Recently, while in search of a book to help me enrich my prayer life, I came across and bought Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches. What a find! Edited by Robert J. Wicks, this book is a collection of chapters written by many different experts who cover topics such as deepening our prayer life, praying with the gospels, praying in different traditions (such as Carmelite, Benedictine, Augustinian, and Ignatian), praying with classic and contemporary spiritual guides, and liturgical prayer, among others. Clearly, this is a comprehensive resource for learning all about Roman Catholic prayer.
So far, I’ve read only Chapter 1: Prayerfulness, and the book has already significantly changed my thinking. I was looking for answers to questions such as: How can I improve my prayers? How can reduce or eliminate distractions during prayer? How can I make prayer a more regular habit? I was still viewing prayer as those brief periods of time throughout the day when I speak directly to God silently or out loud.
Professor Wicks introduced me to the concept of prayerfulness, which is an attitude and a way of being all day long. It is theocentric living, or “being in the present with our eyes wide open to the presence and reflection of God in all things, including ourselves” at all times. The basic philosophy of prayerfulness “calls us to love God deeply, do what we can for others, and…take good care of ourselves.” The first two make sense, of course, but we may not always realize the importance of the third action. Professor Wicks says we must care for ourselves because we can’t have compassion for others until we have compassion for ourselves.
With an attitude of prayerfulness, our daily events become “part of an actual ongoing pilgrimage,” and we begin to encounter “the presence of God everywhere: in the Eucharist, in ourselves, others, nature, joy, peace, and even failure, loss, and suffering.” Daily life as a pilgrimage? What a wonderful and amazing life that would be!
For a complete explanation, I recommend that you read this book for yourself, but here are the ways Professor Wicks suggests that we cultivate prayerfulness in everyday life: attend Mass, discuss our faith with others, engage in formal and informal prayer (including mini prayer breaks all throughout the day), read sacred Scripture and spiritual writings, keep a journal, and welcome the people we meet in our life with hospitality and generosity.
We’ll know that we are existing in a state of prayerfulness when we can, for example, accept what we think and feel without judging ourselves; when we can meet our own negative emotions with compassion; when we become more interested in living in the here and now rather than the past or present; when we are willing to embrace change; when we’re able to relate to others with more patience, kindness, and generosity; and when we’re inspired by the Lord to see life differently and to discover His gifts.
The rewards of prayerfulness are many. Here are just a few: freedom from fear, anxiety, and worry; comfort in being ourselves; self-compassion; awareness of our unproductive or obsessive thoughts and beliefs; acceptance of change; ability to hear the voice of God, imitate Jesus, and help others.
As I continue to read Prayer in the Catholic Tradition, I’ll be sure to share its wisdom and insights with you!