This blog is extracted from our book How to Overcome Distraction in Prayer.
We need a blueprint to build a house; we also need a blueprint to build a house of prayer within our soul. St Ignatius of Loyola gives us this blueprint in the Prayer of Ignatian Contemplation.
“The glory of God is man fully alive”, according to St Irenaeus. The human person is composed of body and soul. We are both physical and spiritual beings, and both need to be nourished if we are to become fulfilled human beings. We nourish our spiritual life through prayer. Or, using another analogy, what air is to the lungs, prayer is to the soul.
If you are reading this book, the assumption is that you already have a prayer life or at least that you desire to have one.
Let us start with Scripture, the Word of God that speaks to us in all the circumstances of our lives. Martha and Mary were two sisters who lived with their brother, Lazarus, in Bethany. Jesus and his disciples were always welcome to visit this family who loved him very much.
Mary, the more contemplative or prayerful one by nature, would sit at the feet of Jesus listening to him. Martha, the more active one, would busy herself preparing a meal for their guests to enjoy. On one occasion, Martha decided to speak up.
Let us read the following passage of Sacred Scripture (Lk 10:38-42) to see what happened:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus is calling each one of us to enter into “the one thing necessary” – a deep, intimate friendship with him through prayer. Friendship is based on getting to know someone by spending time with that person. With Jesus, the most important friendship in our lives, St Ignatius of Loyola says to give him an hour a day. Spend one hour a day with Jesus and he will bless the other twenty-three hours of your day! If, in all honesty, you cannot pray one hour a day, then make a commitment to pray at least thirty minutes a day to establish this intimate friendship with Jesus. Why do we do this? Because it is Jesus who is calling us to himself so that we can avoid sin and practise virtue and he can help us through the trials and sufferings of this life until we rejoice with him for ever in heaven! As a bonus, by the graces we earn and the example we give, our daily hour of prayer helps us bring many others to heaven with us. Especially those whom we love and pray for, who do not pray for themselves.
We will now address two key elements of our daily holy hour, namely praying with Scripture and bringing to the Lord the concerns that are heavy on our mind and heart. However, when you are reading Scripture or talking with Jesus about your life, it’s important to stay with a thought that captivates you. Stay where your heart is until you feel ready to move on. Our Lord never tires of spending this time of loving friendship with you. On the other hand, if you are reading Scripture or talking to Jesus and you are not getting much out of it – we all hit dry spots – stay for the whole hour anyway and make it an offering of love to Our Lord. Prayer is a decision, not a feeling. Our Lord cannot be outdone in generosity, and he will shower you with blessings for your perseverance.
Finally, after each holy hour, take a few minutes to write in a journal your key experience in prayer that day. It will help you to see over time how your relationship with Jesus has grown. However, if you miss one day, or even more, simply begin again. Do not try to make it up by doing two holy hours a day. That is a temptation of the devil that will discourage you and make you give up prayer.
Let God speak to you
The first element of praying your holy hour is listening to the Word of God – Sacred Scripture. This is God himself speaking to you. Start by reading the Gospels, the life and teachings of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Each Gospel has something special to offer. For example, the Gospel of Luke is generally known as ‘the mercy Gospel’. In addition, Luke starts with the infancy narratives, the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.
For one hour a day, read the Gospel narrative and think about how the words and happenings in the life of Jesus speak to you. You may even try imagining that you are present in certain scenes of the Gospel. This is ‘Ignatian contemplation’. In the Gospel of Luke, you might imagine that you follow the shepherds going to see Jesus born in the stable of Bethlehem, and there you see Jesus in the arms of Mary. Imagine Mary handing you the baby Jesus to hold. What are you thinking, what are you feeling, holding the Saviour of the world in your arms?
After praying with the Gospels, you can read and pray with the Acts of the Apostles, also known as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit, to see how the Church that Jesus established grew after Pentecost. Peter gave a sermon, and three thousand were converted. The witness and blood of the first martyr, St Stephen, led to the conversion of St Paul.
In the Old Testament, pray with the Psalms. They capture all the thoughts and emotions of the human person and can bring great comfort to us. There are great stories of faith and courage to be found in the Old Testament, too. The book of Genesis, chapters 37-50, tells the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, who is a Christ figure. The book of Tobit is a charming story of God’s intervention through the Archangel Raphael in the lives of two suffering servants of the Lord, Sarah and Tobit. The book of Esther is the story of a queen willing to risk her life for the salvation of God’s people. Isaiah speaks about the “suffering servant”, a prophecy of the life and death of Jesus.
As often as we read and pray with the Scriptures, the Word of God speaks to us in a different way, because we are different. Delve into the richness of God’s Word! Let it enter deep into your heart and help you ponder the story of your life, and how God is calling you to love and to serve others.
Talk to the Lord
The second element of praying your holy hour is talking with Jesus about what is happening in your daily life – your joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams, worries and sufferings. Place them in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced for love of you. What is on your mind and heart right now? Talk with Jesus about this. He hears you, he sees you, he loves you, and he will help you by giving you what is the greatest good for you in your life right now. We do not always see it that way. However, if we are honest, looking back over our life, we can see that he was always working on our behalf, through the good things, as well as the hard things that helped us become the person he created us to be. His plans are always better and greater. Lord, we praise you and we bless you! Help us to stay by your side always by means of our daily holy hour, our “Hour of Power” as Venerable Fulton J. Sheen called it.
If after reading my recommendations for improving your prayer life you still believe that you are too busy to spend one hour a day with Our Lord, or at least thirty minutes a day, then maybe you are too busy. Let us be honest: our work is never done. Consider this maybe another distraction of the devil so that we will miss the greater good: a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus through the time we spend with him in our daily holy hour. Let us resolve to defeat the enemy of our soul by being faithful to our daily conversation and growing friendship with Jesus. Fortified in his love and grace, we are able to turn our good-will and resources with greater love and charity to the needs of others, those whom God places in our lives, and he will bless our efforts with even more abundant fruits.
Find more advice on prayer in How to Overcome Distraction in Prayer
Prayer can be a struggle. Whether it’s because of busyness at work or school, the chores and clamour of family life, intrusive worries and anxieties, or ever-present digital distractions. Many of us struggle to form a habit of prayer. Fr Ed Broom is here to help Catholics learn to pray. In this book, he teaches us to recognise the causes of distraction in our lives and gives simple, practical advice on how to overcome them so we can speak to God with our whole heart and mind.
Order your copy of How to Overcome Distraction in Prayer today to find this blog and much more helpful advice!