How to Create a More Resilient Prayer Life
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Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

This quote is more relevant than most of us realize. As we grow in our relationship with God, it is only natural that we experience of daily prayer that has fits and starts. Being faithful in our prayer lives is critical.

It can often feel like “one step forward and two steps back”. One day, we enjoy our daily quiet time and the next feels like we’re drowning. As Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says, “Sometimes we walk on water and other times, we sink like a stone.” Can you relate?

In my book, The Five Habits of Prayerful People (coming in 2019), I talk a lot about the importance of staying with prayer. You’ve got to keep at it and try your best to avoid discouragement. Others call this resilience and in academic circles, it’s known as grit.

Gritty prayer warriors have three qualities:

  • They take the long view. They realize that, in any given week, they will have good moments of prayer and ones that feel rather ordinary.

  • They do not dwell in their sin. They recognize when they’ve messed up, name it, own it and ask for forgiveness. Then, they remember that God loves them and has already died for their sins. This brings an overwhelming sense of newness and of starting over. The emphasis is on God and not our sins.

  • They value progress over perfection. A steady person of prayer understands the human condition and isn’t surprised when they are imperfect. 

Grittiness, not something you and I think of often but very much a quality of a mature spiritual person. St. Bonaventure said, “When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than that proceeding from the mouth.”

As I continue to write about prayer, it strikes me that there are quite a few moments in our spiritual lives that invite us into deeper resilience.

These might include:

  1. Rather than beating yourself up over missing daily Mass, taking five minutes to schedule the next time you can get to Mass. This will integrate your busy schedule with your desire for communal worship.

  2. Rather than skipping your daily quiet time altogether, choose instead to have five quiet minutes of prayer. Like physical exercise, a little goes a long way.

  3. Instead of avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation for months at a time, practice a daily examination of conscience at the end of the day. By building this muscle of personal reflection, you’ll be much more in tune with what’s going well (and what isn’t) in your daily life. Then, when you can get to Confession, you’ll be more prepared and feel more in sync with God.

Resilience is a choice. God puts dozens of moments into every day for us to opt for a more gritty spiritual life. When will you spot your next moment to be resilient?

This Advice is For Me Too- Let Me Explain

I was on a recent trip to give a talk at a large college in the south. On the trip down, I was prepared to deliver my speech but on the inside, I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual. In the airport, I was playing the competition game, measuring myself by everyone else, as if they all had life figured out and I was just a rookie. It didn’t feel good. Ever had one of those moments?

The following day, heading home, I stopped at my gate at the airport. To my right, I glanced out the window and saw something that arrested my morning. The sunrise, simply doing its thing, was stunning.

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I needed that moment and I’m glad that God gave me the “pause” to appreciate it. God does this all of the time, if we will just have the eyes to see.

A spiritual life that is resilient savors these moments and discovers them over and over again. Enjoy them. Look for them. Count on them. They will spill over into your prayer life and make a tremendous difference. 


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The Most Pressing Issue of Our Time
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I was at a youth basketball event recently with my 7 year old. As I sat in the bleachers, watching him go through the drills, I began to engage the other parents around me.

We talked about our town, the upcoming holidays and, wait for it, about our faith.

Of the five others I sat with, only one went to church with regularity. Each of the others was raised Catholic but had chosen along the way to leave the Church. Each had a story and I enjoyed hearing them and getting to know each person a little better.

This type of conversation isn’t new- each of us knows people who have left their faith in the rearview mirror. What was unique was the basic acceptance that faith was something you “did” when you were young.

As for the grownups, only a few make it personal, embracing their faith and a relationship with the Lord.

I left the gym with more resolve than ever before- helping others reclaim their faith and find Jesus- and I am convinced that this is the issue of our time.

Don’t take my word for it. Bishop Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said this, “I’m opposed to a dumbed down Catholicism, I don’t like a culturally accommodating Catholicism. I like when it’s bold and colorful and confident and smart and beautiful, so in that sense, I’m opposed to falling back into beige Catholicism”.

My new friends at youth basketball (the parents) aren’t bad people. They are smart and dedicated to their kids and active members of the community. I figure they are moral and upright as best as they can be.

What their experience tells me is that they had an experience of Catholicism (and the Gospel) that just wasn’t sticky enough to last through their adult life. Never having met Jesus in a personal way, they just sort of veered into an adult experience devoid of faith.

Think of the folks in your neighborhood- you probably have dozens of people who share a similar story. Raised Catholic (or some other flavor of Christianity) and then left it all behind when the responsibilities of an adult life kicked in.

This is the issue of our time. The studies are too many to quote here, of tens of millions who have left their faith behind. It’s not that they are opposed to faith but that they never met Jesus as a person and as Lord. Couple that with a church that is often bland and uncompelling and you have what we have in America: a post-Christian community that is familiar with the faith but just isn’t practicing it.

