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James Martin, S.J.September 23, 2019
(iStock)

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What’s your favorite way to pray? That’s something of a loaded question, because among some Catholics, and more broadly Christians, the answer can land you in hot water. If you say, “Well, I like to pray the Rosary or go to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at my local parish,” some people will think that you’re too old fashioned or too traditionalist. If you say, “Well, I like to pray centering prayer or pray when I’m outside in the middle of nature,” some people will say that you’re too radical or too progressive. 

One of the things you learn after being a spiritual director for some time is that God meets people where they are and that there is no “right” or “better” way to pray. The right way to pray is the way that helps you find God the most easily. And, over the last 25 years as a spiritual director, I’ve met people who pray in almost every imaginable way: Ignatian contemplation, lectio divina, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, nature prayer, centering prayer, and on and on. The way you relate to God will depend on who you are—your personality, your likes and dislikes, your whole history.

It’s terrible when people critique the way another person likes to pray just because it doesn’t fit their categories. It not only shows arrogance—I mean, who are they to say what is good and what is bad?—it also can harm the person who’s praying. Why? Because it can make the person feel embarrassed or inadequate. The key in prayer is being faithful to it, and also open to new ways of praying. For if you never change your prayer you might not be open to the new ways that God may want to meet you.

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Michael Barberi
2 years 7 months ago

Thanks Fr. Martin for this. I have tried almost every kind of prayer, lectio divina, centering prayer, the examen, the rosary, and various petitionary prayers. I never could give the centering prayer enough time as a busy father, and I found it to be a one-way prayer of complete submission. Sometimes the examen becomes repetitious as well but I like how it has opened up my mind to understand my shortcomings and the need to give our Lord thanks for all that we have. So, I mix up the prayers. One thing I struggle with is trying to follow Him and become the man He wishes me to be. I always think I am not doing enough, but I never give up.

Rhett Segall
2 years 7 months ago

Praying as we can is honesty in prayer. Theologian John Shea tells the following story: Jesus and St. Peter return to medieval Spain. A merchant’s wagon breaks down on the way to market. “Lord, fix my wagon and I’ll stop beating my wife and stop swearing.” Jesus, to Peter’s amazement, passes him by. Another merchant’s wagon breaks down. This merchant curses and curses. Jesus says “Peter lets help him!” It dawns on Peter that God prefers an honest curse to a dishonest prayer. If we’re honest with God, God will be honest with us.”

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