Thursday, July 11, 2013

Making Prayer Personal

Dear Theophilus, 

Our God is a living God. 

If we cannot or do not believe in the Resurrection, then our belief in Christ is not only in vain (cf 1 Cor 15:1-2), but outright heretical. For if Jesus did not rise from the dead then he is not the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. 

As Christians we are called to have an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But how can we build up this relationship so that it is vibrant, joyful and life-giving? 

The answer is quite simple, the key to having a vibrant relationship with God is the same as our relationships with others: good communication. Where our human communication can take on many forms (conversations, e-mail or text), we communicate with God through prayer. 

Prayer is turning the heart toward God. When a person prays, he enters into a living relationship with God. (Youcat 469; CCC 2558-2565) 

The notion of entering a relationship with God through prayer opens up a whole intimate and personal dimension. Just like there is a personal dimension in all of our human communications (yes, there’s even business letters have a level of personal investment), there is a personal element in how we communicate with God.  

We need to make prayer personal. 

I’m not stating that there needs to be a dramatic shift from a public prayer life to a predominantly private prayer life. Rather, what I am saying is that there is a need to develop a deep personal investment in our prayer life as a whole. There must be a balance found between both public and private prayer life, each feeding off of and into the other, and both stoking the deep, personal and intimate relationship that we have with God. 

The question arises then of how do we do this? How do we make prayer personal? Especially when it’s our private prayer that seems deeply intimate (our nighttime prayers and personal supplications before God), while our public prayer seems dry and remote (usually responding by rote at Mass). It won’t be easy and will take some effort, but like all things in this life, when we put in the effort to deepen our relationship with God, the rewards will be exponential. 

At this point I’d like to put forward the very non-scientific argument that the overwhelming majority of practicing Catholics (i.e.: those who attend Mass on a regular basis, beyond Easter, Christmas and family celebrations) only have a public prayer life. They attend Mass on Sunday and leave feeling they’ve met their end of the bargain in their relationship with God. My experience is that many of these people don’t have a very strong private prayer life, and thus feel that their relationship with God is lacking somewhat. Often these very same people will ask me how they can engage their children in the Mass, to which I reply with some rhetorical questions (I make sure they understand I don’t want or need to hear their answer, I just want them to reflect on the questions): What is their prayer life like at home? Do they incorporate prayer in their daily routine? Do they make a habit of frequenting the sacraments (Eucharist and Reconciliation)? 

As for those who don’t go to Mass regularly (or at all) many will argue that they don’t need to go to have a relationship with God; that they can communicate with God any time they see fit or need Him. Here I would argue that most of these people don’t even have this personal relationship with God that they claim to have, mostly because they see themselves as the centre of this relationship and not Christ. 

Again the question comes up: How do we make prayer personal? How can we get our public prayer to the next level and enrich our private prayer so as to deepen our relationship with God?

For myself, it started with going beyond the rote responses at Mass. It took a concerted effort to concentrate on what was being said and sung and seeing how it related to me in my life at that particular moment. It was done in baby steps. I didn’t take on the whole Mass all at once. I began with closing my eyes and focusing on the words of the Gospel. Once I had mastered concentrating on the Gospel, I added the readings. Soon I was able to make the connections between the Old Testament and New Testament readings. Over the years I’ve been doing this I’ve slowly added a new part of the Mass to concentrate on with the others, to the point where I spend most of the Mass contemplating on what is happening and being said. 

The Mass, a very public prayer, has also become a very personal prayer. 

Since I’ve been doing this, my private prayer life has also grown. With the natural ebb and flow of any personal relationship (with my relationship with God this is all due to my own failings), I have added new aspects to my prayer life. Some of these are traditional rote prayers: daily Rosary or prayers before every meal; while others are more fluid in nature: personal supplications or a daily examination of conscience. 

What I have found is that by making prayer personal, my relationship with God has grown deeper and strengthened my resolve in Christ.


  1. "The Mass, a very public prayer, has also become a very personal prayer." I whole-heartedly agree but find my efforts stifled by the incesant 'busyness' at the NO parishes around here. There is never any silence for contemplation - not even after Holy Communion. I will continue to make the effort, though, because the NO is the only Mass available within 2-3 hours' drive.

    1. Hi Brigit~

      It's not easy, and some Sunday's are better than others. What I found helped me was to begin attending weekday Mass (at least once a week). Even with the NO Mass, the feel is very different. It's mostly adults, and the children that are there, know why they are there. Since there usually isn't a choir, there are those sacred silences for the contemplation we all search - especially after Holy Communion.

      May God bless you on your sacred journey.