Other issues are vitally important (social justice, the environment, ecumenism, and others come to mind) but no other issue even comes close to what’s needed more than ever- a thoughtful, authentic, humble presentation of the faith. Solve the personal faith issue and the others get the dire attention that they deserve.

There’s nothing “beige” about that.

FaithMike StPierre
Wisdom from St. Paul on Prayer
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The conversation goes like this:


  • If you could have a daily time of prayer, what would that look like?
  • I would get up before the kids, have a glass of water, find a comfortable space and read something inspiring. Then, I would let it sink in and then talk to God.


That doesn’t sound too difficult does it?


Nonetheless, the space between answering the question and then doing it is vast for many people. It’s as if we instinctively know what we want our daily prayer time to look like but can’t seem to put it into practice.


Can you relate?


Could it be that we are experiencing a St. Paul moment? Remember Romans 7:15-20 which says,


I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”


St. Paul knew the human experience. Was he talking about prayer? Service? Evangelization? Morality? We may never know.


I do think that one could apply his reflection to prayer.  My own life of prayer is somewhat similar- some days, I want to pray but just seem to forget. Other days, I have more motivation. It’s as if I’m going one step forward and another two steps backwards.


Most people I talk with share this experience. Their lives are too hectic and filled with commitments to let prayer seep in.


Two things were as true for St. Paul as they are for you and me:


  1. We cannot underestimate the tension that comes with the human existence.
  2. We cannot build a life of prayer without momentum.


Let me explain a bit further. First, we know that a prayerful life is hard. Most of us don’t have the one we desire because we let the urgent get in the way of the important. Errands, schedules and bills quickly crowd out a heartfelt desire to pray. Sometimes I want to throw up my hands and say to God, “why can’t this be easier?”


It can be “easier” but only with spiritual momentum. By spiritual momentum I mean a habit of prayer. Day in and day out, a prayerful person builds the muscle of prayer. This is not a physical muscle but a disposition and a set of actions that eventually becomes like muscle memory. Like any habit, daily prayer can become rooted in your subconscious.


With practice, it’s just what you do.


This momentum is built on a daily habit of spending time alone with God. This is the singular habit that will change a person’s life. It doesn’t exclude other habits that are just as central to the Christian life (i.e. serving the poor, living a sacramental life, practicing virtuous habits).


Prayer, unique in its own way, is the one habit that can be practiced 365 days a year. No church needed. No other people needed. Just you and God, day in and day out.


If the tension of being prayerful was modeled by St. Paul, we should pay attention to his example. His struggle ended up being good enough to propel him as the greatest evangelizer in Christian history.

 

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The Jesus Prayer: What is it and How do you Pray It?

A few years ago, a friend of mine recommended that I pray “the Jesus prayer”. I had shared my struggle with a lot of negative self talk and she thought that the Jesus Prayer would be a helpful antidote.

To my surprise, it worked.

Before I go any further though, let me share some details about the Jesus Prayer. It’s quite powerful and could be a powerful asset in your prayer toolbox.

What is it?

It’s very simple and you can pray it anywhere, anytime. Some people use prayer beads but they are not mandatory. The prayer is this:

"Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

It’s been called “essential” to spiritual growth by a number of the Church Fathers. The Jesus Prayer is considered a means of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Since one names Christ as Lord at the very start of the prayer, it is thought to be quite Biblical.

A Biblical Prayer

One can reference Acts 4:12, “. . . for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved”, Luke 1:31, or Matthew 16:16-18 to name a few. The New Testament is rich with examples of people who call out to Jesus in need of healing or simply seeking answers to life’s difficult problems.

By praying the Jesus Prayer, we return to this tradition in a direct way. It humbles us and reminds us of our complete need of Him. As a prayer it is so beloved by Eastern Christians that it is said to be the most recited prayer after the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Is it Just Another Mantra?

While some prayers are a means of reducing our stress, the Jesus Prayer is much more. It does not seek to empty the mind but to fill it with the merciful presence of Jesus.

Helpful Articles

If you’re not convinced yet that the Jesus Prayer is effective, here are some wonderful resources that I can recommend:

Helpful Videos

The Impact of the Prayer

In my life, the Jesus Prayer has been a great gift. I use it regularly as a way to focus my mind and heart. I will pray it to start the day, to calm me down in the middle of the day and even at random times while running errands. I find that it’s “pure”- I didn’t come up with it and each word is charged with a heart turned towards God. I can put myself second and God first when I pray the prayer.

Do you have to pray it out loud? Not necessarily. I typically do not. Try it out and see if it can be another component of your prayer life. If you’re like me, you might also become an advocate of the Jesus Prayer.


