Earlier this summer I read How to Listen When God is Speaking: a Guide for Modern-Day Catholics by Fr. Mitch Pacwa S.J. I was greatly moved by what I read, not only by the content but also by the accessibility of Fr. Pacwa’s language for the average lay Catholic. This was a refreshing change to the many books on prayer that are written at a level that puts them almost out of the grasp of comprehension. As a Guide for Modern-Day Catholics, Fr. Pacwa’s book reaches out to Catholics who want to deepen their spiritual life in today’s modern world with striking clarity.
Fr. Pacwa begins by acknowledging how difficult it is to be a prayerful Catholic in today’s modern world. Although modern technologies (television, internet, smartphones) offer us multiple ways to get in touch with our Catholic spirituality, Fr. Pacwa rightfully points out that these same technologies offer far more temptations to turn away from our faith than to turn towards it. What this does, on the other hand, is create a far greater number of Catholics who thirst and hunger spiritually, seeking to be nourished by their prayer life.
To help guide us towards a more fruitful prayer life, Fr. Pacwa starts at the very foundation of our faith: that God exists, that we can communicate with Him and that He wants us to communicate with Him through prayer. Once we understand this, Fr. Pacwa urges us forward to make the commitment of making time for prayer. This commitment made, Fr. Pacwa reminds us that we need to meet God on His terms, not ours, opening our hearts and our minds to His message of love and discipline as it pertains to His plan for Creation.
Having made the commitment to enter more deeply into communicating with God, Fr. Pacwa teaches us how to prepare ourselves to get the most out of our prayer life. First, Fr. Pacwa guides us through St. Ignatius of Loyola’s 8 Rules for the Discernment of Spirits as a means of uncluttering our hearts and minds. Our hearts and minds ready, we are then encouraged to detach ourselves, even if momentarily, from this world and to trust totally in the Lord. Fr. Pacwa remains realistic throughout this process, and reminds us not to expect transfiguring enlightenment, neither from the outset nor throughout our prayer life, as he explains, “High points of prayer cannot be sustained through every moment of every day.”
To help nourish our prayer life and to deepen our prayer experience, Fr. Pacwa encourages us to follow the 5 P’s of Prayer: Place, Posture, Passage, Peace and Passage (once again). These will come naturally to those who already have an active prayer life, but those looking to begin or enrich their prayer life need to be more cognoscente of their effect on prayer. Place is an integral part of prayer - to quiet our soul we need to quieten our surroundings; we will be unable to pray properly if we are constantly distracted by our surroundings. Equally important to place in our prayer is Posture. We need to be comfortable to concentrate on our prayers, yet not so comfortable as to drift out of our prayerful frame of mind. Passage refers to the scripture readings we use to help focus our prayer. We need to select passages relevant to our prayer intentions to properly listen to God’s answer – if we are struggling to understand how scripture relates to our prayers, we will soon forget the intentions of our original prayers. Once we make Peace with what God is saying to us through prayer about His plan for us in creation, we can then return to our chosen scripture Passage to uncover its deeper meanings regarding our lives today.
Fr. Pacwa ends How to Listen When God is Speaking by guiding modern-day Catholics through the nuances of a heightened prayer life. That to pray effectively we need to strike a balance between our emotions, intellect and will – once again returning to the ideas of detachment and meeting God on His terms and not our own. By striking this balance and accepting God’s plan for Creation and our role in it, we can then learn to trust in God to lead us through the difficult times we’re confronted with living in today’s modern society.
When we find ourselves living through a difficult moment (and this is usually when we’ll turn to God in prayer) we need to recall the burdensome yoke placed by God on our shoulders. Fr. Pacwa reminds us that, like the yoke of oxen, our yoke is made for two – one side for ourselves and the other for Christ. Christ’s side of the yoke is larger than ours since it is Christ who will take the lead for us when our burdens seem unbearable.