A 9-step blueprint for your prayer life this Lent

11 mins read

St. Angela of Foligno said that prayer is the “School of Divine Love,” the place where we learn how to love God. It is here that our loving God — or at least our best attempts at loving God — enables him to love us in return. Love cannot be forced on anyone against their will. This is true of both human and divine love, so unless we try to love God as best we can, his love cannot force its way into us. Forced love is simply a contradiction in terms.

Prayer, then, is the place where we go to keep trying to love God, knowing that God cannot resist loving those who seriously desire to love him, proving that this desire is genuine. It is proved firstly by the way that we make daily time to love him, and secondly by the way that we continually try to express our love for him in that time. When the first apostles asked Our Lord how they should pray, he answered by giving them the Our Father. In this prayer God is asked to make his world of perfect love, his kingdom in heaven, present here on earth through us. That is why we ask for our sins to be forgiven, so that our selfishness cannot stand in the way, and why we ask for his daily spiritual food and nourishment, to support and sustain us in this work of bringing about his plan to make his paradise in heaven paradise on earth.

In order to give some practical help to open us to God’s love, I have used each letter of the OUR FATHER as a reminder of nine indispensable ingredients that should feature in our daily prayer. In this way we can have a blueprint for prayer that we can carry about with us at all times in our heads.

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1. The morning offering

The first word “OUR” can help remind us how to make our morning prayer with the letter “O” reminding us to make our morning offering. It was my mother who taught me to make mine every day even before I dressed.

She told me that by offering all I said and did to God in the day ahead of me, I could become, as she put it, a little priest turning ordinary commonplace things into something precious, as Rumpelstiltskin turned straw into gold. When our family went to Mass each Sunday, I saw my mother totally absorbed in what we took all too easily for granted. My selfishness meant I had too little to offer, while she was offering a thousand and one acts of self-sacrifice made for me and the rest of my family during the previous week. Each day she reminded herself of this, her sacred calling, by making her morning offering, as her Recusant ancestors did for hundreds of years before her. If ever I forgot to say mine, she used to remind me that St. John Vianney would say, “All that we do without offering it to God, is wasted,” and he was right.

2. Union with Christ

prayer for healing
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Now for the letter “U.” Again, it was my mother who first taught me this part of prayer that I will never forget. She said that even though I may make my morning offering alone by the side of my bed, I was not alone. My prayer would always be made in, with and through Jesus, and so with all other Christians — wherever they are. The great Jesuit liturgist Father Joseph Jungmann said that “Christ does not offer alone, his people are joined to him and offer with him and through him. Indeed, they are absorbed into him and form one body with him by the Holy Spirit who lives in all.”

This also means that we can pray to and with all the saints who are alive in Christ as we are — and with and for all our own relatives and friends too, both living and dead, who are alive in him.

My mother especially taught me to pray in the same way for the souls in purgatory. She told me that this was the perfect opportunity to pray for others, too, especially those who have asked me to pray for them.

She told me that when you hear about people who are suffering all over the world, on the radio, the television or in the newspaper, you can reach out to them through prayer, because prayer is not limited by space and time as we are. The wonderful thing about praying for others in the morning is that they can be included in the prayer that becomes the rest of our day.

3. Reviewing the day ahead

The third letter in my blueprint is “R” to remind us that the morning offering is not a magic formula. It does not automatically transform the forthcoming day, and that is why something further is required. Spend a few minutes reviewing the day ahead, making a few resolutions that would enable you to try to consecrate every moment of the day to loving God.

It may be by pausing for brief moments of prayer during the day, as the early Christians were taught to do by Jesus himself, but also in doing humdrum tasks that we keep putting off, like changing the sheets on the beds, putting air into the car tires, defrosting the freezer or something that is more important.

There is always that friend or relative who is sick or in need whom we should telephone or even visit for a few minutes. We might have to make a resolution to apologize to one of the family, a friend or someone at work for the way we behaved towards them the previous day.

