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The importance of prayer can hardly be overestimated. At the close of the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II said: “We well know that prayer cannot be taken for granted. We have to learn to pray: as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master himself, like the first disciples: "Lord, teach us to pray!" (Lk 11:1).
Prayer can be private or public, vocal or silent, passionate or meditative. We can pray individually or in groups, in the midst of daily activities or at times set apart, and in complete solitude or in union with the entire Church through her liturgy. Yet all spiritual guides agree that prayer must be practiced privately if it is to become deeply personal and interior. A recent column on our website makes this point.
Before we can go very far in prayer, however, we need to know something of the different kinds or degrees of prayer. For this, we turn to one of the great spiritual masters and a doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila.
Prayer generally begins with a good deal of activity and even work on our part, but as we progress we gradually enter into a deeper and simpler experience which at least borders on contemplation. This is well explained by a contemporary spiritual writer, Fr. Thomas Dubay. As an elderly peasant once explained when St. John Vianney asked him how he prayed: “I look at the good God, and the good God looks at me.”
If you only have time to look at three things, LOOK AT THESE.
- The Mystery and Power of Personal Prayer
- St. Teresa's Teaching on the Grades of Prayer
- Gazing on the Beauty of the Lord
Any of St. Teresa of Avila's books are of course excellent spiritual reading for growth in prayer; the same is true of the author of the third item above, Fr. Thomas Dubay, who has written widely and well on prayer.
John Paul II developed the theme of the importance of prayer in the third section of his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte.
Benedict XVI recently emphasized even to newly appointed bishops that they must Cultivate Prayer Life, Not Activism.
An excellent web site for more on prayer, specifically in union with the intentions of the Holy Father, is The Apostleship of Prayer.
Many private devotions have been recommended by the Church as aids to personal prayer, most notably the Rosary. The Church also offers her own official seasonal and daily cycle of prayer for use both privately and in groups: the Liturgy of the Hours. Both draw heavily on Scripture, which is likewise always recommended for spiritual reading and meditation. Search our library for further information.