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What is the Burning Question in Priestly Formation?

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The Word will never be given you without giving you also a mission.  It will make you aware of the suffering of the people right next to you that you didn't notice before.  It will open your eyes and see the world differently, and make you act differently in it.


NAGA CITY, Philippines (Catholic Online) - One of the most common questions or desires I hear about in the seminary, the school for candidates for the priesthood, is how to pray better.  Here is what we are teaching them.

Desire to Pray and Determination that Comes from It

Teach me how to pray! Thank God first for the desire, for if you are even asking that question you have already come a long way. The fact that you are hungry for God, that you want more of him in your life is a sign that he is already very active, and that you have responded.  St Teresa of Avila repeats many times that THE most important part of prayer is that you do it, that you keep the desire to pray very strong to persevere no matter what happens.

Clean up the Place of Conversation - Your Soul

Go to confession and confess every mortal sin.  A mortal sin kills the life of God in your soul and according to the Council of Trent (yes we do still follow that council like we follow all of them) a person in the state of mortal sin will only be able to please God with the prayer of repentance.  If you try to pray in the state of mortal sin or with an intense attachment to venial sin, it is like sitting and talking to someone in a room that has cow manure all over the floor and walls and big dangerous animals freely roaming.  You would spend most of your time being preoccupied with the stinky mess and the dangerous creatures, unable to engage in conversation at all.

Don't just confess the stuff that bothers you.  Take the Ten Commandments and comb your conscience for evil, especially the deeper stuff you might not have confessed in the past.  St Teresa of Avila also says (you will hear me speak a lot of her so just get used to it, she is the doctor of the Church on how to pray) that THE biggest obstacle to holiness is unconfessed mortal sin and a lack of hatred for venial sin and therefore an unwillingness to uproot it. 

What is a mortal sin?  Anything that is against the Ten Commandments even lying and coveting, you knew it was wrong; and you did it anyway - in short a mortal sin is bad, you know it, you do it.  Be sure not to be too general, but as the Church recommends, confess all your sins in kind and number.  If you don't it would be like trying to weed a garden by pulling the tops of the weeds and leaving the roots, or pruning them so they come back stronger.  Renounce each sin with the same freedom which committed them as brutally honest as you can, and you will find true cleansing.  Confess any venial sins and attachments to sin that you struggle with too.  A person who prays will immediate see the result of using the Sacrament of Penance to free their interior for prayer.

Get a Quiet Place, Especially in Front of the Exposed Blessed Sacrament

There is nothing like sitting before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. It is like sitting before the sun, well actually the Creator of a million suns before you.  If you can't do that, go to your room and shut the door and speak to your Father in private. What Jesus means here is not just a room in your house, but the room in your soul where God is pleased to dwell - in your inmost heart of hearts.  There, in your baptized soul you will discover the presence of the Most Holy Trinity waiting for you.  He has always been there, but you haven't been there.  Recede from all sensible things and retreat into the depths of your being like you are a sheet and you want to grab the corners and pull them in to the center.  This is the image St Teresa of Avila uses for recollection - you collect your scattered self in the center of your soul.

Get a Book, Especially the Gospel for the Mass of the Day

St Teresa of Avila says that it was 18 years before she could go to prayer without the help of a book, and even then she felt like she was in a boat without oars.  Get the Gospel for the day's Mass and read it slowly. Again. Slowly. When a word graces you, strikes you, illumines you, or touches you stop and enjoy it, soak in it and let it penetrate your heart.  When you do this, you are permitting God to speak to you the way you would read a love letter from your heart's fondest.  Soak in that word or phrase until you feel the grace hit you and you absorb it, then move on to the next, moving from grace to grace, from light to light.  Sometimes one word is what you will stay on for weeks, or some image that will nourish, correct, illumine, and fortify you.

Make Acts of Devotion, Love, and especially Worship

Let what you read move you into worshipping the One you are reading about, expressing sentiments of Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Yes you guessed it, that spells ACTS.  So make ACTS of union with God.

Hopefully what happens next is that you begin to perceive God's personality.  The best way to describe this is like resting in the loving awareness of his kindness, or bathing in his personal love for you.  This is the gold.  This is when you BEGIN to pray.  Yeah, that's right, don't get too excited.  After all that, you have only just started.  This is when the fun begins, the surprises of his Love, when he starts moving you into places you didn't know you could go, when you go into prayer and come out a different person, a loved person, a joyful person, and transformed person.

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Make Resolutions.  Do something with the Grace you have Received

One of the biggest mistakes for prayerful persons is that they don't act on the Word and avoid making concrete, practical, or measurable resolutions. It is altogether possible that God gives a person a grace that they render fruitless like holding water in a sieve. They sit on it, suffocate it, or fearful that it is some kind of finite fleeting thing, try to enjoy it all for themselves, afraid to multiply it.  Big Mistake. Big. 

The Word will never be given you without giving you also a mission.  It will make you aware of the suffering of the people right next to you that you didn't notice before.  It will open your eyes and see the world differently, and make you act differently in it.  A person who comes out of prayer without a resolution to act differently is like the seed that was sown on the path and the birds of the air came and snatched it away so that they forget the Word and never allow it to change them.

Give Thanks for Graces Received

Thanksgiving, according to St Teresa of Avila, helps us deeply accept graces given, thus opening ourselves to more graces.  You wouldn't talk an hour with the most amazing life-changing person ever and then not say goodbye and thank you.  You don't just get up and walk out.  Thanksgiving is also a kind of conclusion and summary of what the conversation was about with a plan to talk again soon.

Schedule Your Prayer Life

You schedule the most important events in your life.  MAKE A DAILY APPOINTMENT WITH GOD! Put prayer as an event in your iCal or Event Planner.  It is the most important thing you can do.  If you are at all serious about growing in prayer you will schedule at least one half hour of silent meditation with God a day.  In the seminary we spend half an hour in silence before the Blessed Sacrament after finishing a half hour of communal vocal prayer. 

Remain in Prayer All Day Long

Vocal prayer is not opposed or separated from mental prayer.  Hopefully you enter into contemplative prayer while vocalizing words.  The best example of this is the Rosary.  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would warm herself up to mental prayer with the Rosary, which she used to teach others how to pray.  She would say, "Pray with your eyes open," for if you do, "the time will come when you won't stop seeing Jesus with open eyes all day long."

May Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity pray for us that we may truly have communion with God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Fr Samuel Medley, SOLT, is a priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and a formator for priestly candidates in their Asia-Pacific Seminary. His blog is


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