Session 19: How to Pray

Resources for participants

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

19A

  • Why do you think people pray? What motivates them to start?
  • What are the benefits of prayer? What difference does it actually make?
  • What are the things that can stop us praying?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

19B

  • Have your prayers ever been answered?
  • What’s your experience of reading or praying with the bible?
  • Do you find it easy to talk to God? To say “thank you” or “help” or “sorry”? To sit in silence?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

19C

  • What’s your favourite way of praying or your most common way of praying?
  • Did you pick up any religious practices or devotions at home when you were growing up? What are your favourite religious customs?
  • What advice would you give someone who wanted to start praying?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

  • #490 to #527 – how to pray [17 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

KEY IDEAS FROM THE FILM

19A – The amazing adventure of prayer

Prayer is an amazing adventure. It’s our friendship with God. It’s a conversation with the God who loves us. It’s the key that opens the heart of God.

For Christians it takes on a special meaning, because Jesus invites us into friendship with him. We are not shouting up to a distant God; we are speaking to Jesus, heart to heart, as a friend, a brother, a saviour; and he leads us to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Spanish writer St John of the Cross speaks about a spiritual union that takes place between the soul and God. It comes about through our faith in Jesus and through the sacrament of baptism. God the Holy Trinity comes to dwell within our souls, and we dwell within God. And whenever we pray with a sincere heart this spiritual union becomes stronger.

There are many things that stop us praying. We can be too busy. We can be full of doubts. We can be unsure how to begin. We can be ashamed of what we have done. Sometimes we just prefer to keep God at a distance – it feels safer.

God wants to give you spiritual peace and consolation and guidance. It’s not, first of all, about how you pray; it’s the simple fact of praying. You can make prayers of intercession or praise or adoration or sorrow or thanksgiving. What matters is that you have started.

An English monk said: “Pray as you can, not as you can’t”. As long as you pray with faith in Jesus Christ, he will fill you with his Holy Spirit and lead you to the Father. That is the ultimate adventure of prayer.

19B – Four basic ways of praying

The focus here is on personal prayer, and we can come back to praying with others later on.

It helps, if possible, to set aside a certain time each day for personal prayer. You can pray anywhere, but it helps to have some quiet.

There is a beautiful tradition of starting your prayer with the Sign of the Cross. This is when you touch your forehead, then your chest, then your two shoulders, making a symbol of the cross. And you say the words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.

Here are four basic ways of praying. First: Formal Prayers. You can pray a formal or written or set prayer: like the Lord’s Prayer, or the Glory Be, or one of the Psalms from the Old Testament. It’s good to say these prayers, and make them our own. They can express our deepest needs and unite us with the wider prayer of the whole Church and with the wisdom of Christians before us.

A second way of praying: Conversation. You can talk to God in your own words, about whatever is on your mind. It’s a conversation.

Third: The Bible. You can pray with the bible in whatever way is helpful. You can let the words echo in your mind and heart, and think about how they apply to your life.

And a fourth way of praying: Silence. You can sit or kneel in silence for a few moments. Just to be still, in God’s presence. To listen. To be aware of his love and care for you.

Don’t be afraid. Prayer is not a test or an obstacle course. It is simply making time for God, and opening our hearts to him in whatever way is helpful.

19C – Prayers and devotions to help you through the day

The heart of Christian worship is the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist. This unites us with the prayer of Christ, and with the prayer of the whole Church.

But for the rest of the week, it’s over to us. And there are so many spiritual riches we can draw on.

Here are four headings: your day, your home, your friendships, and your church.

First, your day: When you get dressed, you can wear a cross or a crucifix round your neck, to remind you of the love of Jesus Christ.  You can make a morning offering, a simple prayer where you offer the day to God. There is a tradition of family prayer at some time in the day, whatever form it takes. You can bless your food by saying grace before meals and thanksgiving after meals. You can say some kind of night prayer

And what about your home? You can hang a crucifix or some holy pictures on your wall, to keep you focussed on your faith. At Christmas, people often put up a crib to recreate the Christmas scene. A bible should take pride of place in your home. You might have a catechism, to deepen your understanding of the Christian faith. Maybe a book of prayers, and some spiritual reading from wise Christian authors.

And your friendships? You need some Christian friends or a perhaps a prayer group or bible study group from your local church. To support each other and to pray together, and to pray for each other. You need some digital friends too: some good Christian websites or apps or podcasts or music. And you need heavenly friends, the spiritual support of the Virgin Mary, of the angels, and of all the saints.

Of all the Catholic devotions, perhaps the most common is the Rosary, when we use a string of beads to help us recite the central Christian prayers and meditate on the life of Jesus and Mary.

What about your church? Many Catholic churches are open for prayer during the day, and there is a tradition of making a visit to a church for a few moments of prayer. You can pray before the Blessed Sacrament – the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle where the communion hosts are kept after Mass.

It’s a great blessing to come to Mass during the week, and not just on Sundays; or if it’s taking place, to worship Jesus in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction

These prayers and devotions are there to help us in our journey of faith. They are not meant to get in the way. What matters, ultimately, is our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God and neighbour. Anything that helps this love to grow is a gift that should be treasured.