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What a Baseball Player Taught me About Prayer
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Craig Kimbrel is the closer for the Boston Red Sox. If you’re not a baseball fan, that means that he is the last pitcher to face the other team. At the end of the game, Kimbrel is the final stop before victory. Translation: the guy is a stud with ice in his veins. Nothing faces the closer.


What makes Kimbrel so fascinating to even the casual fan?


It could be his diminutive stature- he’s only 6’ tall. It may be his long beard. One could easily point to his success- he’s been one of the best closers since entering the big leagues in 2010.


What stands out for me regarding Kimbrel is his unique posture as he prepares to deliver a pitch. He stares towards home plate and strikes a pose- it’s really more of a pose. His right arm sort of dangles and he enters the mysterious place where pitcher and catcher communicate through hand signals.


Then, in the blink of an eye- he delivers the pitch.


So what does all of this baseball talk have to do with prayer? Consider the various postures we use when we pray:


  • Kneeling: a gesture of surrender, repentance and obedience.
  • Standing: a sign of respect and praise.
  • Hands up: an act of praise.
  • Palms out: a sign of openness.
  • Hands folded: a sign of focus and concentration.


If the best athletes in the world use gestures and postures to execute their craft, we can learn something from them. They pay attention to the slightest detail and maybe it’s time that we do as well.


Watching Kimbrel this year in the playoffs caused me to ask: what is my ideal prayer posture?


The answer came quickly- it’s hands up, palms open, head slightly bowed. When I need to pray with all of my might, that’s the posture I use. It means openness and reminds me of my total need for God. I feel like I can talk with God in the most honest way possible- as if I’m not holding anything back.

 

This isn’t to say that other postures aren’t valuable. They are. It’s just that this particular posture seems to be most effective when I need to pray and pray hard. It’s good to pay attention to these things. 


How about for you? What’s your ideal prayer posture?


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Six Creative Ways to Pray the Rosary
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Pope Francis has invited all Catholics to pray the rosary during the month of October. This is an invitation to pray for the Church to be defended from evil as it is in another state of crisis. One church leader after another has faced scandal for actions related to sexual abuse. Now is a good time to pray for those who have been abused and those who have been lousy leaders.


If you’re not Catholic and are unfamiliar with the rosary, think beads. You’ve seen people hang beads from their rear-view mirror in the car, right? Those are likely to be a set of rosary beads.


The rosary is an ancient form of prayer, most often associated with Catholics but not limited to them. Martin Luther was known to have a strong devotion to Mary, even after he left the Catholic Church. The rosary is prayed in five groups of Hail Mary’s, with each group themed according to a moment in the life of Christ.  Each group is called a “decade”. You can pray the rosary in 10-15 minutes.


Many Christians know about the rosary but don’t actually pray it. This isn’t surprising. When we don’t know something or lack the confidence related to it, we don’t practice it. I run into people all of the time who admit that their prayer life is tepid. It bothers them but they’re not sure what to do about it.

 

Let’s consider the rosary as one part of your set of prayer-related tools. 


The rosary is a powerful form of prayer. Every holy person I know prays the rosary. Saints have sworn by it and martyrs have attested to its efficacy. St. Francis de Sales said this about the rosary, “The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.” Pretty strong words from an all-star saint.

 

I’d like to suggest five creative ways to “get into” a regular practice of praying the rosary:


  1. Purchase a rosary ring. You can find these on Amazon or at your local Catholic gift shop for under a few dollars. Keep it in your pocket and thumb it occasionally to get used to it. This will also remind you to pray.

  2. Start with one decade a day. Whether using a rosary ring or a full rosary, begin with just one decade a day. Don’t worry about “doing it right”. If you’re not sure which decades to pray, Google it.

  3. Walk and pray. Pick a time of the day- early morning, after lunch or at night and thumb the rosary. Gradually pray the prayers associated with each bead. The walking will make it easier. Plus, you’re getting some exercise.

  4. Pray in the car. There is no time more convenient than when you are driving to pray the rosary. Keep a set of rosary beads (or the ring) in your car and when you think of it, pray the rosary. If you don’t have a drive long enough for the entire rosary, pray what you can.

  5. Incorporate the rosary into your daily quiet time. My father does this and finds it to be a wonderful “primer” for deeper, more contemplative prayer. If you’re able to carve out a solid half hour, you’ll need 10-15 minutes of it for the rosary.

  6. Include the rosary in a once-a-week holy hour. To make your weekly prayer routine special, visit your local Catholic Church when they have adoration of the blessed Sacrament. After some time in adoration, pull out your rosary beads and pray.


I’m not an expert in the rosary. What I do know is that it’s an important Christian devotion and one that can be a powerful asset in your prayer toolbox. With some creativity, you can include it in your prayer life as wel

Devotions, Faith, prayerMike StPierre