Pray all ways—three ways to begin
Image: The people at the foot of the hill and the people at the top of the hill have a spiritual link. The townspeople and the monastic-seminary community are responding to Christ’s summons to “pray always without becoming weary.”
I HAVE WORKED AND LIVED for many years in a hilly “monastery town” in southern Indiana: St. Meinrad. It is here I have learned of the diversity of ways to pray. But even more I learned the benefits of a prayer discipline, and the necessity of a prayer attitude. As one of my monk friends in seminary used to teach: “Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will not find time for prayer.”
This article will offer three distinct “encouragements” to finding time for prayer—for answering the call to “pray always” by praying all ways: praying the Liturgy of the Hours; prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe; and an African American prayer attitude.
This combination of themes is in itself quite diverse, I know, but is intended to set the tone for expanding our prayer possibilities. My hope is this article will prompt you to look at new prayer horizons and practices as well as a newly energized attitude toward prayer. May it give us all “permission” to borrow, adapt, and adopt proven prayer methods from our larger Christian family.
But first let me tell you a bit more about where I’m coming from on all this.
Down in the valley
At the foot of the monastery hill is the quiet and quaint little town “that time cannot improve,” to borrow an amusing description. The townspeople of St. Meinrad are of a quite homogenous nature—mostly white, mostly German American Catholic. It’s a community of Christians who worship and pray in traditional Catholic ways: at Sunday Mass, at meals, by reciting the rosary, making novenas, the Stations of the Cross, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, attending Marian devotions. The townspeople pray devoutly, fervently—and frequently.
|Getting started with the Liturgy of the Hours
LAUDS AND VESPERS—morning and evening prayer—are a natural time and place to start, as we ask for sanctification of the new day and give thanksgiving for what has been given us that day.
Typically each session begins with an introductory verse calling for God’s assistance, and then the “Glory be . . .” before an opening hymn. A series of psalms, along with canticles from the Old and New Testament, are then chanted or recited. A reading from scripture follows, a responsorial prayer, and then a gospel canticle with antiphon. Petitions or intercessions are then offered, and the Lord’s Prayer is said or sung before a concluding prayer and a final blessing.
Many wonderful guidebooks, with prayers and readings, are available from religious bookstores and websites. The Catholic Book Publishing Company offers the official English versions of the Liturgy of the Hours in full and shorter editions. On the internet, www.ebreviary.com has the Liturgy of the Hours in online and downloadable versions.
At the top of the hill is the Benedictine monastery and seminary known as St. Meinrad Archabbey. In its 150-year history, it has seen—in contrast to the town below—a rather remarkable infusion of diversity. And while you might say that the 300-some monks and seminarians are “mostly white,” there is a rich and wide mixture in its makeup of Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, and African American as well as still other ethnicities and heritages.
The community of monks and students worship and pray in familiar and traditional Catholic ways, of course, but at the same time one can witness a myriad of prayer forms and practices taking place. The school of theology celebrates its liturgy in Spanish one day a week; the monks are in choir chanting the psalms many times each day and night; there is an occasional Greek Orthodox liturgy; students hold Marian pilgrimages and devotions; liturgical customs and observances are studied and practiced widely; individuals and small groups can be seen in chapel in adoration. The community not only welcomes and respects these diverse prayer styles and observances, it fosters it. And, like the parish community in the town below, the monks and students pray devoutly, fervently—and frequently.
Furthermore—and here is the key, I think—the people at the foot of the hill and the people at the top of the hill have a spiritual link and a bond. They watch each other, their paths often cross, they respect each others’ lifestyles and prayer styles. They know that in one thing they are all one: They are all, together, seeking God. In ways as distinctive and individual as each of its members, the townspeople and the monastic-seminary community are responding to Christ’s summons to “pray always without becoming weary.”
What follows, then, are only three prayer pathways—drawn from these living examples of faithful folks praying in all ways. The monks, the seminarians, and the folks at the foot of the hill have much to teach us about prayer, I believe. And I will offer just a small sampling from their prayer lives.
The monks’ way: The Liturgy of the Hours
The monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey find time for prayer—because they make time for prayer. The Benedictine motto of Ora et labora, “prayer and work,” is at the center of their holy rule of life. The monks pray the “Divine Office,” an alternate term for the Liturgy of the Hours, with great fidelity, doing so from generation to generation. Their ultimate aim is the consecration of every moment, every thought, word, and deed to Christ. And the Divine Office has become the mainstay prayer-practice of the monastic community.
