning how to scale the heights of prayer. Let me tell you right up front, I'm no paragon.

Keeping my prayer life consistent and focused is a struggle. Distraction is my constant and noisy companion, laziness my Siamese twin. I don't pray as often as I should, as intensely as I should, or as generously as I should. In this I'm probably like many other Catholics who have the same struggles. On the plus side, I do pray, and that, I know, is a good start. It's comforting to know that what God wants most of all from us in our prayer relationship with Him is that we try, that we make an effort to converse with him, however unspectacular the results may seem. When I was a kid, I prayed mostly because my folks told me I had to. I don't mean they were oppressive or overly demanding in regulating our family devotions; actually they were wise and kind in the ways they taught us the faith. But they instilled in me a deep sense of prayer being a natural -- no, an indispensable -- facet of daily life. Growing up, family Rosary, prayers before meals, Advent-wreath devotions, Lenten Stations of the Cross and, of course, the prayer of the Mass were the very air we breathed.

LEARNING THE VALUE OF PRAYER WHEN WE'RE KIDS

Sure, my childhood prayers before meals were usually mechanical and rattled off clickety-clack fast, but even so, I was aware that I couldn't even think of taking a bite into that baloney sandwich without first asking the Lord to bless His gift, which I was about to receive. It was like being taught to always wear your seat belt. That's a lesson that stuck. Just as I can't get into a car without instinctively reaching to put on the belt, I can't pass the day without spending at least some time in prayer.

I've grown in my awareness that I need to pray. That awareness has a lot to do with how I pray now. My parents ingrained in me a need for the rhythm of prayer to order and mark the days and nights of my life. That sense of prayer being a vital necessity in my life has never left me. My prayer life, mediocre as it may be, is imbued with the realization that my prayers really matter.

My efforts to talk to God daily, to pour out to him my angers and fears, worries and joys, to open my heart to him in sorrow for the sins I've committed against Him, to smile at Him now and then throughout the day, to thank Him and praise Him for the wondrous gifts of my wife and children, have meaning to me precisely because I know they have meaning to Him.

PRAYER IS TALKING TO OUR "DADDY," ABBA FATHER

When I was a child, I figure prayer was more of a duty, a chore I had to perform if I didn't want to make God angry. How wrong I was! I've learned that God is pleased by my efforts to talk with Him. He's like a daddy who rejoices at even the slightest show of affection from His little child just learning to talk. I'm like that child. I find that my daily prayers mainly revolve around asking my Daddy to teach me to grow up to be like Him.

"Teach me to walk. Teach me to know and love You. Catch me when I fall and sin against you. I'm sorry for what I did." Perhaps this is what Our Lord meant when He said, "You must become like little children."

THE VALUE OF "FORMULA PRAYERS"

Now that I am a father myself, I see my parent's wisdom in making regular family prayer non-negotiable. As my wife and I do our best to teach our children to pray, the wisdom comes back full circle. When I tell my children when, how and why they must pray, I'm looking in the mirror telling these things to myself. My typical day's prayer regimen: brief morning prayer when I rise; prayers before meals, on most days, five decades of the Rosary with the family after breakfast (we home school our children and that is the most convenient time); an effort to go to morning Mass on at least one weekday; twenty minutes or so reading Scripture or another spiritual book; a simple and brief examination of conscience; and several minutes of mental prayer before I go to sleep. That's the form.

The content is a mix between rote prayers, such as the Our Father, Act of Contrition and the Memorare, and the moments of spontaneous prayer that wells up from the soul. One of the most beautiful and helpful prayers I say is the Gloria. I try to pray the Gloria to the Blessed Trinity once a day, just to remind the Lord (and myself) that I love and praise Him simply for who He is. When I pray the Gloria, I'm not asking for anything -- no petitions, requests, or expressions of sorrow. I can lift my mind and heart to God as I pray this ancient hymn of the Church: "Lord, God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship You, we give You thanks, we praise you for your Glory."

Another reason I love this prayer and have made it an integral part of my prayer routine is because my prayers can so easily get bogged down in my cramped little assortment of wants, needs and apologies. The Gloria rises above all that, focusing my souls gaze where it belongs: on the Blessed Trinity. And for my money, it's more "praise powerful" and theologically precise than any spontaneous prayer I could ever come up with.

The Mass is the pinnacle of my prayer life. No, I'm not transported with ecstasy as I sit there in the pew. Far from it! I struggle to stay focused, and I have to repeatedly fend off the inevitable gaggle of distractions that flutter and flit around the edges of my imagination. But the key is that I know what the Mass is; the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. I know I can be united with Christ most intimately at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At the moment of consecration, my single prayer is simply, "Lord, please save me." This plea encompasses everything.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO MOOCH

I'm the world's biggest panhandler when it comes to mooching prayers (Hey, I'm a realist -- I know I need all the prayers I can get), so it's a matter of justice to make good on my promise to pray for others. I try to pray for folks by name, but that's not always possible, so to be safe I always tack on "Lord, I also pray especially for all those I've promised to pray for, but whose names I can't remember."

I also talk to God often about my family. There's a definite priestly dimension to human fatherhood, so I try to make this a special focus of my night prayers and examination of conscience. I pray for my wife and for each of my children by name. I believe strongly that the father of the family should fulfill his special duty of praying for his children individually, interceding specifically for each child in turn. The Lord has entrusted these souls to my care, and I must seek his blessing for them, and His guidance for me to be a good husband and father.

Ironically, I find that my mental prayer at the end of the day is when I am best able to focus my mind and heart. I survey the day and its contents and speak to the Lord about how I think it went. And I ask Him how He thinks it went: "I know you've given me a limited number of days on this earth, Lord. Please help me make the best use of them I can."

I guess time is what I pray about most. The older I get, the more I appreciate the preciousness of time. I only have so much of it allotted to me, and there are no reruns. I have to be busy attending to my Father's work before the sand in my particular hourglass runs out. So, Lord please keep me focused.

Patrick Madrid is the publisher of Envoy Magazine, www.envoymagazine.com, and the author of several books.

Visit his personal website at www.surprisedbytruth.com.


Copyright 2002, Patrick Madrid, all rights reserved. Adapted from an article that appeared in New Covenant Magazine, March 1997.

Contact

Envoy Magazine
http://www.surprisedbytruth.com OH, US
Patrick Madrid - Publisher, 740 587-2292

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