It is very difficult to stand up for someone who has been abused by authority at work, or elsewhere, or to speak the truth when no one wants to hear it, or to make a stand for what we know is right. But nevertheless, these are some of the more important things that could occupy our minds as part of morning prayer.

4. An act of faith

man in church
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The letter “F” can remind us to start by making an act of faith. I do not mean by reciting some traditional formula of faith, or even professing belief in every article of the creed or in every dogma that the Church teaches. There is a time and place for that, but this is the time for something else. Our faith is not firstly a belief in a body of truths, but in a body full of love that was filled to overflowing on the first Easter day.

Ever since the Resurrection, God’s love has been pouring out of Jesus and into all who freely choose to receive it, to draw them into the fullness of life that is fully embodied in his risen body. It is here alone that we are all destined to “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and to experience something of the ecstatic bliss that Jesus experiences now and through all eternity.

This is another reason why the fish became a symbol of a Christian in the early Church. They came to see and understand that the love of God was for them what the sea is for the fish: the living environment outside of which they could not exist. St. Augustine takes this analogy one step further, substituting a living sponge for the fish to show that we are not only surrounded at all times by the love of God, but are penetrated through and through by his all-pervading presence.

5. Abandonment to God

Once all the sublime truths of Christ’s continual and abiding presence within us are realised, then there seems to be only one thing that a person can do, and that is to make an act of total abandonment to God — our letter “A.”

The trouble is we have grown up in a world where nominal or part-time Christians abound, and the truth is, we are probably numbered amongst them. The early Christians had no problem abandoning themselves to God totally, as the man to whom they committed themselves did throughout his life on earth. They knew what was being asked of them from the beginning. While they were under instruction several times a week and praying five times a day, they were seeing other Christians giving their lives for their belief in Jesus, and they were prepared to join them.

Indeed, you would not become a Christian unless you had counted the cost, and that cost might mean losing all your property, all your wealth and your health, too, in terrible prison conditions. Here torture was to be expected, followed by the most hideous forms of death imaginable. In short, no one became a Christian without deciding to abandon their life to God totally, no matter what the cost.

All for the glory of God
When Pope St. John Paul II was approached by a young couple who had five children and an extremely busy schedule, they asked him a question. It was a question they had been asking themselves, but to which they could find no answer. “How can we possibly find time for prayer?” they said. “Our days are so full.” They never forgot the Holy Father’s answer. “By beginning each day with the morning offering,” he said, “so that your whole life can become a prayer, just as the whole life of Jesus was a prayer, because he offered up everything he said and did to his Father in heaven.

Less than 10 years before Constantine granted religious tolerance to all in the Roman Empire, one of the last of the early Martyrs, St. Euplius, was tortured and scourged like Christ, and finally beheaded. In his interrogation, St. Euplius was asked why he would not offer sacrifices to the gods. He said that the whole of his life was a sacrifice to his God, just as Jesus had offered his all to God every moment of his life. Christ’s followers were asked to do the same, and that means us, too. It means offering everything we say or do no matter how great or small. St. Paul put it this way: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

6. Thanksgiving

The next letter, “T,” is a reminder to make an act of thanksgiving to thank God for all that has been given and is continuing to be given to us. However, if we only thank God for what he has done for us or for what we have managed to get out of him, then we have not thanked him as we should. He should be thanked for being God, for being goodness, justice, truth and beauty, for displaying his own inner glory in the glory of creation that surrounds us. Wd should thank him for the masterpiece of creation, our risen Lord, in and through whom we are continually being drawn up to share in his own inner life and love, beginning even in this life and then in his everlasting glory in the next.

Take your favourite prayer or hymn of thanksgiving or praise, like the Gloria from the liturgy for instance. Recite it slowly and prayerfully and you will find you are taken out of yourself, out of your world and into God’s world where you praise him, thank him and give him glory with all those who have learned to thank God just for being God.

Thanking God for being God leads into the heights of prayer where thanksgiving leads to praise, and praise to glorifying God. Then glorifying God leads to adoration, when we just want to gaze upon him with a profound reverence and awe that takes us out of ourselves, if only for a time into brief moments of bliss.

Without us realizing fully what has been happening, our thanksgiving, praising, glorifying and adoring has paved the way for a sublime spiritual highway for our love to enter into God and his love to enter into us, in a way and on a level that has not happened in quite the same way before.

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7. Holy Communion

This leads us on to the next letter in the blueprint, which is “H” for holy Communion. Perhaps the most holy and all absorbing and spiritually fulfilling moment in the Mass for us is that sacred moment after we have received Christ himself. It is then that we silently reflect on how “the Mighty One has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49).

This moment can be replicated each day at the moment in our daily prayer when we pause, after giving our heartfelt thanks to God, to relish what he continually gives us, in what has come to be called a spiritual communion. Now is the time to ruminate on and relish the profound mysteries that are at work deep down within us, and to digest and assimilate their sublime meaning and importance for us now and for our future.

It is time too, to allow these truths to percolate through, to penetrate our hearts and minds, and then gaze for as long as possible at the indescribable mysteries that Jesus came to share with us.

8. Examination of conscience

At the very beginning of every Mass, we start by examining our consciences. We do this so we can see ever more clearly the sin and the selfishness that can alone prevent us from offering ourselves to God with a pure and humble heart, and all that can prevent us from receiving his love in return.

What happens on the days when we go to celebrate Mass with the whole Catholic community should also happen every day of our lives. For if we are going to imitate Christ and the way he lived his life, we must endeavour to make every day of our lives into a sacrifice as Jesus himself did — offering everything that he said and did to his Father, and receiving his love in return.

While staying for a brief time at a Cistercian monastery, I met the holiest man I have ever known. He had been in spiritual darkness for many years. Then, one day he became ill and was admitted to the monastery infirmary where he received holy Communion each day. On three distinct occasions, just as he was about to receive Communion, he heard these words, “Only you have been keeping Me out.”

We are doing exactly the same thing, and that is why the letter “E” in the blueprint is to remind us to examine our consciences each day, to pause for a few moments to review our lives since we last prayed. It is time to ask God to show us everything we have done or failed to do that has kept him out.

9. Repentance

After this has been done, it is time to repent — “R” — by making an act of contrition for how we have failed in the past. A formal act of contrition could be used, or perhaps you can recite several times what is commonly called the “Jesus Prayer” — “Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

But a sincere expression of personal sorrow, in our own words would be better still. Then we could make a firm purpose of amendment, a genuine decision to try and behave better in future. Finally, as we become a little more aware of the moral stumbling blocks that trip us, it is time to try and forestall them.

If there is a lazy streak in us, or if we have a hot temper, or are prone to making unkind remarks at the expense of others, it is the time to take the necessary steps to avoid falling into these same faults in the forthcoming day, and praying for God’s help to do what we cannot do without him.

David Torkington is the author of “How to Pray A Practical Guide to the Spiritual Life” from OSV.

Into another dimension

St. Padre Pio was praying when a lay brother, believing that he was out, burst into his room. The saint dismissed his apologies with the words, “I was just praying for a happy death for my Father.” “But your Father died two years ago!” the brother said, looking rather surprised. Padre Pio looked at him in disbelief and said, “I know he did.”

True Christian prayer is not limited to the world of space and time in which we live. It takes us into another dimension where, in the mystical body of Christ, it can reach out now to help those in need, to the four corners of the world, and just as easily to the needy in the past and in the future. That is why the Church made St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a young, enclosed Carmelite nun, the patroness of the missions.

Speaking on the radio, a Catholic doctor who was tortured in a Chilean jail said that she received tremendous help from the prayers of friends back home. She likened their prayers to “waves of love” that sustained her through some of the darkest moments of her ordeal.

On the same news program, I heard the story of a group of Christians suffering in Chinese indoctrination camps, who risked their lives to smuggle a tape recording out to their brethren in the West begging for their prayers. Suffering makes people of deep faith sensitive to the extraordinary power of prayer.