“Prayer.” In youth ministry, it’s one of the most common responses youth give when they can’t think of anything else. Catholics who were raised in the faith from childhood may have been taught reciting prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and other “standard” prayers. Is “prayer” just saying the same words over and over again? Why do we as Catholics pray? And how do we pray to make the most out of it?
In the past two weeks, Fr. Justin Huang, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Vancouver, preached in his homilies the answers to these questions. I think it was a great reminder for some of us who might be just going through the motions and forgetting the purpose of prayer.
In the following sections, I summarize Fr. Justin’s homilies, but I encourage you to read the full homilies linked to understand the details.
Why We Pray (July 21, 2019)
Although there are many different answers to why we pray, Fr. Justin points out three in particular:
- Prayer is our food. Just as we eat on a daily basis to nourish our physical body, we pray in order to nourish our soul. If we stop eating, we physically die; if we stop praying, we spiritually die.
- Prayer is our relationship. God created us for a relationship with Him, and prayer is that relationship.
- Prayer is our spiritual exercise. Just as people go to the gym to build up their muscles, we need to exercise spiritually in order to increase our faith, hope, and love.
Praying Like Jesus (July 28, 2019)
Now that we know why we need to pray, how do we pray? In this week’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray what we now call the Our Father. The Our Father gives us a “template” on how we should structure our own prayers: first, praise and glorify God (“hallowed be Thy name”, “Thy kingdom come”, “Thy will be done”); and only afterwards, we ask our our own needs (“our daily bread”, forgiveness, strength against temptation and protection against Satan and all evil).
Fr. Justin also gives some suggestions to four stumbling blocks to prayer:
- We don’t know how to pray ⇒ Make time and find a place where we can focus; follow the example of the Our Father prayer in terms of what to ask for, and the order in which to ask it.
- We run out of things to say ⇒ Focus on the words of the standard prayers like the Our Father, and use the words as “jumping off points”
- We don’t know whether we are talking to God or to ourselves ⇒ If we’re talking to something, hopefully we’re aware they’re there, so we know we are talking to them. Similarly in prayer if we are aware of God, then we are praying.
- We don’t seem to get anything out of prayer ⇒ In the words of Fr. Justin, “if we go into prayer sincerely trying to love God, then it’ll always be fruitful, even when we can’t feel it. A wise person once said that, even if a pot has some cracks and can’t contain any water when it’s filled up, it’s still washed clean. So, every time we turn to God in faith and love, and feel nothing, we’re still being purified.”
Once again, these summaries are very brief and I encourage you to read the full homilies linked in the headings for further details. Hope this helps your prayers and deepens your relationship with God.