The Liturgy of the Hours is essentially an “ordered round” of common prayer. It follows the rhythms of the day, the rhythms of the seasons, the rhythms of the centuries. There are a total of seven offices or hours of common prayer in the Roman Catholic tradition:
- Matins or Vigils—Night prayer
- Lauds—Prayer at dawn
- Terce—Prayer at midmorning
- Sext—Noon prayer
- None—Prayer at midafternoon
- Vespers—Evening prayer
- Compline—Before retiring
The Liturgy of the Hours is principally a prayer of praise and petition, and the psalms are at the heart of this prayer form. These psalms capture the full realm of human experience, with biblical songs of petition, lament, thanksgiving, praise, complaint, trust.
Writes Brother Francis Wagner, O.S.B., monk of Saint Meinrad: “Together, like ribbons around a package, the Liturgy of the Hours ties up our days and nights, all they contain, and all God has given us, as we offer ourselves and the world with praise, thanksgiving, and the hope of being made eternally holy and acceptable in God’s presence.”
No matter one’s ethnicity or religious background, these psalm prayers allow pray-ers to express the widest range of thoughts and attitudes and aspirations. And because of the intensity of these psalms, one may express to God the deepest feelings within one’s heart and soul.
The Liturgy of the Hours has never been intended only for monks and clergy. As a matter of fact, it is a form of prayer shared by everyday Christians from the early centuries right up to our own day. We are earnestly invited to join in.
Devotions to Our Lady of Guadalupe
The author Octavio Paz wrote with tongue in cheek: “The Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.” The kind of fervor he writes about is here within and round about St. Meinrad. Mary is the “go-to” saint for so many.
The fervent devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has a long and growing history of faith enrichment. In 1961 Pope John XXIII invoked Our Lady of Guadalupe as “Mother of the Americas,” referring to her as “Mother and Teacher of the Faith of All American Populations.” And Pope John Paul II twice visited the Mexican shrine where the Virgin Mary, just 40 years after Columbus’ time, appeared to a young Christian convert named Juan Diego.
One of the central tenets of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is praying to Mary for her intercession. Mary is our go-between, our advocate, our Mother. She is, says one Hispanic seminarian, “like the mama of us all.”
Many Catholics make pilgrimages to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and to other churches around the world to honor Our Lady. Some walk for days to go to the national shrine for the December 12 feast day, some people walking on their knees in gratitude for favors granted through Mary’s intercession. Whenever suffering comes, Our Lady is there, listening to our prayers, the faithful believe. They resound to the Beatles’ lyrics: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”
Can we, too, believe in Mary’s words to the native Mexican boy: “Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection?” With Mary appearing not as a European madonna but as a beautiful Aztec princess speaking to Juan Diego in his own language, Mary became real. Thus it is that Christians everywhere can lay claim to Mary as our Mother, one who speaks our language and will intercede for us.
Here is a lovely and powerful prayer to include as you seek to “pray all ways”:
Our Lady of Guadalupe, mystical rose, intercede for the church, protect the Holy Father, help all who invoke you in their necessities. Since you are the ever-Virgin Mary and Mother of the true God, obtain for us from your most holy Son the grace of a firm faith and sure hope amid the bitterness of life, as well as an ardent love and the precious gift of final perseverance. Amen.
An African American prayer attitude
Prayer, as we know, transcends all cultures, races, and traditions. And yet the historical legacy of African American Christians has much to offer every other culture and race and religious tradition. For it is a religious tradition of enthusiasm. And, yes, it is a hopeful enthusiasm that has risen up out of suffering and longing.
During the time of slavery, many slaves were denied free religious practice. And yet many managed to hang on to expressive religious practices, such as dancing, African rhythms, enthusiastic singing, shouts of praise. It is this author's belief that all Christians could benefit by taking a lesson from our African American brothers and sisters in making our faith practices, and our very faith, more outwardly expressive and enthusiastic. We would do well by adding our own “amens,” loud and clear, in witness to our beliefs.
The prayer style of the African American might be described as a young and truly energetic prayer style, often with arms extended and in motion, inculcating genuine passion into prayer. Indeed, to paraphrase a message from Saint John of the Cross, we might do well in our prayer by noting that “where you don’t find enthusiasm, put enthusiasm and you will find it.”
We can all add a resounding “amen” to this African American prayer plea to Our Father: “And may we call upon Thee in such manner as to be convinced that Thou art a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God; and Thine shall be the praise, forever. Amen.”
The search for God
This article has touched on only a small number of worthy prayer methods and practices. There is nothing here about the prayers of the Mass, the Jesus Prayer, meditation, lectio divina, and so on. Nor does it mention such creative takes on prayer as “Praying at the Burger King” or “The Prayer of Napping”! And yet I pray that the thoughts shared here will help you in your everyday search to give glory to God always and all ways.
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