Pope Benedict said, “Carmel teaches the Church how to pray.” That’s what Carmel has always been about: prayer. And that’s what being a Carmelite – whether friar, nun, or Lay Carmelite – is all about: prayer. It’s not method; it’s emphasis!
There is but one road which reaches God and that Is prayer. If anyone shows you another, you are being deceived.’ [St. Teresa] Prayer is the door through which we enter the castle of our souls so that we can see the rich inheritance that is ours. Prayer is the means of finding and reaching God who lives in us. Without prayer we can get nowhere. It is through prayer that we discern the sweetness of God and become attached to him. This is the means through which God draws us to himself and takes us away from an undue love, of creatures. Through prayer we receive the power to break away from sin and attachments that obstruct a more perfect communion with God.
Through prayer God purifies our hearts so that we can know him and love him. This is how we know the truth and have a sense of time values in our lives. This is what keeps us from being blindly led astray to an unwholesome love of creatures. It is through prayer that we discern evil in our lives and shun or overcome it. It is through prayer that we can enjoy communion with the living God dwelling in us. Prayer is taking time out to worship him; to give him our exclusive love and attention.
Prayer is the opening of ourselves to God. This is how we bring ourselves to him. We open our hearts to him and meet Him. It is through prayer that faith expresses itself and goes to God. It is the vital link actively connecting us to God. Through it faith establishes a bond between us and God whereby we are nourished and become strong in Divine Love. Prayer is so necessary in our lives that without it we cannot be saved, much less reach any kind of perfection. If loving-union with God in us is the source of apostolic zeal and work, prayer is the means through which we establish ourselves in this union and draw from it.
Prayer is a movement of grace, a filial movement of love toward our Father. We talk to him lovingly as his children in word, in thought or simply by being present to him. Although we should set some time aside daily for a formal meeting and mutual exchange with our God, this is meant to continue throughout the day. This communion with God should fill our whole lives. Our hearts and minds should ever be free and open for this to the extent that our occupations allow us. We should outpour ourselves in love in all of our works, although the nature of some works prevent us from maintaining this during the whole time we are busy.
It is natural both to carry on a mental conversation as well as to talk out loud or speak in words to God. Perhaps most people pray vocally during their formal prayer time. ‘I say my prayers every night,’ they say. Or, ‘I’m saying a novena’. Saying the words help them to concentrate on what they’re saying and brings them back when they get distracted.
That’s why the Rosary is of such great value to many people who are not so easily given to pure mental prayer. They’ve never had the opportunity of learning it formally–although they do pray in this way during the day at work or when they’re driving along in their cars. But most have never learned how to stay quiet and meditate as such. But they will and do say the Rosary. The untrained body likes to keep busy–and the beads and the Hail Marys keep our faculties, such as the tameless tongue, busy.
This also gives the mind something to busy itself about, namely thinking about the words or the mystery of salvation that was announced. So the Rosary is like a harness to keep our minds and hearts meditating. Meanwhile, all of our feelings can be expressing themselves during the recitation of the words. So the whole person body and soul, is involved with God in this way to keep us attentive. It’s easy to see how suitable this kind of prayer is for beginner–as well as for those advanced in the art of prayer who find a need to express themselves outwardly with spoken words; e.g. Pope John.
But vocal prayer is really mental prayer for we should understand, follow with our minds and hearts what are saying and make them our own-sentiments. At the same time, we ought to be aware of God who is present and keep him company. Not infrequently you will find that certain good people who find pleasure in reading many long prayers or saying many Rosaries are experiencing contemplation. They are content in being alone. They are lifted on the heights in great fervor as they get lost in the recitation of their prayers.
