Introduction: What Is Prayer?
Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
The classic definition of prayer is “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2559). We often talk about the four main types of prayer: petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. We have beautiful scripted prayers like the Our Father, and we pray conversationally. We have methods of prayer such as Lectio Divina, and we pray the great prayer of the Mass. We pray alone, and we pray in community.
We spend a lot of time figuring out how to pray, and this journey with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton will explore how prayer can and should permeate every aspect of our lives. But, first, let’s establish what prayer is.
“Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.” (CCC 2560)
Ultimately, prayer is about relationship. Deep personal relationship with God. He made us, and He loves us—He loves you—more than we can comprehend. His desire to be with us is so strong, we often say that God thirsts for us. He aches to be with us. Prayer is our response to that unfathomable ache, to His invitation to relationship with Him. He invites us to bring our own aches, our own desires so that we can find fulfillment in Him. The Catechism, reflecting on words of St. Augustine, says, “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (2560).
Keys to Prayer
The key to prayer is quite simply humility. As Betty Ann McNeil notes in her book (the basis for this program), 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, good prayer is not only deeply intimate, but also self-revealing. When we come to God with openness and honesty, that is when we will grow in our relationship with Him, in our own self-awareness, and in how we live our faith every day.
Our disposition in prayer is far more important than form. Just as if we act without love, we are but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1), so too, if we pray but our heart is far from God, we pray in vain.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” 1 Thes 5:16-19
Finally, prayer and the way we live really are one and the same. And this is what we learn from Mother Seton. When St. Paul talks about praying without ceasing, this is what he means. Our relationship with God cannot be stagnant, and it cannot be isolated. An intimate prayer life, an intimate relationship with God, is fruitful. It overflows into every aspect of our lives. We ground ourselves in a prayer routine, and then we turn to God in and through everything. We see, experience, and serve God in and through everything and everyone.
We pray in more traditional spiritual activities like reading Scripture and receiving the Eucharist. We pray in the way we fulfill our roles in life as children, spouses, parents, friends, employees, volunteers, parishioners, and community members. We pray by pursuing God’s will and serving Him in our everyday activities, whether doing the dishes, performing our jobs, or serving the poor. We pray in the way we experience the world around us, whether nature, people, or experiences.
Because prayer is being in relationship with God. Prayer is being in God’s presence, and being in communion with God and his body, the Church.
Learning from Mother Seton
Over the next 15 days, we will learn from the habits, trials, and words of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Her inspiring example will help you grow a deep, joyful prayer life that will fill you with God’s peace and help you face life’s challenges.
To view all 15 meditations in the Lift Up My Soul series, please click here.