Five Different Types of Prayer

A grave marker with a woman prayingPrayer is an important part of Christianity. In fact, since prayer is ultimately communication with God, it is probably the most important thing Christians should be doing on a daily basis (keeping in mind too, that the Eucharist is a type of prayer too).

Below are five types of prayer that you can, and should, use in your regular prayer life.

Petition (Intercession)

This is praying for others, and their needs. It is probably the most common type, and even non-believers sometimes do it!

A part of the Mass is devoted specifically to this type of prayer, in which we pray for our leaders, the community, and those who have died. Jesus says that we will receive what we ask for in faith. This is a call to offer up our needs and the needs of other people.

Thanksgiving

A natural outgrowth of what God does for us is gratitude. A thanksgiving prayer expresses our gratitude for God, his actions,  and his traits. Many Psalms are devoted entirely to expressing gratitude for God’s goodness.

Penitential

An important part of the Judeo-Christian tradition is asking forgiveness and expressing sorrow for our sins. Psalm 51 is a perfect example of an entire chapter of Scripture devoted to this. Many Catholics will pray a penitential prayer at the end of each day, recalling areas they have fallen short of God’s holiness. In the Mass, the confiteor is a penitential prayer.

Blessing

This is praying or intending something good for someone else. The Latin word is benediction, which means to “speak well of.” Priests bless things by the nature of their ordination, but laypersons can ask blessings upon things. Traditionally, this time of year priests will bless chalk for use in blessing one’s home.

Adoration

Contemplating the goodness and nature of God naturally leads to us giving God glory and praise. Many biblical writers spontaneously adore God, as should we.

Growing in Gratitude and Love

Jesus carrying the cross by El GrecoI recently posted about gratitude flowing from the Eucharist. Now, I want to discuss ways to express your gratitude. In my mind, gratitude and love are nearly synonymous. Gratitude for other people naturally flows from agape (selfless) love. If you cannot be grateful for a person, you cannot truly love him or her. Thus, it is also true that if you can be grateful for others, you can begin to love them more deeply.

It is easy for our hearts to harden towards people. Such is our concupiscence I guess. This is especially true of those closest to us. As we get more familiar with people, we take them for granted. Perhaps this even describes our relationship with God! The initial feelings of excitement and giving God the “benefit of the doubt” fade, and we take the great traits of God for granted.

Gratitude is a way to love more deeply, and regain some of that “lost love” for those closest to us.

Gratitude List

One way to be more grateful is to keep a gratitude list. This can be a journal or even just saying a few things you are grateful for at the end of your normal prayers. My wife and I each say five things we are thankful for at the close of our night prayer. I suggest thinking about people, things, and events you are thankful for, as well as traits and actions of God. At first, you may be listing what seem to be mundane things, like a great dinner, God’s mercy, or running into a friend. However, the point of this exercise is that even these mundane things are great blessings!

Express Your Gratitude

We all take people for granted, but it can be painful to work hard for others and be taken for granted. As a teacher, I know my students like me and appreciate me, but rarely do they ever thank me. Many parents experience the same thing. All the hard work and love seems to outnumber the “thanks” that we get from our kids. Of course, rarely do kids get thanked either! We are all guilty.

The first way to express your gratitude is to go out of your way to thank people that normally don’t get thanked. Your pastor, parents, kids, boss, etc, probably work very hard, have to make difficult decisions, and rarely are told that people appreciate them. We naturally shy away from communicating our gratitude to these people, likely because of some perceived embarrassment, or because we are dealing with authority figures. Either way, it is time to get over this fear!

The second point is that the way that we express gratitude matters. The best way to express gratitude is to thank the person, but also explain why you are grateful. This takes a generic and impersonal statement of thanks and turns it into a personal message of appreciation. Here is how it works. Let’s say your priest came and visited your mother in the hospital. Sure, it was part of his job, but maybe he gave up his personal time to do it. You may say “thank you very much for visiting my grandma. Your dedication and compassion are amazing.” Who wouldn’t want to hear such appreciation and praise?

Gratitude, as I mentioned previously, flows from our Thanksgiving, the Eucharist. As it increases, so does love.

The Power of Gratitude: Express Your Thanks Today

A Tabernacle on an altarIf you have been on Facebook or other social media recently, you know that everybody seems to be listing things they are grateful for. This is a good trend, as I have seen very negative people finally begin to look at life differently. As Christians, we have always been big on gratitude. In fact, it is the basis of our faith. Let me explain.

The word eucharist means “thanksgiving” in Greek. For Catholics, the center of our faith, the “sacrament of sacraments” is literally called “Gratitude.” Thus, when we are receiving the body and blood of Christ in communion, we are offering our “thanksgiving,” but what does this even mean?

As Christians, we have a lot to be thankful for. In fact, we have the only thing that really matters to be thankful for, salvation through Jesus Christ. Thus, when we offer our thanks and praise during the Mass, we are thankful for the mystery of Christ, and his redemption of humanity.

But…our gratitude doesn’t stop there. When we connect to the love Christ has for us, and “live” the Eucharist, the natural result is gratitude toward others. This means that true love of God and neighbor must have a strong gratitude component. Is it possible to show love without having gratitude? If I say I love someone, but am not grateful for them, what kind of love is it?

