Spiritual Life

Fighting temptations against prayer

Before the pandemic hit, I was writing a series about the Catechism’s teaching on prayer. I’m returning to that today, but skipping ahead to a section that may be particularly helpful now –“The Battle of Prayer” (nos. 2725–45).

Perhaps you had been hoping to devote more time to prayer while staying home, but that has not materialized. Or perhaps you have been praying, but find it hard to persevere. Today we will address the first problem, and next time the second.

The Catechism says, “Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort” (no. 2725). Prayer is both active and passive. It begins, as we have seen, with a call from God. He draws us towards himself, beckoning us to address him in prayer. He offers us the grace to do so.

We sometimes act as though prayer depended entirely on ourselves. “Those who seek God by prayer are quickly discouraged because they do not know that prayer comes also from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves alone” (no. 2726).

If you are feeling discouraged in prayer – perhaps even before beginning the habit – turn your mind and heart toward God. He loves you with a love that is beyond what you can imagine. God the Son gave everything in order to save you. He desires an intimate relationship with you. Only such a relationship can bring you lasting peace, hope and joy. Only such a love can satisfy your heart. And he has promised, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (Jas 4:8). Take courage from his love.

Let us recall the reasons for prayer. “Prayer is a vital necessity … if we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin. How can the Holy Spirit be our life if our heart is far from him?” (CCC, no. 2744).

Discouragement, anxiety, fear, selfishness – problems that are raising their heads in this pandemic – can be conquered through prayer. If we feel helpless, prayer will enable us to aid those who are sick, dying or afraid. “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Jas 5:16).

Prayer is doing something. It is a battle that requires fortitude. “Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God” (CCC, no. 2725).

One of the great sins of our time is a nearly forgotten sin – acedia or spiritual sloth. “The spiritual writers understand by this a form of depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart” (no. 2733). The thought of spending time with God should make us rejoice, but instead it makes us sad. Making the sacrifices needed for prayer appears to be impossible. The devil fills our minds with excuses. He makes obstacles appear insurmountable. But if we resist him, he flees (Jas 4:7), and we feel renewed in God’s strength.

To begin praying, or to rededicate ourselves to prayer, we must both accept the great love that God offers us, and fight valiantly against temptations. We’re all using digital media to commune with our family, friends and co-workers. Are you ready to spend some “face time” with God?

Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is the author of “The Q&A Guide to Mental Prayer,” now available at amazon.com, and five other books on Catholic spirituality.