This summer, I had the opportunity to do an internship at a Catholic parish with their youth minister. I had an abundant of opportunities–learning, growing, getting to know teens. On my first day there, we began plans for a series of nights for the middle and high school students to occur during the same week as their Vacation Bible School program. I knew immediately that one of the topics I wanted to address with the teens was a life of prayer. It is at the heart of a full and abundant life, for it is from Him that we have life. I spent an evening talking to them about my own journey some, then described and demonstrated Lectio Divina to them. I gave them a chance to spend time before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, trying this form of prayer for themselves. I wanted to share this part of my summer with you, to continue to glorify the Lord with the story He has written called my life. I wanted to share what I said about Lectio Divina so that I can remind myself of the steps, but also to help others grow in their prayer life and walk with the Lord.
St. Irenaeus once said, “In the beginning God created Adam, not because he needed man, but because he wanted to have someone on whom to bestow his blessings.”
God didn’t need Adam, or Eve, or St. Irenaeus. He doesn’t need Pope Francis, you, or me. He’s infinite; He’s perfect. Yet God chose to create us, to love us into being. He has chosen to love you. He has chosen to be in relationship with you. He calls to you, asking you to enter into relationship with Him in a unique way. He desires, He thirsts for you and your love. We thirst for Him and His love.
As humans, we might forget or hide from our Creator. We can run after false gods and idols, or claim that God has abandoned us. Yet God calls. He, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer.” When we enter into prayer we respond to God’s call to us.
Think of your relationships. Friends, family, neighbors. What is important to having a relationship, any type, with someone?
In any good, strong relationship, there must be strong communication. Just as in our relationships with friends and family, there are times where we can be with them in a larger group. But those that are closest to us, we spend time with one on one. This applies in our relationship with God as well. We must take time for the one on one time we desire and need to quench the thirst we have for Him and He has for us. In my experience, being able to go to daily mass is fantastic. But if a consistent and regular prayer life is not paired with it, the mass does not bear fruit. If we don’t have this regular prayer life, Sunday mass and daily mass, in which we encounter Christ most intimately in the Blessed Sacrament, can bear little or no fruit in our personal lives.
In my personal life, I had heard numerous times that God loved me and Christ died for me, having been raised Catholic and attending Catholic grade school. I went to mass, and I would even repeat these words to others, but this message hadn’t made the trip from my head to my heart what that really meant. The summer before my freshman year of high school, I encountered Christ in an amazing way at a Steubenville Youth Conference. I heard in a song the words, “And I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross.” It hit me hard that day just what Christ had done. I broke down and cried at this realization and what it meant for me and my life. I begged the Lord that weekend for the gift of faith. Faith in Him and His love.
In high school, I had my ups and downs in trying to follow the Lord. In the last two years, I really tried to deepen my prayer life. I would wake up 5 or 10 minutes early to read Sacred Scripture. The routine was simple and short, but those prayer periods really began to shape me.
In my senior year, I had surgery on my jaw over Christmas break. I was left lying on the couch for a few weeks healing from the whole ordeal. My prayer life began to slip. It was far easier to watch a move or fall asleep than try to pray a rosary or open Scripture. As I slipped, the devil jumped on the chance to get a hold of me. I was weak physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There were many people praying for me, but I was not fighting back very well.
When I went on retreat four months later, God poured out some huge graces that weekend. One of which was to begin to see the lies I’d been believing. I realized how I had slipped in my prayer life, believing that sleeping in over my Monday mass and adoration commitment was better. Or that I didn’t really have to pray every day. Or how I’d come to believe that I was ugly.
See, the surgery I had brought my top jaw forward—doing that changes the structure of one’s face. My self-esteem was low and I’d look in the mirror and no longer see Celina. I dreaded getting ready in the morning or walking into a bathroom, where I’d be forced to look in the mirror. I did not see the beauty God had given me. As I sat in adoration on that retreat, God allowed me to see the lies the devil had been feeding me and I had come to believe. From this experience, I came to realize that when my prayer life slacks, my relationship with God slacks, and it is then that enemy begins to get a better grip on me. This is not because God turns away from me, but because I turn away from Him.
So if prayer is so important, how do we go about it? Where does one start?
“The most important thing is not our thoughts or feelings, but whether we are faithful and persevering.” –Mother Teresa
We have to be faithful and persevering in our prayer life, no matter what form of prayer we choose. There are many forms and ways to pray. As Christians, our prayer is centered on Christ. It should engage our thoughts, imagination, emotions, and our will. One well known and highly encouraged way of praying with Scripture is Lectio Divina.
A follow up post will have the remainder of my talk from that evening, discussing Lectio Divina, and the Scripture we used to meditate on that night.