Yet, as humans we find expressing gratitude difficult, especially to those that treat us the best. As a teacher, I have rarely had a student thank me for teaching them, until many years later. Even though they say all kinds of great things about me in the present, I never receive a “thank you” until way after the fact. The same is true of parents. I haven’t ever heard a child thank a parent for all their hard work, until years later. Even Jesus encountered this strange attitude, when he healed 10 lepers. Only one showed up to express his gratitude. Maybe it is embarrassment, but either way, our ability to feel and express gratitude can be strangely limited at times.

However, my suggestion is that we take a lesson from the Eucharist, where we freely express our gratitude to God. Don’t wait to share your gratitude for others. A simple “thanks” may be all that is necessary, but for most people, explaining why you are grateful is a good idea. Thank the people that have helped make you the person you are today. Send a note to a former teacher. Tell your pastor how thankful you are. Let your mom or dad know how grateful you are. Send a brief email to an author or musician that has touched you. And, of course, regularly express your gratitude to God himself, through the Eucharist and regular prayers. We have some thanksgiving prayers that may be helpful in this regard.

Making Time For Prayer

Rosary hanging from shelfMaking time for prayer can be difficult in our modern world. Recently I moved, and we haven’t found a house close to work yet. This means I have an 80 minute round trip commute. When I wake up at 5:50 AM, I am in a hurry, tired, and it is all I can manage to get my coffee brewed, in my cup, and in my mouth without spilling it on my shirt and tie.

The ancient rhythms of nature and life made prayer easier. Quiet time was easy. It was generally called life. When you worked in the fields for hours a day, you naturally had opportunities to pray and contemplate. There were very few distractions.

I am not excusing modern people. I am just making the case that as we have added more and more to do, we have squeezed prayer rhythms from our life. So how do we make time for prayer?

Saint Paul provides us the best advice: pray without ceasing. Many of us have been taught that prayer must be formal, official, and scheduled. While many meaningful types of prayer are (such as the Eucharist, Rosary, etc). However, you can find times to pray and contemplate. It is very easy to make the “perfect the enemy of the good,” which is to say because we may not be able to hit daily Mass, have time to pray the entire rosary, etc, we just don’t do anything.

That looong trip to work? That is a perfect time to pop a CD in your car and pray the rosary. Waiting for an appointment? Why not whip out your ipad and read a few psalms? That three minute break between classes? That could be a great time to just sit and contemplate your gratitude for God’s blessings.

While formal prayer is great, and expected (weekly Mass attendance, for example), communicating with God, whether it is contemplation, petition, etc, is available to you pretty much all the time. Just consciously squeeze in that extra time, and you’ll be amazed how much more time for prayer you have, even in the busiest of schedules.

The Rosary – A Tool For Contemplation

A Bible with rosary lying across itOctober is the month of the Rosary. I have to admit that the rosary isn’t my primary devotional tool. I grew up non-Catholic, and became Anglican for four years. During that time I developed a great love for the Liturgy of the Hours, and I use it regularly.

Nonetheless, every time I pray the rosary I am blessed. Fr. Robert Barron, in his excellent Faith Clips series, mentions the rosary in his clip on contemplative prayer. The power of the rosary became apparent to me after watching it.

When we pray the rosary, two important psychological things are happening.

First, as Fr. Barron mentions, our mind becomes focused on the repetition of short form prayers, i.e. the “Hail Mary” and “Our Father.” Because of this, it actually calms our minds, because by focusing our minds on something so simple and repetitive, it frees us from the myriad distracting thoughts that pop up. This actually frees us to pray in a contemplative manner.

Second, the rosary doesn’t “go” anywhere. It is circular. It is a way of simply just being there, in God’s presence. Eastern religions and modern psychology call this “mindfulness” and Christians understand it as “contemplation.”

While some accuse Catholics of “vain repetition” for  repeating prayers in the rosary, modern psychology tells us the opposite true. By focusing our minds on something holy and meaningful, like the prayers of the rosary, it frees us to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, and to genuinely bask in God’s presence.

Practicing Friday Penance

Image of Jesus on the crossFridays in the Catholic Church have traditionally been a day of penance. It’s a practice that dates to the early Church, when Fridays, in addition to other days of the week, were specifically devoted to fasting. The Catholic Catechism specifically notes Fridays throughout the year are in memory of Christ’s death.

Specifically, on Fridays, the Church asks its members to engage in “spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1438)

Traditionally, Catholics have abstained from non-fish meat every Friday throughout the year. However, in some regions, including the United States, the bishops have allowed alternatives to the abstinence requirement, except during Lent. The Catechism, as quoted in the last paragraph, spells out nice alternatives.

While abstaining from meat may be preferable and is certainly the traditional practice, it’s acceptable in some places to do any wholesome practice that involves some form of penance. A few things I’ve done in the past include:

Reading the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, or other theologians
Saying a few penitential prayers or litanies. Doing an act of charity
Praying the rosary, chaplet, etc.
Making a pilgrimage to local churches or shrines

While there are options in some places, what ultimately matters is that we do a penitential act and commit ourselves to greater union with the crucifixion and sacrifice of Christ.