Spiritual Life

Living for God helps us persevere in prayer

Last issue, we returned to my series on prayer in the Catechism, focusing on fighting the temptations that would keep us from establishing a prayer habit. Today we’ll look at ways to persevere in prayer.

Speaking of the temptations against prayer, the Catechism says, “We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The ‘spiritual battle’ of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer” (no. 2725). This principle has significance for our entire lives, but perhaps especially so in times of upheaval as we are experiencing.

Last month, I wrote about the value of creating a rule of life to find stability and rhythm while you are stuck at home. Creating such a rule helps you to make your relationship with God your top priority. It shows a determination to live a disciplined life. The more we live for God outside our prayer time, the more fruitful our prayer will be.

The tempter knows this. As we make a determined effort to pray daily, he will entice us away from prayer and entice us toward sin and selfishness outside of prayer. He will try to turn our focus elsewhere, to get us to abandon our resolutions. Laxity in fighting sin outside prayer will eventually lead to laxity in prayer, and even to abandoning prayer. As St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote, “It is impossible for him who perseveres in mental prayer to continue in sin: He will either give up meditation or renounce sin” (“The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection,” ch. 1).

Speaking of those who have already begun to pray, the Catechism says, “Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have ‘great possessions,’ we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray?” (no. 2728).

How, first of all, do we deal with distractions, one of the biggest difficulties in prayer? Not by “hunting (them) down,” but by continually turning our minds back to Jesus. Then after prayer, we note what distracted us, “for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to.” Working on choosing God’s will rather than our attachments makes it progressively easier to focus on God in prayer. It is “the choice of which master to choose” (CCC, no. 2729).

Dryness – lack of consolation – during prayer is another cause of abandoning prayer. We need to recall that feelings come and go, while also asking ourselves if our dryness stems from a lack of real conversion (no. 2731). For these and other obstacles to prayer, “we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance” (no. 2728). Humility leads us to accept our weaknesses (no. 2732), while trust “proves itself – in tribulation” (no. 2734).

Above all, perseverance in prayer is a result of love. The more we love God above everything and everyone else, the more we will make prayer a priority and live a life conducive to prayer. Prayer and virtuous living will support and strengthen each other, helping us to resist every enticement to give up.

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.