For me, prayer is not easy. While this probably surprises most of my acquaintances and friends, prayer isn’t the first thing on my mind every day. (That award goes to ‘What’s for breakfast?’ or ‘Ugh, do I have to get up?’) Usually, I put off my daily prayers. My confessors know this well!
I admit my weakness not because I’m proud; it frustrates me terribly. I admit my struggle because you probably share it. And we’re not alone.
The Saints Were Sinners, Too!
Did you know that the saints were in our shoes, too? Yup, those people with the halos on our stained-glass windows and holy cards also struggled with prayer. This is often left out of books and biographies for piety’s sake. But every saint in heaven, at one point or another, wrestled with the issues we commonly face. For instance, I remember being shocked when I read this from the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux (‘The Little Flower’):
I am ashamed to confess it, but the recitation of the Rosary costs me more than to use an instrument of penance. I feel I am saying it so badly. Try as I may to make myself meditate on the mysteries, I never manage to fix my thoughts on them.
WHAT?? I couldn’t believe it. The Little Flower – a woman declared a Doctor of the Church – had trouble praying the Rosary? Wow, that’s like me! St. Pio of Pietrelcina, also called Padre Pio, is known for his holiness and closeness to God. But that closeness did not come easily or ‘naturally.’ He wrote to his spiritual director, Fr. Agostino,
My Faith is upheld only by a constant effort of my will against every kind of human persuasion. My Faith is only the fruit of the continual efforts that I exact of myself. And all of this, Father, is not something that happens a few times a day, but it is continuous…
Yes, the saints struggled just like us! A testimony from Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young man:
With every day that passes, I grow more and more convinced how ugly the world is, of how much suffering there is, and, unfortunately, of how it is the good who suffer the most. Meanwhile, we who have been given so many of God’s blessings have repaid Him poorly. This is an awful reality that racks my brain; while I’m studying, every so often I ask myself: will I continue on the right path? Will I have the strength to persevere all the way?
Reading the saints’ writings helps me renew my hope. Look at these three models of holiness – who spent hours of their day in prayer – yet they constantly struggled. St. Paul writes about his own struggle in his letter to the Romans: “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Rm. 7:19).
So, if the saints struggled like us, but they made it to Heaven, how did that happen?
Tips from the Saints
1. Ask God for the grace to love prayer.
“…I feel myself somewhat drawn to prayer, I have asked of God […] that He would give me the grace to love this holy exercise more and more, unto the hour of my death. It is the one means for our purification, the one way to union with God, the one channel by which God may unite Himself with us, that He may do anything with us for His glory. […] The counsel, or rather the commandment: Pray always, seems to me extremely sweet and by no means impossible.” – St. Claude de la Colombiere
2. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you to pray.
“The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” – St. Paul
3. Put prayer in perspective.
“Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one Glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.” – St. Teresa of Avila (also called ‘Teresa of Jesus’)
4. Get a new hobby: Do good deeds; they turn your soul to God.
“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.” – St. Teresa of Avila (…she has lots of great advice)
5. Begin with the Sign of the Cross.
“The illusions of the devil soon vanish, especially if a man arms himself with the Sign of the Cross. The devils tremble at the Sign of the Cross of our Lord, by which He triumphed over and disarmed them.” – St. Anthony the abbot
6. When you pray, quiet yourself.
“What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.” -St. John of Avila (also called ‘John of the Cross’)
7. When you pray, let God love you.
Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself. – St. John Vianney
8. Use small doses of spiritual reading as a springboard to prayer.
“Read some chapter of a devout book….It is very easy and most necessary, for just as you speak to God when at prayer, God speaks to you when you read.” – St. Vincent de Paul
9. Don’t let prayer intimidate you. Talk with God.
“To pray is to talk to God, but about what? About Him, about yourself; joys, sorrows, successes, and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions: and Love and reparation. In a word: to get to know Him and to get to know yourself: to get acquainted.” – St. Josemaria Escriva
10. Schedule time for prayer, but also pray throughout the day.
Aspire continually to God, by brief, ardent upliftings of heart; praise God, invoke His aid, cast yourself in spirit at the Foot of His Cross, adore His Goodness, offer your whole soul a thousand times a day to Him, fix your inward gaze upon Him, stretch out your hands to be led by Him, as a little child to its father, clasp Him to your breast as a fragrant bouquet. In short, enkindle by every possible action your love for God[…] – it may be interwoven with all our duties and occupations – St. Francis de Sales