They are not thinking of the meaning of each word, nor are they even meditating on the mystery. Rather, they have attained God. They experience a general knowledge or realization of communion with him without thinking about anything in particular. This is contemplation. This is union with God. St. Teresa writes:
“I know there are many people who practice vocal prayer .. and are raised by God to the higher kind of contemplation without having had any hand In this themselves or even knowing how It has happened. For this reason, I attach great Importance to your saying your vocal prayers well.” [way of Perfection, Chap. 30]
Surely you have known such people–maybe they’re alone most of the time, sick or old perhaps a people set apart by God himself, to worship him in spirit and in truth. In every church parish there are a few chosen ones to sustain virtue among the people there. These are living saints who are worthy of our honor and respect. Vocal prayer is a real source of strength for them. It has rendered them pure and has itself turned into contemplation. “In case you should think there is little gain to be derived from practicing vocal prayer perfectly,” writes St. Teresa , “I must tell you that, while you are repeating the Our Father or some other vocal prayer, It is quite possible for the Lord to grant you perfect contemplation.” [Chap. 25, p. 104]
Even if vocal prayer does not bring you this kind of contemplation or recollection it will at least be a help in certain circumstances during mental prayer; e.g. during moments of dryness, heaviness or trial. St. Teresa writes:
“Sometimes when I am in such a state of spiritual dryness that not a single good thought occurs to me, I say very slowly the ‘Our Father’ or the ‘Hall Mary,’ and these prayers suffice to take me out of myself and wonderfully refresh me. [ Life, Chap. 10]
Mental prayer may be easy if our senses are sweetly drawn by grace and our hearts are enraptured by Divine Love. For sometimes the Lord Himself sustains us in a state of prayerfulness. If this happens we should surrender to this impulse. We need no help then. But this is something which is passing. Mental prayer usually requires effort so that perseverance over the months and years is put to the test.
First of all, remember -that prayer is a friendly conversation with God who loves us. God has become incarnate in Jesus. He is visible and lives among us. If we are not spiritually aware of his presence in us, we can easily picture him near us or we can relate to him in the tabernacle so that we have someone tangible to refer to.
God is present and we keep him company. This is the most important element in prayer. Apart from the other helps that inspire you to meditation such as the lovely works of creation or a good picture, you will often find the need for a book to help you. Otherwise, you may find yourself distracted or fall asleep. Read a bit, stop, then consider what you read for a while, always keeping Jesus who is present in Mind and referring your thoughts to him.
Meditative reading should be slow and prayerful. This is not spiritual reading but a means to help you maintain a living communion with your God in whose presence you are. As soon as you begin to drift away, read a bit more, but only enough to keep your loving conversation with God going, constantly return to this point of relating to God. Whether you are just beginning or have been at it several years you will find this helpful. The great contemplative St. Teresa said, ‘I myself spent over 14 years without ever being able to meditate except while reading.’ [Way of Perfection, Chap. 17] ‘I never dared to begin to pray without a book… Sometimes I read a little, sometimes a great deal.’ [ way of Perfection, Chap. 41] Meditative reading is a shield against many thoughts of distraction or dullness or lack of feeling for the things of God. Meanwhile, your mind is being filled with the Word of God during the process. And this Word will influence your thoughts during the day and cause you to act in accordance with it.
Strive to become more and more simple at prayer. Don’t tire yourself out with mental gymnastics and endless reasonings, that is not prayer. Beautiful thinking is not necessarily contact with Jesus. St. Teresa says, ‘If you would progress .. the Important thing is not to think much but to love much.’ [Interior Castle, IV.- ch. 1, 7] Tend to slow down the activity of your mind. Strive to be attentive and watchful of your Lord; look at him; wait in hope to receive what he has to give or say to you. This attitude is a disposition that prepares us for contemplation. It is this disposition of loving watchfulness and readiness that God uses to infuse his graces and lead us to supernatural contemplation. Meanwhile, it is at this point, in the darkness of faith, that we encounter God during our prayer. If we are faithful and trust him in this darkness, he will give us more. Even if we do not experience anything — no matter, the good is being accomplished. God, the object of our faith, hope and love, is being reached. Our hearts are being filled with him.
Even if you have no enlightened thoughts or consolations during prayer, this does not mean that you did not succeed. God infuses His love and power apart from ideas and feelings; He does this directly, spiritually and imperceptibly. If you persevere in prayer will eventually see how much it pays off in your daily life.
Types of Prayer
Vocal: group or private, formulated
Spontaneous ACTS (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication)