Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in
all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ
Jesus for you [1 Thessalonians 5:16-17].
No matter how often or under what circumstances we pray – be it in times of tribulation or triumph, brought low by sorrow or elated by joy – we begin to experience that prayer is to our spirit what breath is to our body. As we read in Romans 8:26 – “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
No day is so good that prayer is not needed; no day is so bad that prayer cannot give us the strength to endure trials and be grateful for the grace of triumphing over them. We grasp what it means to pray “all-ways” when we cease thinking of prayer as a task we accomplish and consider it a mode of being that opens us to the ever-present grace of God. We experience prayer more as a way of listening than of speaking, more as a gift we receive than as a duty we fulfill.
To pray always results in our growing into one holy temple in the Lord (see Ephesians 2:21-22). We obey God’s commandments, honor the teachings and traditions of the Church, and commit ourselves to serve others with self-giving love. Rather than judging ourselves or them harshly, we exude in every activity as much affability and understanding as possible.
Prayer is life-giving because it allows us to die to the illusion that our functional ego is all-powerful. We shed the imprisoning restrictions of egocentricity and acknowledge our dependency on the Lord. This experience moves us from saying prayers to becoming living prayer.
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691), a Carmelite friar and a superb spiritual director, encourages us to pray not only at special moments but in the mundane events that comprise our everyday life in the world. He teaches us to attend in quiet vigilance and gentle reverence to the here-and-now.
At special moments and mostly in the richness of the ordinary, we abandon ourselves to God. We attend in every activity to the directives for discipleship God wants us to exercise.
Ceaseless prayer enables us to become faithful servants and friends of God in family life, Church, and society; it frees us from the arrogance that diminishes our commitment to walk in the footsteps of our Lord.
Brother Lawrence says that we can practice this spiritual discipline wherever we are. He did so among the pots and pans and in the cobbler’s shop of his monastery. He encourages us to count our blessings and to do so with the Giver of all good gifts at our side.
Especially when we are assigned tasks we do not know how to accomplish, we cultivate the disposition of calling upon the Lord in the conviction that without him we can do nothing (see John 15:5).
In his counsels to laity and religious, Brother Lawrence offers seven steps pertaining to how to excel in the art and discipline of praying always:
1. Stay recollected with Christ in the center of your soul.
2. Let your love for him replace your fears.
3. Place your trust in God.
4. Banish any doubt of Divine Providence.
5. However flighty your mind may be, rein it in and return to God.
6. Make of your heart an oratory and withdraw there from time to time to converse with your Divine Friend.
7. Practice the presence of God both when you are active and when you are at rest.
It follows that whatever we have to do, from cooking a meal to writing a letter, from teaching a class to nursing the sick, we do so out of love for God and a desire to make this love manifest.
Prayer becomes a way of living that enables us to be present to the Divine Presence in the harshest and happiest of times. It awakens our desire for a person-to-Person relationship with God.
The spiritual nourishment we receive from learning how to pray always culminates with the grace of intimacy with the Trinity. Every time we make the sign of the Cross, we fix our gaze on Jesus, who never leaves us—neither in the dark nights of our soul nor at the dawn of a new day.
In truth, the Lord asks us to bring prayer into every condition and situation of life. It has the power to deliver us from adversity and to preserve us from being puffed up by prosperity. We become more conscious of our frailty and more confident of God’s protection.
Praying always becomes both the source of our sanctity and the flowing stream of our service to others. It transforms us in spirit, heart, mind, and will to such a degree that we radiate the fruits of this transformation in all of our dealings. Waking and sleeping, we come to see, in the words of St. John Vianney (1786-1859) that:
Prayer is nothing other than a union with God…
In this intimate union, God and the soul
are like two pieces of wax that have melted together…
it is an incomprehensible blessing.
We have not deserved to pray,
but God in his goodness
has allowed us to speak to him.
Our prayer is like incense he receives
with the utmost pleasure.
My children, you have a little heart,
but prayer enlarges it
and makes it capable of loving God.
Trouble melts away
in the presence of prayer that is made well,
like snow before the sun.